Things didn’t go quite to plan. I had lined up a series of quick demos to show off the way Dreamweaver handles media queries and the creation of rounded corners with the CSS3 border-radius property. Unfortunately, the connection to the projector switched the resolution on my laptop to something crazy like 640 x 480, making it impossible to see the full workspace and preventing me from accessing the document tabs to switch between the demo pages I had prepared. Since I had only a five-minute slot, I decided—perhaps foolishly—to soldier on rather than waste valuable time trying to find a resolution compatible with the projector.
What I did manage to demonstrate was Dreamweaver CS5.5’s support for web fonts, creating and adjusting CSS3 drop shadows visually, jQuery code hinting, and PhoneGap integration. While demonstrating the support for web fonts, I was able to show how you can work in the underlying code and view the result in Live view without needing to save the document or round-trip to a browser.
What I think Dreamweaver has to offer is the way in which it brings the various web technologies together. I use Firebug and similar tools, such as the Web Inspector in Safari. They’re great, but you need to switch from your IDE and back to use them. Each time you switch is time wasted. Dreamweaver gives me most of the tools I need in a single workspace. Working recently with a jQuery Mobile project, I found Dreamweaver’s Live Code one of the most useful features. It lets you inspect the dynamically generated code inside the Document window, which is essential for dealing with pages generated through DOM manipulation. Yes, I can get the same information by right-clicking in Safari or Chrome and selecting Inspect Element, but it takes me longer to do so. Live Code also lets me inspect what’s happening in response to different events by highlighing all changes in a different colour.
Judging by comments from the audience and in conversation afterwards, there seem to be two main barriers to acceptance of Dreamweaver among professional web developers/designers. The main complaint is the price. I can’t do anything about that, although I have told Adobe on more than one occasion that I think the price differential—between what you pay in dollars in North America and what you pay in pounds or euros in Europe—is totally unjustifiable, particularly for a product that is delivered electronically. Adobe is not alone in charging a premium outside the USA, but it builds up resentment and damages sales. Still, buying software is a business expense. Business must be really bad if you can’t afford the tools for the job.
That brings me to the other main barrier—many web professionals don’t think Dreamweaver is the right tool for the job they’re doing. Maybe they’re right. Far be it from me to question how another person does his or her job. But several people in the audience admitted that they hadn’t used Dreamweaver for a long time. I have used it consistently since Dreamweaver 3 (about 11 years). The Dreamweaver of yesteryear is not the program it is today.
In 2001, the Web Standards Project (WaSP), led at the time by such people as Jeffrey Zeldman, formed a task force to pressure Macromedia (the original creators of Dreamweaver) to improve the standards compliance and accessibility of pages created with Dreamweaver. The initial result was the release of Dreamweaver MX 2004, which produced much cleaner code. It wasn’t perfect, but it was close. The main problem was Layout Mode, a WYSIWYG tool that produced the most horrendous table-based spaghetti code. Another problem was the use of “layers”—absolutely positioned elements with inline styles. With the help of others, I privately lobbied Macromedia and then Adobe to get rid of Layout Mode. Partial success was achieved with the release of Dreamweaver CS3 in 2007, when access to Layout Mode was deliberately hidden. Then, in 2008, Layout Mode was finally killed off in Dreamweaver CS4. Layers also disappeared. You can still create absolutely positioned elements, but they no longer have inline styles.
If you haven’t used Dreamweaver for a long time, give it a try when CS5.5 is released in May. There will be a 30-day free trial. As long as you’re willing to explore its features, I think you might find there’s a lot to like. If it doesn’t match your needs, fine. But at least I hope you’ll get the chance to see that it’s not Dreamweaver that produces bad code. It’s bad designers/developers who do.
(Disclosure: I’m not an Adobe employee, but I am an Adobe Community Professional, a sort of unpaid evangelist for Dreamweaver. I write books about Dreamweaver and answer questions in the Dreamweaver Help pages. I also teach Dreamweaver and write books about PHP.)