Last night, I attended a meeting of The London Dreamweaver Meetup Group. It was a quiet affair. Although six people had said they would attend, only three of us turned up—Nigel, the previous organizer, Reynold Chung, the new organizer, and myself. The group was launched in 2009, but has met only a few times, and attendance has rarely broken into double figures. So, the challenge is to breathe new life into the group and attract members who share an interest in using Dreamweaver, regardless of whether it’s part of their job or they’re just creating websites in their spare time.
To get the group going, I have agreed to give a talk on Thursday 26 January demonstrating how to create a simple mobile website using jQuery Mobile, which is integrated in Dreamweaver CS5.5. The time and location have yet to be decided, but we’re trying to fix somewhere in easy reach of central London.
Reynold has put a lot of effort into planning the relaunch of the Dreamweaver group, so I’ll leave it up to him to announce the details of what he’s got in mind. In the meantime, I’d like to share some thoughts of my own about Dreamweaver’s reputation and how it can be improved.
Does Dreamweaver produce bad code?
I’ve been using Dreamweaver on an almost daily basis for about ten years, so I know the program pretty much inside out. Even before I started writing books about Dreamweaver in 2003, I always updated to the latest version as soon as it was released. As a result, I also know how the program has developed over the years. Yet whenever I meet professional web developers in Britain, they’re almost unanimous in their hostility towards Dreamweaver. Time and again I’ve been told that no serious professional would consider using Dreamweaver because it produces such terrible code. However, when I ask how long ago it was since they last used Dreamweaver, the answer is usually “ten years ago”.
How is it possible to judge the quality of any product—let alone a piece of software—based on impressions of it ten years ago? I freely admit that the quality of the code created by Dreamweaver all those years ago was far from perfect. Back in 2001, the Web Standards Project (WaSP) set up the Dreamweaver Task Force (later renamed the Adobe Task Force) under the leadership of Rachel Andrew and Drew McLellan, working together with Jeffrey “Mr Web Standards” Zeldman. The task force had two basic aims:
- Improve the standards compliance and accessibility of web pages produced with Dreamweaver.
- Raise awareness of web standards among the Dreamweaver community.
When Dreamweaver MX was released in 2002, the WaSP task force released its findings, which concluded—among other things—that “Dreamweaver produces valid markup ‘out of the box'”, and that “the most important thing about this release is that it recognizes the importance of web standards and tries to promote them within the constraints placed on it.” So, even as far back as 2002, WaSP acknowledged Dreamweaver’s support for web standards and the quality of the code it produces. But what were the constraints the task force referred to? The main problem was that Dreamweaver MX still used
<font> tags as the default for styling text—although the user could switch to CSS. That changed with the following release, MX 2004, when CSS became the default. And since Dreamweaver CS4 (released in 2008), the only way to use
<font> tags has been to insert them manually.
At the recent HTML5 Live conference in London, Opera evangelist Bruce Lawson jokingly asked me when Dreamweaver was going to stop writing crap code. I’ve known Bruce for some time, and realize that it was meant as a gentle leg-pull, but such thoughts are a decade out of date. Many web professionals use TextMate or Coda to build their websites, but it isn’t the software they use that makes them professionals. It’s their knowledge of HTML, CSS, and other web technologies. In the hands of an unskilled person, TextMate and Coda will produce rubbish. If you know what you’re doing with Dreamweaver, you can produce just as clean code—and possibly a lot quicker.
Raising awareness of web standards in the Dreamweaver community
I’m not a member of WaSP, but I’m passionate about web standards. Getting a Dreamweaver group off the ground is going to take a lot of effort, but I hope that it attracts a wide range of people who use Dreamweaver or are simply interested in web development. Although it will be important to show people the mechanics of using the program, I would like the topics discussed to cover web development and standards in general. When I teach Dreamweaver, I tell students to forget about the mechanics and to concentrate on understanding the markup that is being generated. Once you know HTML and CSS, using Dreamweaver falls easily into place.
Of course, some people might ask why London needs another group devoted to web development and web standards. After all, London Web and London Web Standards (LWS) are both well established and thriving. My hope is that the Dreamweaver Meetup Group can play a complementary rather than a rival role. Both London Web and LWS tend to gather large crowds, which could be intimidating for someone who is just starting out in web development or who has responsibility for maintaining a website as part of wider duties. I also hope that by showing people how to create standards-compliant sites in Dreamweaver, we can remove some of the unjustified prejudice against the program. Dreamweaver isn’t perfect, but nor is it the horror that some people portray.