Dreamweaver brings ease to HTML coding

Just when you thought you had Hypertext Markup Language authoring down
pat, the World Wide Web Consortium goes and changes it.


The latest HTML specification, Dynamic HTML, promises slicker presentation, tighter
browser integration and multimedia without plug-in hassles. Although DHTML can be
complicated, its blend of JavaScript, style sheets and HTML may do wonderful things for
your Web site.


Macromedia, the publisher of Director and Shockwave, has designed its Dreamweaver HTML
editor with an eye out for the widespread use of DHTML.


HTML tools tend to be either easy-to-use code-manglers or glorified text editors that
demand expert knowledge of HTML.


Dreamweaver combines the best of both types in a visual HTML tool that permits direct
code editing. It has the simplicity and speed of what-you-see-is-what-you-get and the
niggling precision of hand coding.


There are two windows, one for visual editing of a page and a second showing the HTML
code. Make a change in one window, and it shows instantly in the other.


The visual tools are equal to those in any WYSIWYG package. Frames creation is
intuitive, and the table creation tool, though not as good as the one in Microsoft
FrontPage, is easy to use.


A rulers and grids feature determines how the page will look on any size screen. The
HTML editing window is adequate but not spectacular.


One innovation is called Roundtrip HTML editing. Instead of relying on Dreamweaver's
spartan HTML editing window, Roundtrip HTML lets you edit HTML source code in any HTML
text editor. Changes appear in Dreamweaver's visual editing window.


The Macintosh version of Dreamweaver comes with BBEdit 4.5.1 from Bare Bones Software
Inc. of Bedford, Mass. The PC version has HomeSite 3.0 from Allaire Corp. of Cambridge,
Mass. The powerful text editors, in conjunction with Dreamweaver's visual layout, make
page creation easy.


The cascading style sheets are almost too easy. Define new styles by simply choosing
the text formatting; a palette keeps track of the styles. Just highlight some text and
select the style to make external as well as internal cascading style sheets.


A Behaviors palette builds in simple JavaScript functions. Scripts for things such as
image rollovers can be added to pages by selecting them from pop-up menus.


Savvy JavaScript users can invent their own behaviors for Dreamweaver. It doesn't edit
complex JavaScript programs well, but the Behaviors palette can add visual appeal with
quick JavaScript snippets.


The Director-style time line makes DHTML animation a breeze. Select the object you want
to animate and put it in its own layer. Move the time line ahead a few frames and drag the
object to a new location. Repeat as necessary while Dreamweaver calculates the animation
path.


Using cross-platform DHTML, the animation will work for Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0
and Netscape Communicator 4.0 alike. Throw in a few behaviors, and before you know it you
have a multimedia Web page with a minimum of programming labor.


Other good features are integrated File Transfer Protocol, a Repeating Elements Library
for sitewide changes, a spell-checker and a check-in and check-out system for sites being
worked on by multiple webmasters. Best of all, no document imported into Dreamweaver has
its HTML mangled.


Even the spacing between lines stays the same.


The support and manuals are useful and easy to follow. An HTML tutorial guides
first-time users through the menus. An in-depth Dreamweaver Developers Center appears on
Macromedia's Web site for power users.


Dreamweaver is the best editor on the market, but it does have some problems.


It's quite RAM-hungry: Macromedia recommends 16M-plus for a PC or 24M-plus on a Mac.
And that's just the start. Add another 10M for a browser you'll want open for checking
pages plus another 10M or so for HomeSite or BBEdit if you do Roundtrip HTML editing. I
had no real problems testing Dreamweaver on a PC with 32M of RAM.


Dreamweaver can get cluttered. On a 17-inch monitor set at 800- by 600-pixel
resolution, I found myself losing the palettes behind windows. Testing on a Mac with two
monitors made things much easier. A large monitor and a high-resolution monitor would be
the best combination.


The introductory price of $299 seems about right. Even counting an included HomeSite or
BBEdit application, the regular price of $499 seems a little steep. Owners of Macromedia's
BackStage can get Dreamweaver for $199.


If you plan to make pages with lots of DHTML, this package is well worth the price in
time saved. DHTML is cool, but let's face it, you probably won't be using it much anytime
soon.


As browsers die out and more users acquire DHTML browsers, Dreamweaver could become an
indispensable tool. For the time being, it's the best HTML editor around.


Jason Hart, a webmaster and analyst at American Management Technology Inc. in
Washington, develops Web sites for the Veterans Affairs Department.


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