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A Sneak Peek of Macromedia Dreamweaver MX

by John Peterson


Macromedia Dreamweaver MX

For those of you who haven't heard yet, Macromedia recently announced a whole new family of products which they've dubbed Macromedia MX. This MX family includes updated versions of almost all the products in the Macromedia line and sees them working together as never before. Included in this new line is a new version of Dreamweaver named - aptly enough - Dreamweaver MX.

The nice people at Macromedia were kind enough to get me a preview copy a while ago and spend some time introducing me to the product. Now that the news has broken (and my NDA has lifted), I'm free to pass my impressions on to you.

Where's Ultradev?

The first thing you'll notice is that the Ultradev moniker used on previous versions of the development flavor of Dreamweaver is gone. Luckily, the spirit of Ultradev, which I liked so much in the past versions (reviews of v1 and v4), is still alive and kicking and is actually better then ever. While the name has shrunk, the product has done just the opposite. Dreamweaver MX actually incorporates the best points of Dreamweaver, Dreamweaver Ultradev, and HomeSite (a great little editor in it's own right) into one extremely powerful product.


The basic user interface has evolved, but is not radically different from previous versions of Ultradev with one exception: it now has an MDI mode and actually is set up this way by default. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, let me give a brief explanation:

There are two basic types of window management commonly found in Windows applications: SDI (single document interface) and MDI (multiple document interface). I can't think of a better way to explain the difference then to just show you the selection screen from Dreamweaver MX:


The option on the left is the MDI. You'll notice that, in this mode, the application itself is made up of one main window and all the sub-windows are contained within it. Most recent apps allow you to customize this layout and dock the sub-windows to the edges of the application's main window.

The option on the right is the SDI. There is no containing window and, as a result, there is no background to the application itself. The windows just float around and can be moved independently, but there's nothing containing or connecting them.

Anyway, you get the idea. If you're from a Windows background, you'll probably like MDI much better.

Continuing on with my earlier point: MDI is great! As stupid as this sounds, this was one of the reasons I never really switched to Ultradev 4. Maybe it's just me, but when I'm developing, I keep everything I'm using open and running so I can get to it quickly. Isn't that the whole point of putting half-a-gig of memory in these workstations? Well, with Ultradev 4, I just couldn't get used to seeing all the other running applications sticking out from behind my workspace.

Development Platform Support

For those of you who read my review of Ultradev v4, one of my chief complaints was the lack of any real support for features in the newer versions of ASP (ASP v3 at the time). No longer are they behind a generation. In fact, this time around Macromedia is right on Microsoft Visual Studio.NET's heels. The product includes full ASP.NET support and they do a darn good job of it too. The ASP.NET pages generated have code that looks much like code you would write by hand does.

In addition to excellent ASP.NET support, Macromedia didn't take support for classic ASP out of the product (unlike one Redmond-based company did). Now I understand we'd all like to forget about all the garbage we've written in the past, but the truth of the matter is: you can't. Supporting older code and sites is a necessity. In an ideal world, the sites would be updated and converted over to ASP.NET, but give me a break - I wasn't paid enough the first time I built them... I'm not going to go back and fix them for free. And you try telling a client that you need to update their 20-page presence site that happens to have some IDCs and HTXs to a newer technology to make it easier for you to manage and that you want them to pay for it! Heck, it's for exactly this reason that we've still got an NT4 server running some of our older sites. I'm amazed half of it's still working... I'm not about to intentionally give myself headaches by trying to migrate that stuff to .NET. That being said, I do need to support it when one of those customers calls me up to make a change and with Dreamweaver MX I can do that from within the same environment I do my .NET work in.

I do realize that VID6 and VS.NET can coexist on the same machine, but should I really have to jump back and forth? After all... it's all web development isn't it?

Ok... sorry I got off on a rant there... what's this topic... oh yeah: platform support... I'm back now. In addition to excellent ASP (VBScript and JavaScript) and ASP.NET support (C# and VB), Dreamweaver MX also includes support for ColdFusion, JSP, and PHP making it an excellent choice for shops that do development across multiple server platforms. While we're talking about platforms, anyone out there developing ASP.NET pages from a workstation running Mac OS X? Well, it's supported if you buy the Mac version. Try and find another program that gives you this level of ASP.NET support on a MAC!

Cross platform... that reminds me - it does web services too. I've been told it integrates better with Cold Fusion MX in this regard, but it does them for .NET as well.

The Text Editor Rules

Perhaps the best improvement in Dreamweaver MX is the inclusion of the HomeSite-style text editor. As I mentioned earlier, HomeSite has always been a great little editor. Now you get all the stuff that made HomeSite great in an Ultradev-level development tool. Context-sensitive auto-complete, the tag inspector, code hints, snippets, the tag editor, and even customizable color-coding are all included.

auto-complete screen capture - ASP.NET auto-complete screen capture - Properties & Methods auto-complete screen capture - HTML

Accessibility and Standards Compliance Checking

Are you coding for accessibility? You should be! This has become a real hot topic as of late. With government regulations now requiring sites be designed to be accessible by everyone, the accessibility tools and validators will be extremely helpful.

In addition to making accessible pages, the tool itself has had some accessibility features added. The one I like is the customizable keyboard shortcuts for everything! I've picked up some weird preferences for keyboard shortcuts along the way and it's nice that the tool will work with me and not make me learn it's particular hotkeys.

What about XHTML... started moving over yet? No? Dreamweaver MX has great support XHTML including a converter. Just go File -> Convert -> XHTML and you're done! On the topic of XML related technologies, the environment works great for messing with straight XML files as well. A nice touch when it comes time to edit your config.web file.

See For Yourself

Enough of me rambling on... here's a screen shot so you can take a look at it for yourself:

Macromedia Dreamweaver MX Screen Capture

Now I realize that you can't tell much from a screen shot, but Macromedia has solved this by offering a free trial download of the Beta so you can play with the product for yourself. You can find it by going to the Dreamweaver MX Site and clicking on the download link.


The pricing I've been hearing has been extremely reasonable. Dreamweaver MX is reported to be going to list at around $399. Macromedia's Studio MX (which includes Dreamweaver MX, Flash MX, Fireworks MX, FreeHand 10, and the developer edition of ColdFusion MX) is said to be priced at $799. Those are retail non-upgrade prices. Upgrades are reported to be around $199 for Dreamweaver MX and $299-599 (depending on what products you're upgrading from) for Studio MX.

While none of those numbers are pocket change, they start to seem like it when you compare them to the prices of comparable products. For comparison, the list price for VS.NET Pro is $1079 or $549 to upgrade. Add a decent graphics program (like Fireworks MX), a rich content tool (like Flash MX), an illustration program (like FreeHand 10), or even an order of fries and you're close to, if not already over, the price for the entire Macromedia Studio MX which includes them all - except the fries.


Finally there's another option (besides VS.NET or Notepad) for ASP.NET development. If you're coming from more of a VB or C++ background, then Dreamweaver MX might not be the product for you, but for all you Dreamweaver, Ultradev, and HomeSite users, the upgrade is a no-brainer. I'd also lean towards Dreamweaver MX if you do anything outside the .NET arena. PHP, JSP, and probably even classic ASP all are easier with Dreamweaver MX then with Visual Studio.NET.

For those of you not covered by one of the above groups, I recommend you get the demo and decide for yourself. It's still in Beta so don't be surprised if it crashes on you once or twice, but assuming they get the bugs out, the product I've been playing with is the first thing I've seen that gives Visual Studio.NET a run for its money. Which product you prefer will probably come down to a matter of your own personal tastes. Dreamweaver MX does take a little getting used to if you haven't used Dreamweaver or Ultradev, but once you get the hang of things, I think you'll agree that Macromedia has done an excellent job of producing a first-rate development product. That, along with the fact that they are selling it for a fraction of the cost of the competition, should make you think long and hard about whether or not VS.NET is really your best choice anymore.

Additional Information

Students Can Get It Even Cheaper!

One of our visitors recently sent me the following note:

     I would like to thank you for all the help I have found on your site and also to tell you that MX Studio is available for STUDENTS @ I don't have any stock in the company but I do have a friend that is their IS manager.

The cost for the whole studio is [under $200] full

Scott Kirkpatrick

I think the students readers will agree with me when I say... no thanks needed Scott... actually - Thank You!

I'm Not The Only One Who Likes It:

Just got this email from one of our readers and thought I would share:

I was just reading your sneak peek of Dreamweaver MX. I downloaded the preview release the other day and must agree that it is one heck of a development tool. I always preferred Dreamweaver's HTML-writing capabilities over the competition's (it actually writes clean code!) and with ASP.NET support built in now -- with live data preview -- it's just amazing.

But the main thing that caught my eye was your line, "anyone out there developing ASP.NET pages from a workstation running Mac OS X?" Yes, as a matter of fact...that's exactly what I'm doing at home. FINALLY there's a cross-platform rapid-web-application-development environment that does syntax highlighting of C# code, auto-completion (for tags anyway), and even graphical database views, that runs natively on OS X! And it's far easier to extend Dreamweaver's functionality than it is BBEdit's.

So I wanted to join you in giving kudos to Macromedia for coming out with a product that is in some ways even more usable than VS.NET, and can be used on both Windows XP (and actually uses the XP theme, unlike VS.NET) and OS X. I too am quite impressed.


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