Product Review: Macromedia dreams up impressive update

Past versions of Macromedia's Web authoring product, Dreamweaver, were solid but hard to love, with a clunky interface that discouraged the exploration that allows mere users to become wizards. But with a new emphasis on usability, added to new cutting-edge features, Dreamweaver 2 promises to delight both designers and code geeks.

Winning features

Dreamweaver 2 is packed with improvements to its page-design tools. The best addition, the Tracing Layer, recognises the fact that in many shops, a designer creates a comp for a Web page in Adobe Photoshop or QuarkXPress and hands a colour printout to a Web jockey, who then re-creates the page in HTML. Dreamweaver lets you take a GIF or JPEG comp image and place it in the background of the document window as a guide (see "Comp Tracing"). New rulers, snap-to guides, and grids make it easy to match the comp.

Once you've created a page, you save it as a reusable template with both editable and locked regions. Combined with check-in/check-out page control (which tells users when a particular page is being changed).

Dreamweaver's support for table editing is also vastly improved. You can now apply text and other formatting to rows, columns, or an entire table; select and format noncontiguous cells; and sort table contents.

Previously, Dream-weaver's many floating palettes were a recipe for screen clutter. In version 2, you can dock palettes together into a single tabbed window. The program now makes excellent use of contextual menus and has fewer annoying modal dialogue boxes. It also includes precoded objects, such as one that lets you quickly create image-rollover effects. And a new, smart eyedropper tool lets you pick up a colour from anywhere on your desktop; Dreamweaver snaps it to the nearest Web-safe colour.

Happy geeks are productive geeks

Nothing annoys HTML coders like having a visual tool arbitrarily rewrite their carefully honed code. Dreamweaver has always respected custom HTML, and the new version continues and extends this tradition.

Dreamweaver comes with a nice set of prewritten JavaScript behaviours, including form validation and layer and timeline control, and can trigger Shockwave or Flash content. You can preview multimedia content right in the Dreamweaver document window, without having to switch to a browser.

The new version catches up to GoLive CyberStudio (now an Adobe product) in site management by adding a visual site map, the ability to check and repair broken links, and an improved FTP tool for uploading and downloading sites.

A feature unique to Dreamweaver is the program's amazing extensibility, going far beyond mere scripting. While competitors such as CyberStudio allow developers to create new JavaScript functions, Dreamweaver supports a Document Object Model that lets programmers use JavaScript and HTML to write custom menu commands, behaviours, inspector palettes, and objects. There's even a way to create plug-ins in C.

Dreamweaver 2 seems to be faster than previous versions, though just as RAM-hungry; with larger sites, the program complained about memory until I boosted its RAM footprint from the suggested 20MB to 32MB.

PROS: Superb table handling; excellent design and layout tools; very good code control; excellent extensibility.

CONS: RAM-hungry and not always polite about it.

COMPANY: Macromedia, http://www.macromedia.comAustralian Distributors: Firmware Design: 1800 060 357 or Scholastic: 1800 665 774.

Rec. Retail Price: $569.

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