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One Product for All: Dreamweaver MX
One Product for All: Dreamweaver MX

Dreamweaver has been around for years. We've all seen it in some version or other, but it has finally come into its own in the most recent version, MX.

Dreamweaver has always been a tool for creating code. Early versions had some understanding of ColdFusion, and subsequent versions knew some ASP. However, it was always regarded as a designer's tool, having only (at first) a WYSIWYG interface and very poor interaction with non-HTML code (ASP, PHP, ColdFusion, etc...).

Times have changed, and so has Dreamweaver, all for the better. Dreamweaver has evolved from its humble (though widely popular) designer tool beginnings, going through a phase where it was split into two products - Dreamweaver and Dreamweaver UltraDev - to where it is now, one product for all - Dreamweaver MX.

Shortly after the merger of Allaire and Macromedia, ColdFusion Studio and HomeSite became HomeSite+. The push was for all of us to use Dreamweaver MX. HomeSite+ was added to Studio MX as an "extra." I say it's an extra because it's not billed as part of Studio MX and must be installed separately (HomeSite+ can be found in the HomeSite+ folder on the Studio MX CD. Dreamweaver was enhanced in its evolution to MX, bringing more of a developer interface with the available Code view for editing of raw code, as well as its traditional WYSIWYG development. Few programs can so easily move between two such different environments. Dreamweaver does so with relative ease.

HomeSite+ was initially a sour grape for most ColdFusion Studio users. It was not customizable and lacked the features we liked. A few months ago, however, an update was released that makes HomeSite+ a major option for those who do not want the overhead that comes with Dreamweaver. You can customize the menus, relocate panes, pretty much everything we missed in Studio (see Figure 1).

 

(The Updated HomeSite+ installer can be found at: www.macromedia.com/cfusion/tdrc/ index.cfm?product=homesite) For more information on HomeSite+ and its features, you can see the June 2003 CFDJ article, "Getting into HomeSite+," Volume 5, issue 6).

Neat New Things
Like all new versions of a product, Dreamweaver has better, cooler, more powerful functionality than its predecessors, and some of that cool functionality will appeal to those of us who still hand code; remember, Dreamweaver MX is more than just the next version of Dreamweaver; it is also the replacement of a powerful tool with an enormous user base.

Dreamweaver plays very well with others now. XML and Style Sheet documents can be seamlessly integrated into your code like never before. By linking a DTD (that Dreamweaver can access) to your page, the Attributes and values of the XML file become available. Context menus allow you to work with XML with ease. Gone are the days of having to remember all of the styles you defined in your CSS file. When you link it to your page, Styles become context for class and ID tag attributes. No more having to have the CSS file open all the time (see Figure 2).

 

The only drawback, or rather shortcoming, in this handy functionality is that modular code seems incompatible. Pages that have the basic HTML file tags in different modules or includes don't get the benefit of the context feature. Only pages with the complete HTML tags do. Hopefully this is something that will be addressed sooner or later.

Site vs Project
If you remember the Project pane in Studio, you'll understand the basics of the Site pane in Dreamweaver (see Figure 3). The Site pane is a much more powerful tool than the Project pane was. Setting up a site is a lot more involved as far as your options and configuration choices than the old Project wizard.

 

Sites allow you to manage your code locally, on the testing server, as well as from a remote location, all from the same pane. You can quickly switch between views and even promote code easily. The local files can be integrated with a source control tool like Microsoft's VSS.

A few neat side benefits to the new Site pane include the ability to automatically generate a site map - talk about handy! You can also have Dreamweaver manage design notes. These notes are kept locally to make notes on pages and the whole site. Dreamweaver manages them for you. You can also take stock of a site's assets with a single tab. The Assets tab allows you to group and view the parts of a site for easy digestion. View all the Flash movies, all the images. See all the links, even all the colors used in the site.

Templates Are Fine, Until Someone Gets Hurt
Templates aren't exactly new to Dreamweaver. They're much more powerful though. Dreamweaver MX brings the use of templates to a whole new level.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that templates now have their own language within Dreamweaver and that a developer could create some truly powerful code. Template script allows the creator of a template to make much more than a simple page with a big blank spot in the middle where text is copied into. Templates can be incredibly dynamic - so that Sally can actually put JavaScript in the top of her pages and has much more control over the page than Mark, who has very little control and is limited to putting text in specific areas (see Figure 4).

 

The use of template parameters allows developers the power to not have to hard-code image paths and links in the master template file. By defining these parameters as constants at the top of the page, subsequent changes won't need to be hunted down throughout the page, not to mention the rest of the site. All 14 (for example) links to the Clear shim graphic file can be updated by changing one line of code. This change can then be effected site wide by saving the changes to the master template.

I have come across only two drawbacks to using templates. One is in more complex sites where, say your <HTML> and <HEAD> tags are in a module and your closing </HTML> tag is in yet another module. Trying to save a template in this condition will result in an error. The code a template comes from must be well formed and intact within the single file.

The other drawback is that making changes to a template can be problematic in an enterprise environment. If a template itself needs to be changed - let's say I'm adding a new menu item to the navigation - every page based on the template has to be checked out of the code repository in order for the changes to propagate throughout the site.

The assumption here is that you're using some form of code repository; like Visual Source Safe, etc. For small operations and projects this is a less important issue. For the sites I maintain I'm the only developer, so the code is usually all checked out by me anyway and there's never anyone else working on it. For environments where a team is working on a site, one person making changes like that can be problematic if the others are not ready to check their changes back in, in order to let the template changer do his thing.

Probably the most natural use of templates is in corporate intranet environments, where you likely have many content contributors of various skill levels, and many departments with varying rights. Marketing may need rights to more pieces of an intranet, things like footers, headers, content that appears in more than one place, etc., while other departments like HR, may only need to update the static content within the benefits page.

Templates aren't a replacement or even a very good alternative to a true content management solution, but in smaller projects and teams they may be just what you need for a fraction of the cost.

More Than a Single Product, a Suite
Dreamweaver on its own is already an outstanding application. Studio MX is a suite for a reason. Dreamweaver, Flash, and Fireworks work hand in hand to help you create complete Web applications. Dreamweaver doesn't author Flash movies, Flash MX does. Dreamweaver isn't a graphics tool, Fireworks is. Prior to Studio MX, when you wanted to add a graphic to your code you had to separately open Fireworks (or another tool, but we'll use Fireworks) and create or edit the image, save it, and then put it into your code.

Dreamweaver allows you to place an image placeholder in your code that will let you pop right into Fireworks, do what you have to, and pop back into Dreamweaver, a much more fluid interaction. The same type of action is available with Flash. This functionality goes both ways. From Fireworks you can save a sliced graphic right into Dreamweaver.

The Dreamweaver Era
As we move forward and Macromedia continually improves upon Dreamweaver MX, the potential it brings for bridging the designer and developer worlds dramatically increases. If an entire creative team is able to use the same tool in very different ways - coding the back-end language, designing the site's look and feel, integrating Flash components, tying it all together - the possibilities become endless for the things that single team can accomplish.

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