Macromedia Dreamweaver 8 review
With more than 3.5 million users, Dreamweaver dominates the world of professional web authoring in much the same way that Photoshop dominates photo editing. It’s achieved this commanding position by combining a wysiwyg design environment with unbeatable hands-on coding power, and by focusing throughout on workflow-based efficiency. It’s these same three core areas – visual design, coding and productivity – that are targeted in this latest release.
In terms of design power, Dreamweaver 8 now falls into line with GoLive by offering a comprehensive zoom capability – ranging from 6 to 3,600 per cent – and Fit All, Fit Width and Fit Selection commands. While all this is potentially helpful for those working on high-resolution screens or when aligning objects, its importance shouldn’t be overplayed – web design is nearly always viewed at 100 per cent. Of much more practical use is the new support for rulers and draggable guides, complete with tooltips for providing feedback on position and distances. You can control the display, locking and snap setting of guides, and Dreamweaver 8 includes a limited selection of preset guides representing the safe visible area of browsers at various screen sizes.
Focus on CSS
Other improvements to Dreamweaver’s wysiwyg concentrate on enhanced support for CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), the layout and formatting mark-up language designed to work alongside HTML. In particular, the core Design view has been updated to fully support advanced CSS techniques, such as overflow handling, form elements and pseudo-elements. And to make life a little easier when working with CSS-positioned layouts, new visual aids are available to highlight CSS outlines, boxes and backgrounds, while tooltips provide greater feedback. Most impressive is version 8’s support for CSS media types. Using the new Rendering Toolbar, you can now swap between seeing how a page will look onscreen, on a handheld or in print. Most useful of all, you can see how the page will render if the display device doesn’t support CSS.
The ever-increasing importance of CSS is also made clear in changes to the working environment. In particular, the former Design panel group has been renamed CSS and the previously separate Relevant CSS/Rules panel has been consolidated into a single CSS Styles panel. This now offers two tabs, All and Current, for handling all stylesheets associated with the page as a whole and those feeding into the current selection’s formatting. It’s an efficient system, providing feedback and powerful editing capability, showing Dreamweaver at its streamlined best. These are all welcome tweaks, but apart from the ability to limit the display to properties that have already been set, most of this power was already there in MX 2004 – it’s just been rationalised.
The CSS panel is a great way to directly access the power of code without getting your hands dirty, but for maximum control there’s no escape – you have to edit your code directly. Whether you’re working with static HTML/CSS or the dynamic markup languages, JSP, ASP, ASP.NET, PHP or ColdFusion, Dreamweaver has always made this as simple and efficient as possible. Particularly important here are Code view features such as built-in references, code hinting and syntax completion, and these have been updated to take into account the latest versions of PHP 5 and ColdFusion MX7.
Whichever language you’re using, you’ll also benefit from the new Coding toolbar running down the left-hand side of the Code view, which provides quick access to snippets and source formatting, invalid code highlighting, commenting and so on. It also provides the ability to collapse and expand tags or selections; the idea is to let you focus in on sections of code, but we found it complicated and a possible source of confusion when working with HTML/CSS.