Dreamweaver MX 2004

Dreamweaver MX 2004 was just recently released, and I have given it extensive road testing. My overall feeling is that there are some exceptional improvements and features in this product overall, but there are some bugs to be aware of.

First of all the big feature: Dreamweaver has been reworked extensively to be more of a CSS-centric design environment. Past versions were very HTML 4-oriented, and while it had some good CSS features, it really was tending to steer the user towards a lot of inline font styles and table-based layouts. The panels and the Property Inspector have been greatly enhanced with CSS in mind, and rendering is much better now in Design View.

My personal favorite new feature is support for SSH file transfers in the form of SFTP. Granted the implementation is slightly odd – it’s an option in the FTP setup dialog, and the two protocols are entirely different – but at least to the end user they function in a fairly similar way. I can imagine though that there’s going to be a lot of noobs clicking that option and then wondering why they can’t connect to their server all of a sudden… This feature does lack public key authentication, so unfortunately you are stuck with user id/password logins, but at least this is a start. For my experiences so far, the SFTP connectivity and transfers have been a lot more speedy and stable in Dreamweaver than the FTP option, so that’s an added benefit. I still find it much faster to save files locally and then sync over SSH as a separate process because Dreamweaver is unusable during these file transfer and synchronization sessions – better to offload the task of actual sync and transfers to another app such as Interarchy or MacSFTP – but at least this lets me work securely on small sites or do quick patch updates directly from Dreamweaver. My hope is that at some point in the future, Macromedia will extract the file manager from Dreamweaver and make it a separate, standalone app similar to the Extension Manager, so that all MX apps could take advantage of it and that it would not lock up Dreamweaver during a process.

This version also offers full Unicode support, which is really great when working on multilingual pages. Before, it did an OK job, but there was no way to render two-byte characters in most of the dialog boxes with any accuracy and it was overall not fun to deal with that stuff in previous versions. This version however does treat two-byte characters in most of the dialogs pretty well, and there are added features for advanced Unicode features such as BOM signatures and normalization.

The user interface is, overall, quite pleasant to work with. The GUI has greatly improved with things like the ability to add commands to a Favorites tab on the Insert bar and a more overall streamlined interface. I still really miss the ability to save panel layout sets like I can with Fireworks and Flash though. I am constantly having to tediously rearrange my panels and they often disappear like they did in MX, though not nearly as much as before. The Files Panel has the cool ability to be able to function like a panel (which disappears when you switch away from the app) or like a regular Mac OS X standard window with the full title bar (which can be minimized or maximized). It is a bit buggy to switch between the two modes however, but I have found a workaround. If you open the Files panel into it’s own window, it becomes a regular Mac OS X window, and then I click the Expand button to give me a two column layout. I then drag another panel group, such as the Code Inspector, to dock itself above the Files panel by using the blue panel bar grip area and dragging it in place. I then quit and then restart Dreamweaver, and the panel group returns as a regular panel group – not as a standard Mac OS X window anymore. I know this sounds like a pain in the ass, and it is, but this is the way I like my layout: with the Code Inspector and the expanded Files panel docked together as a panel group and expanded full screen on my second monitor. I even grouped a bunch of other panels with the Code Inspector, such as Results, Validation, Reference, and the FTP transcripts.

Speaking of Validation – I had very little luck with this against XHTML 1.0. Better to use the W3C validator, or Zeldman’s favlets.

This version of Dreamweaver does seem to create fairly decent code. Usually validates, and the code is fairly well formatted and concise. Working in Code View itself, or the Code Inspector, is a pretty good improvement. There’s some nice code completion and lots of goodies to generate good code. However, it only has a niche role in writing code and is still no replacement for BBEdit and a good understanding of what you are doing. But if you do know what you’re doing, Dreamweaver can throw down a good initial code base for you to tinker with.

Dreamweaver does allow pretty cool functions with regards to dynamic code generation for PHP, JSP, ColdFusion, and, god forbid, ASP. I created this entire blog app that you see here using the previous version of Dreamweaver (6.0 and 6.1) on top of a PHP/MySQL server. This version expands on these great features. This is a huge time saver, once you get it set up. And I say ‘once you get it set up’, because the setup process can be really frustrating and clunky. But once I got it up and running, it worked great ever since.

One really nasty problem that has persisted since version 6 is that working with documents that have even just modestly complex table structures can become painfully slow. Even simple tasks such as typing a few characters can take forever to complete. If this happens, I am immediately forced to switch to Code View or I just switch to BBEdit altogether.

Another slow thing to avoid is choosing the Select Checked Out Files command in the Files Panel menu, and those similar commands. My god – took almost 20 minutes to complete. Avoid it.

With all that said, I find Dreamweaver to be overall a good program. Honestly – I am finding myself opting for more manual coding via BBEdit nowadays, especially because of some of the aforementioned bugs. But this app is great for things like quick mockups, site management, and dynamic code generation. I would get much of my work done much slower without it, and it is a key tool that I use every day. This might not be a critical update and some may really want to wait for some of the aforementioned bugs to get worked out, but those looking for an awesome dynamic code generation tool and site management tool will get some good mileage out of this application.

If you are ready to purchase Dreamweaver MX 2004, you can get it from Macromedia’s online store.