Software Review: Macromedia Dreamweaver 8 and Adobe GoLive CS2, Page 1

Meet the parents of your next web site building environment: the industry’s two leading software packages, Adobe GoLive CS2 and Macromedia Dreamweaver 8, have recently been brought under one roof by the acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe. While probably no one outside Adobe knows for sure what the future may hold for the two product lines, it seems more than likely that the industry’s next top site development package will derive from these two progenitors.

The Role of Visual Editors, and the Current Leaders in the Field

Readers of our previous review of Dreamweaver MX will know that the main reason packages like Dreamweaver originally came into existence was to provide a way for users to build and edit web pages in an environment where they could see how the page would actually look when displayed by a browser, as distinct from the code-centric environment of the underlying HTML or XHTML. Although many sites nowadays are created and maintained with a CMS (content management system), which enables webmasters to separate the job of handling content from the job of determining how pages will look, nonetheless visual editors still occupy an important or even essential role for anyone interested in modifying or creating that look in the first place.

So for the many mental health professionals who do want to have a hand in crafting their site’s look and feel — and certainly for those who manage their site’s structure and organisation directly, rather than through a CMS — packages like Dreamweaver and GoLive are worth evaluating.

For years, Dreamweaver and GoLive have been duking it out for the title of most capable visual editor; although many different low-end packages are available for building web sites, none compares to these two heavyweights. While the competition has long centred on Dreamweaver and GoLive, however, I believe most would agree that GoLive has been struggling for quite awhile. Since Adobe’s acquisition of Dreamweaver publisher Macromedia, however, both products are now owned by the same company, and it remains to be seen what impact that may have on the two product lines.

This review takes a look at each software package in its current state and offers views for those who need to create a web site now, without waiting until some time next year for whatever Adobe will be producing next. As with our earlier review of Dreamweaver, it’s impossible to do justice to the full feature set of programs as large and complex as these. As before, I’ll highlight a few areas of particular interest from the standpoint of the individual mental health practitioner considering these packages as tools for site building.

CSS Support and Rendering

CSS editing palette.

Dreamweaver’s CSS editing just keeps getting better.

Whereas the previous version of Dreamweaver offered a quantum leap in CSS support, Dreamweaver 8 offers subtle improvements that make a surprisingly large difference in terms of ease of use. Gone are Dreamweaver’s many separate CSS panels, replaced with one single pane that makes it much easier to create, edit, and understand complex style declarations. Even designers accustomed to writing style sheets by hand may find Dreamweaver’s unified style pane an attractive alternative.

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Even better, Dreamweaver now shows not only all the properties which apply to a given XHTML element, but also where those properties have been inherited from. Can’t work out why your <h3> tags seem to have an unusual amount of right padding? No problem: Dreamweaver can immediately show you that the property was inherited from something you set in a style declaration for a containing <div> you were working on last week and subsequently forgot about. For all but the simplest style sheets, this capability alone can be a real time saver when it comes to debugging.

Dreamweaver has also added simple style sheet switching so you can see how a page looks with style sheets applied for different media types (or with styles disabled altogether) — for example, to enable you to see how a print-only style sheet will cause the page to be rendered. This is vastly simpler than manually connecting and disconnecting style sheets, and changing media types just to see how another style sheet looks.

Dreamweaver's style sheet switcher.

Dreamweaver easily switches style sheets.

During my testing, I also found that the CSS rendering glitches of previous versions are gone: no more randomly shrinking column widths or other annoyances.

What about GoLive CS2?

Here, the news is not so encouraging. On the positive side, the CSS editing palette of Adobe’s product has improved (although it is still no match for Dreamweaver’s), and those who rely on GoLive’s Layout Grids for positioning will be relieved to know that the package has finally abandoned tables in favour of CSS-based positioning.

But it’s the fact that Adobe has clearly put such significant effort into improving support for CSS-based layouts that makes one big hiccup all the more astonishing: GoLive CS2 still cannot properly render complex CSS-based layouts in visual editing mode (called ‘Layout Mode’). As far as I can tell, the problems seem to crop up as soon as GoLive encounters absolutely positioned or relatively positioned <div>s, and problems are worsened by the presence of CSS-defined background images. For example, the image below shows how this site’s page describing our discussion forum looks from within GoLive:

GoLive CSS rendering falls down

GoLive coughs on complex CSS-based layouts.

The purple shading in this image is entirely normal behaviour: this is simply how GoLive indicates template elements that are fixed for each page. However, the peculiar rendering of background images makes it difficult to see what is where, while the incorrect rendering of width for the <div> containing the main text of the page requires continual scrolling left and right even to read the main text. In short, GoLive’s rendering of complex CSS-based layouts is so bad that it becomes virtually impossible to work in visual mode effectively. (Dreamweaver 8 renders the very same page just fine.)

By contrast , GoLive’s ability to preview a page — showing how it will look when viewed with a browser, but without enabling the content on the page to be edited — appears to work almost flawlessly. GoLive CS2’s previews are now so good that you can almost rely on them as a replacement for direct testing in a real web browser. If only the rendering prowess which GoLive displays in previews could be available in GoLive’s Layout Mode, the product could be a real winner in this department.

On a related note, GoLive CS2 has added robust support for previewing and working with small screen sizes (including mobile devices).

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