Dreamweaver Studio MX
Marvelous Web Tools, Enhanced
by Jim Bray
Macromedias Web development software has always offered a
lot of power and flexibility, but the new MX Suite version ups the ante
seriously while making them all work together more efficiently than before.
Weve used and liked Dreamweaver and Fireworks for a long
time (for a review of the last version click here), and have tolerated Flash as well. But
Macromedia is about more than just those three apps, though that may be their
bead and butter; they also make Director and ColdFusion (reviewed
here) among others. So this new suite,
by bringing most of their Web tools together under a single umbrella, has
become a true tour de force in the world of creating and managing online
Macromedia Studio MX includes the abovementioned Dreamweaver,
Fireworks and Flash, with ColdFusion MX server and Freehand thrown in for good
measure. It adds up to a powerhouse package that really can enhance your Web
credibility and efficiency.
The idea is to put as many tools as possible right at your
fingertips, and the studio does just that. All the applications feature a
cleaner interface thats now shared across them and this is not only more
efficient it also makes the learning curve a little less steep.
Dreamweaver gets easier to use with each incarnation, and MX is
easily the best yet. When you first install it youll notice a new
interface that replaces the earlier floating windows with a single set of
nested windows that puts plenty of potential at your mousetips. The
main window has room for the page on which youre working (its default is
on the left), and beside it is your sites tree. Dreamweaver uses a
dizzying number of tabs and rollups to let you easily access other features
such as design and code windows for the site and layout,
text, tables, forms, and the like that give
you point and click access to design elements. Its well organized and
easy to use.
But if youre an old stick in the mud (like me!), you can go
back to the classic Dreamweaver interface of floating windows. You
still have access to all the windows and tabs mentioned above, but you can park
them wherever you want on your Windows desktop, which I find more flexible
(though more confusing at times when you lose track of one!).
Macromedia says the new version of Dreamweaver lets developers and
programmers create and manage sites using HTML, XML, XHTML, ColdFusion,
ASP.NET, ASP, JSP, or PHP. The manual says the product combines the traditional
Dreamweaver with Web application development features of Dreamweaver UltraDev
and the code editing support of HomeSite+ (the latter of which has come bundled
as an extra in previous versions).
As before, Dreamweaver lets you choose from WYSIWYG Design
View, HTML Code View, or a combined one that offers both,
with the window split to show the code on top and the WYSIWYG below. This is my
preferred view, since it gives you the best of both worlds; I prefer setting up
a page in design view (its easier), but there are plenty of times when
you still have to roll up your sleeves and get down and dirty with the html
code, and the combined view makes this particularly easy.
Coding features abound, including tools that let you debug
One feature Ive always liked is Dreamweavers ability
to clean up code from other applications. It isnt perfect, and I find I
still get cleaner code using Hot Metal
Pros Tags On WYSIWYG view, but it requires little
conscious thought and I like that! As before, theres also a specific
command that cleans up MS Word HTML (Word inflicts an awful amount of HTML crap
on your document).
Here are some other nifty things about Dreamweaver MX:
Round Trip HTML: lets you make changes to a file in Dreamweaver,
Fireworks or Flash MX and have them reflected in the other apps
When you want to put a graphic into a page and that graphic doesnt
exist, you can merely put a placeholder in the html document, launch Fireworks
to create the graphic and, when youre done, the graphic automatically
appears in the html page.
If you need to edit a graphic, you can launch the appropriate app
right from inside Dreamweaver, and whey youre finished you can click
a button to update the page with the edited graphic.
Site management: Dreamweaver (not just MX), has
wonderful site management features. The synchronize feature checks
out both local and remote versions of the site and flags the files that are
changed between them for easy uploading. And if you rename a file or move it in
the site, Dreamweaver will pore over the entire site and change all the related
links for you. Itll even check remote links.
The MX version also features more powerful templates than before,
including nested templates, editable, optional and repeating regions for more
flexibility. And a new set of code libraries lets you create things like
database insertion and update forms or user authentication pages and, as
mentioned above, theres new support for building ColdFusion MX, ASP.NET,
and PHP websites as well as enhanced support for creating ASP, JSP and legacy
If your developer (or you) doesnt know where to begin in
this day of ever more complex sites, Macromedia has also thrown in some
pre-built layouts and code, including entire site structures, forms, accessible
site quickly with a setup wizard.
Cascading style sheet creation and editing is enhanced in MX as
well, and now Dreamweavers CSS panel shows internally and externally
defined styles and allows for design-time only style sheets. And for those
times when you have to roll up your sleeves and work with the html code, you
can take advantage of Code Hints, Tag editors, color coding, and a Tag Chooser
that lets you pick codes from a drop down menu and drag/drop them into your
page. Theres quite a few of these, too, and they work well. When
youre finished, Dreamweaver will look over your page and validate the
html code for you.
And if you want to get your feet wet with ColdFusion, there are
site wizards, code samples, and reference material included. People whose
ColdFusion feet are already wet can take advantage of ColdFusion Components,
web services, debugging and tracing.
It all combines to make what was already a terrific product even
Fireworks MX is also easier and more powerful than ever and though
it isnt the app I normally use when creating a simple Web graphic,
its a wonderful tool Ive used many times for designing the basic
look of an entire Web site before starting the actual construction in
Dreamweaver. Not only is it good for creating a particular site design, but you
can add navigation bars and other interactivity right in Fireworks and export
it into a fully functioning Web page you can use as a template for your
You can also create rollover buttons, pop up menus and the like,
with Fireworks generating all the html code for you. Its a wonderful
tool, and it sure beats doing all that stuff by hand.
The first thing you notice upon firing up Fireworks MX is the new
interface shared across the suite. Its more streamlined than before,
which is good, and offers more powerful button and pop-up menu capabilities
(and it was no slouch before!). Macromedia has also made it integrate better
with other applications, from Macromedia and others, which helps when bringing
a variety of file formats into Fireworks and exporting them to other
applications again. Also new to the MX version of Fireworks is the ability to
panels or dialog boxes.
As with Dreamweaver, Fireworks MX features enhanced panel
management, which means you can group various panels together and then roll up
the groups so only its title bar shows until you need the panels. This helps
clean the clutter from your desktop when youre working while keeping
stuff close at hand at the same time.
The Property inspector changes depending on what youre
doing. When you open a document, for example, it shows stuff like canvas color
and size but if you choose a particular tool that tools options
are displayed. This is something Corel has been doing for a while now, and
its very welcome here.
And you can now change options directly from the Property
inspector instead of having to pore through a bunch of different panels to find
the particular property you want to tweak.
One feature I really liked is the Onscreen text editor, which
lets you work with text without having to open up the Text Editor. This speeds
things up dramatically. All you have to do is choose the Text tool, click on
the canvas, and start typing. And by using the Property inspector mentioned
above, you can either set the text tools attributes before you start
typing or simply highlight existing text and format it. There are also new text
and paragraph controls and a spelling checker.
Oh, and if you didnt find previous versions of Fireworks
particularly easy to zoom, as I did, youll probably like the new Variable
Zooming feature that lets you set the magnification merely by dragging the
Fireworks MX also comes with creativity and automation features
that beginning Web designers will probably like. For example, a Data-driven
Graphics Wizard lets you assign variables to your graphic (or parts of your
graphic), and then use that original to generate multiple documents each of
which takes its own information from a database file.
And if youre tasked with creating a navigation bar, the new
Nav Bar Builder automates the process by using Fireworks MX button symbols. You
can, for example, choose a button symbol, then the number of copies to make,
vertical or horizontal orientation, and labels and URLs. And you can create a
pop-up menu (horizontal or vertical), and determine border characteristics,
cell spacing and size independently from the size of text youre using. As
can copy and paste it into the proper area of your Dreamweaver page.
Theres a lot more, too, but you get the idea: MX is a major
enhancement of what was already a powerful app.
Then theres Flash MX. Flash animations have come a long way
from the days where they seemed merely there to encourage clicks on the
skip intro link of Flash-infested home pages. This is good!
Flash also features the new, cross-app interface, and has been
tweaked in numerous other ways as well. The MX version gives designers more
control and better integration, helping animators concentrate more on their
designs than on the software. I like this, because Ive always had the
dickens of a time learning Flash. The new version doesnt automatically
turn you into an animator, but its better than before.
You create animations by putting different elements into a
timeline that represents the duration of the show. Flash MX
includes such enhancements to the timeline process as folders for organizing
layers, and the ability to resize, cut, and paste multiple frames.
Workspace enhancements include the gathering of the most commonly used
features into one context-sensitive Property inspector, with other common
features now appearing in the same type of collapsible panels as with
Fireworks and Dreamweaver. And there are new starter templates
this time around, which helps you get up and running by streamlining the
creation of a new document.
One thing Ive always liked about Flash is its
tutorials and Flash MX comes with complete lessons designed to help you get up
to speed with the new features.
And expanded video support lets you import video clips from a
variety of formats including video for Windows, Quicktime, and DV.
Other tweaks include:
A free transform tool that lets you combine multiple
An Envelope Modifier you can use to warp and distort
a shape by messing with the bounding box that surrounds it
(a feature common with graphics development software).
A Break apart feature that lets you edit text characters
without converting them to symbols first.
The Distribute to layers command sends any number of object to
their own layers
There are also enhanced scripting and debugging tools and
Flash components that give you drag and drop elements like list
boxes and scroll bars.
The other major app in the MX studio is Freehand 10, a vector
graphic development application now in version 10. Weve never reviewed
Freehand before and Im not sure it really belongs in this suite since it
isnt specifically aimed at Web developers, but what the heck: the more
Freehand 10 is first and foremost designed for print developers,
but now offers plenty of Web functionality so that, as with
QuarkXpress 5, you can create one document for both
media, and publish it to both without have to redesign the document from
We wont dwell on Freehand here, since so far we havent
had a lot of time to actually learn it, but you can find out more info about it
from Macromedias Web site at
But here are some of the tweaks:
- With the navigation panel you can assign hyperlinks to
objects, create notes that export with your document, or assign Flash actions
to FreeHand objects.
- Master pages that, among other things, let you set page
attributes for a range of document pages. Change the master, and each related
page updates automatically.
- Symbol editing that, when you edit a particular symbol,
automatically updates all instances of that symbol in your document.
- And you can now assign Flash actions to FreeHand objects,
preview and test a Flash movie in FreeHand, and export a FreeHand document as a
The final major component of Macromedia Studio MX is ColdFusion MX
Server, a server scripting environment for creating Web applications.
ColdFusion helps you build dynamic Web sites, content publishing systems,
e-commerce sites and the like.
ColdFusion MX supports Windows, UNIX, and Linux, integrates with
java and .NET. It can run as a standalone server or on an enterprise
application server like IBM WebSphere.
We arent technically savvy nough to really do this product
justice, so we wont try to dumb things down excessively by pretending.
However, you can get some pretty good product information from
Macromedias Web site at
Add all these products together (though they're also available
separately) and you have what to us is the most powerful and flexible suite of
Web development tools yet available.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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