Product Review: Adobe Dreamweaver CS5

By Toni McQuilken

If you want to create or manage your own Web site, for personal or professional reasons, Dreamweaver has always been a good choice. The CS5 version has some new tweaks and abilities that continue to improve on what was already a powerful program.

I should note that I manage my own site, tonimcquilken.com, and I have used Dreamweaver to build and maintain it since the CS3 version. I’ve played with this program for many years, and while I won’t pretend to be a code junkie expert, I know just enough to make me dangerous, which is why the constant simplifying of complex processes in Dreamweaver has been, for me, a huge plus.

One of the biggest additions in the “making it easier” category with this release has been the ability to see what you’re designing in a PHP-based content management system. For the rest of you non-code junkies out there, that is basically taking content beyond a static HTML page, and giving it more dynamic design. In other words, the page is generated when a user calls it up, instead of ahead of time and stored on a server. It pulls content based on rules you set up, allowing for more interesting and interactive elements.

This was possible before in Dreamweaver, but the addition of Live View actually allows you to see the end result now, and see what changes to the code will impact the design, without having to switch back and forth to a browser. This is a huge time-saver, and for those people who want to use things like dynamic photo or video galleries, this is a serious upgrade.

Another upgrade in this version of Dreamweaver is a further simplification of CSS coding. Adobe had offered tools for de-bugging CSS code in CS4, but they’ve made that support far more comprehensive in CS5. To the point where this completely CSS-ignorant journalist is actually considering a total site overhaul. CSS has many advantages over basic HTML, but migrating and using that platform was like learning a whole new language. I won’t say it’s easy now, but the new tools, such as pop-up windows to show you exactly what code applies to what sections, certainly makes it more user-friendly.

Viewing the source code (image above) and the live code (image below)…

The final major new feature I’d like to point out is the integration with Adobe’s new CS Live function called BrowserLab. Adobe’s documentation explains why this is useful far better than I can: “While working within Dreamweaver CS5, you have the ability to interact with your page in Live View, including the ability to freeze JavaScript-triggered interactions, and then send this “snapshot” of the page directly to BrowserLab for an accurate preview in the specific browsers and operating systems you’ve chosen. Onionskin view in BrowserLab allows you to overlay the same page in two different browsers or browser versions, which is extremely helpful in determining exactly what are the differences in the way code is displayed by different browsers.”

This is another great time-saving tool for ensuring the look and feel you’re trying to convey are achieved no matter what browser your clients choose to use. There is nothing more frustrating than creating a beautiful design that displays perfectly in Firefox, only to discover it looks completely wrong in Internet Explorer. Now you can quickly see where the differences are, and made adjustments without having to track down multiple computers or systems to test against.

If you already have a site, migrating to Dreamweaver is as simple as running through a few dialog boxes to point it toward your servers and local files. If you’re creating a new site, Dreamweaver also offers a host of templates, which have also been expanded and improved in this release. And if you’re running a previous version of Dreamweaver and plan to do any CSS or PHP coding in the near future, this is definitely a release you want to check out. All-in-all, Dreamweaver is another solid product from Adobe with some great new features and upgrades in the CS5 release package.

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About Toni McQuilken
Toni McQuilken has been covering the print and graphics industry for the past 10 years. She is also an avid photographer who can be found with her camera out and about on Long Island most weekends. You can see more of her writing at www.tonimcquilken.com.

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