Little things mean a lot. That's what my dad always used to say, and it holds true in this newest version of
Dreamweaver MX. While there are no "giant leaps for mankind" with this release, the average web
developer will certainly appreciate the design tweaks and improvements they have provided in 2004.
The overall look is similar to Dreamweaver MX, with a few minor changes, namely the toolbars across the top.
Your views and personal layout can still be tailored to what you're used to, so it really depends on you.
Personally, I liked the old "insert" toolbar with the tabs across the top, as I'm more of an
"at-a-glance" person. In MX 2004, when they reshuffled the objects to be inserted, it took me a
minute to find a few things. For example, the "insert characters" function is now listed
under the "HTML" section, instead of being on it's own tab (or even under the "common"
section like in the old days). But I'm usually pretty quick on the uptake and this was not a huge issue for me.
They have added a "Favorites" section of the "insert" toolbar, which I found most
helpful, as it allows you to put your commonly used buttons all together in one spot, and keeps you
from toggling back and forth to find what you're looking for. This more than made up for them moving
the "characters" section on me.
One difference is the addition of a start-up screen to give you quick reference to recently opened
files, a list of new files you can create, or available sample documents already created for you to modify
as you see fit. Some people might find this helpful, but I tend to be more of a traditionalist and access
my recently used files with the good old-fashioned toolbar. Luckily, I was given the option to promptly
turn this feature off.
As a PHP developer, if you're worried about Dreamweaver MX 2004 putting you out of business because people
can create dynamic websites themselves, you can sleep well tonight. They really haven't improved much on
the PHP front as far as the layperson goes. You can still enter a little bit of common PHP code with the
push of a button, and get some code hints with Ctrl-Space, but it is far from being a substitute for the
experienced PHP/MySQL developer.
For those newbies out there who are taking pre-written scripts and attempting to modify them to fit their
own needs, Macromedia has added a PHP reference section to their list, courtesy of the good folks at O'Reilly.
If you recall, Dreamweaver MX had some built-in references, but PHP was unfortunately yet again the last
little guy picked for kickball, and was omitted. With this feature, you can highlight a function in your
code, right-click, and scroll down to "reference". You are then shown a brief description of what the
function is meant to do. A list of functions is also provided for your reference should you want to
look up another specific function that isn't in your code. Now, if we can only get the newbs to look
They have added a few common tasks to the server behaviors for PHP, specifically building master-detail
pages and user authentication. Yet again, these will hardly replace the expert's knowledge, and I can
imagine how difficult it would be to set these up correctly having no knowledge of PHP or MySQL. I honestly
don't know if I would use these shortcuts in real life, because I prefer to have more control over my code,
but it may be helpful to some PHP coders out there.
Dreamweaver MX 2004
Tools for the General Developer
I know that many of us use Dreamweaver for web layout issues, while we prefer to code our PHP by
hand, and thankfully there are some tools that have been added that make our lives a whole lot easier.
Automatic Cross-Browser Checks
With this release of Dreamweaver MX, those of us who tend to tailor our pages to the IE community will get an
eye-opening look at the potential errors seen by the rest of the world. Although you can turn this feature off,
the automatic browser check runs a quick check for W3C standards compatibility and provides a button on the
toolbar with a link to any errors that came up. This check is far from being intrusive and you do not need to
have any other browser installed on your machine. I personally found this quite helpful, especially since I am
dragging myself kicking and screaming into the murky bog of CSS and W3C standards.
Since we're on the subject of CSS, it was obvious to me that CSS is the new buzzword over there at Macromedia.
They have added several features such as visualizing the CSS in the layout, CSS code hints with Ctrl-Space keys,
CSS page-wide properties box, and the ability to see all the styles available to you in any view. If you're a
newcomer to CSS, or an old-school CSSer, you will most likely appreciate these updates.
In the "design" mode, you are now able to visualize the size of the tables at a glance (which I loved!).
And example is in the following screenshot:
Not only can you see the pixel count (or percentage) of your tables, you can easily select the entire column
(or insert a new column) by clicking on that number. No more positioning your cursor precariously over the table,
just hoping that you're selecting the right thing. This, to me, was an example of a little thing that meant a lot.
Another thing I particularly found useful was the image editor that has been included in the main
Dreamweaver MX 2004 software. If you need to accomplish a simple thing, such as cropping an image, sharpening
an image, or changing the brightness/contrast levels, you can now do these things directly in Dreamweaver
without having to switch over to a graphics editor. I would really like to see the Macromedia folks
incorporate more Fireworks functionality into Dreamweaver.
Improved text editing
While this wasn't the thing I was most impressed with, I did find this somewhat helpful. They have
added the ability to format a block of code by selecting it and right-clicking, and then either
indenting/outdenting, changing it from upper to lower case, and converting to comments. Like I said,
this wasn't the discovery of electricity, but it was somewhat helpful to a sometimes "broken-source" coder
Macromedia Contribute Compatibility
Macromedia offers a CMS-type software that enables your clients (or other members of your web design team)
to make simple changes to a website, and this version of Dreamweaver fits well with that software. Although
others are able to change some content of the site, through Dreamweaver, you as the developer are still able
to maintain control of what they can and cannot change (this is a very good thing.) As well,
Dreamweaver MX 2004 has included a check-in/check-out file management system to prevent two people from trying
to update the same file at the same time. I'm still waiting to find someone to delegate my website updates to,
but when I find him/her I'm sure this will be a much appreciated feature.
Dreamweaver MX 2004
In this update of Dreamweaver, I would have liked to have seen more of a focus on PHP and including some
features you might find in an editor such as PHPEdit, but of course I'm a bit biased on the subject and
I do realize Macromedia's obligation to keeping things as compatible as possible with all developers. As well,
there are a few areas that may be difficult for the newbie to conquer, but thankfully there are
fabulous "help" forums out there such as the Dreamweaver forum at PHPBuilder:
There are numerous other updates to the software that I haven't addressed above; things like adding secure
FTP capabilities, improved ColdFusion support, and increased integration with fellow Macromedia software family members.
All in all, your decision to purchase the upgrade will depend solely on your particular use of Dreamweaver and
whether or not the above improvements will make your life easier. At $199 for the upgrade, I think I could make
the case in favor of this purchase to my superiors, and definitely after buying them a few drinks at the local bar.