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First Look: Macromedia Dreamweaver MX

Web page layout, authoring and site management suite By Dave Nagel
Here's a little trivia for you: How long ago did Macromedia put out its last release of Dreamweaver? Six months? A year? Longer? If you answered "longer," you're right. It was actually a year and a half ago, December 2000. That's a long time for any piece of software to go without a major update. For Web development software, it's an eternity.

Just think about how much has changed on the Web in the last year and a half. Back in 2000, Web design was the hottest topic in the creative market. Universities had made it a part of their curricula. Internet trade shows flourished. And all the talk in business was of synergies, paradigms and end to end solutions that would revolutionize whatever it was those people were talking about in the first place. It was a vital market, one in which designers could still essentially name their price. While a decline in the market at that point seemed likely, nobody had thought virtually the whole of the commercial Internet would lay in ruin as it does now.

Welcome to my world.

The business world has for all practical purposes given up on the Web. For you and me, this translates to fewer sources of income and projects that are more about functionality than flash. (Pun intended.) It's a harsh environment, one in which designers have had to become survivors.

This is the environment into which Dreamweaver, arguably the standardbearer for Web design tools, has reemerged.

Interface and workflow
When we last saw a new release of Dreamweaver, it was all about the creative tools and about integrating multimedia into Web page design, from QuickTime and other streaming formats to Flash and Shockwave. It would be a mistake to think that Dreamweaver MX brings and end to the application's function as a creative tool. It can still do everything Dreamweaver 4 could. But the emphasis on creativity has definitely shifted a bit toward development, with most of the application's new features being tailored for application development (particularly ColdFusion application development) and data integration.

The change will be obvious the first time you launch the application when a new document pops up sporting the default split code/visual design environments. Dreamweaver has had the ability to show a split code view for some time now. The default split view is there in recognition of the fact that most designers do need to edit code directly in their Web designs.

This fact has also led Macromedia to beef up the code writing functionality in Dreamweaver MX. In Dreamweaver 4, it was easy enough to get into the code and make changes manually. But Dreamweaver MX adds significantly to this with code hints and helpers, including autocompletion of code, a feature that seems to have been taken directly from the now defunct ColdFusion Studio development environment.

Extensible code coloring and validation complete the new code features in Dreamweaver MX.

The other thing you'll notice right away when you launch Dreamweaver is yet another interface overhaul. The interface change in Dreamweaver 4 was designed to bring the application in line with Macromedia's then-standard interface, which spanned the gamut of the company's offerings. The new interface in MX is similarly honed to match the new MX family interface, which includes, at present, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash and ColdFusion. (Macromedia, incidentally, has not committed to bringing Director into the MX fold, and Freehand 10 still uses the pre-MX interface.)

If there was any confusion before, the new MX interface is decidedly non-Adobe in appearance. It crams virtually every function of the program into a series of dockable, expandable palettes, while retaining only the Properties" palette as a carryover from Dreamweaver 4. (The objects palette also carries over, but in drastically altered form.) If you're short on screen acreage, you can hide and show these palettes one at a time.

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