If you’re designing Web sites or documents for online training or documentation, you could use Notepad and manually key your HTML codes. But that’s the hard way.

If you’re looking for an easier way, try Dreamweaver, a virtual WYSIWYG HTML editor that can create a Web site and a browser-based document or training course with equal facility. This product has been around for a couple of years now, winning acclaim, fans, and faithful customers along the way.

Not only is Dreamweaver a favorite with the Web monkey set (those who can write their own code in their sleep) and with very upscale and expensive design consultants, but many large corporations—including Nabisco, BMW Motorcycles, Proctor and Gamble, and Lucent Technologies—use this product to build their Web sites.

Who should use Dreamweaver?
Is Dreamweaver just for the pros who have lots of Web savvy and plenty of money? Nope. It’s a tad pricey as Web page builders go, at $299 for Dreamweaver alone. However, Dreamweaver is much more than just a Web page builder and far more than a straight HTML editor. I can code my own HTML, but when I had two days to put together a 20-page, online User’s Guide, I needed to concentrate on writing and getting screen shots. Dreamweaver allowed me to get the job done with very little time spent manually tweaking the HTML.

If you’ve used Microsoft Word or Netscape Composer or similar Web page creation tools, you probably know that many of those applications add redundant or extraneous (proprietary) code to the pages they generate. I’ve edited a document, saved as HTML in Word, and noticed the size of the file went from 15K to 6K without removing anything but unnecessary formatting and proprietary code. This code glut is such a common phenomenon that Dreamweaver has a special feature just to deal with it. Keeping page size down is important and, until now, editing out the glut has been time consuming and tedious.

Dreamweaver’s document interface lets you open a new document and begin typing just as you would in a word processor, choosing fonts, styles, and layout as you go. Menus and windows let you insert and manage images, tables, lists, and so on. Dreamweaver writes the HTML for you. If something is not quite the way you want it, you can open the HTML code and tweak it to your heart’s content.

That ease of use is what you’d expect from a WYSIWYG HTML editor, but it has lots of other features to make designing and constructing a Web site (or any interlinked group of Web pages) easier. For example, you can add “behaviors” to pop up a message window when an image is clicked, or replace one image with another when the mouse passes over it. This functionality was part of Dreamweaver 2 and has been expanded with the newest version. The Behaviors window even lets you specify the level of browser you’re writing for, so that you use only the actions and behaviors compatible with that browser.

New features in version 3
The Dreamweaver environment combines the best of the HTML layout and desktop publishing worlds. You can read a complete description of the new features in Dreamweaver version 3 at Macromedia’s site. Some of the new tools let you:

  • build and manage a Web site
  • allow a team to work on the same site without conflicts
  • update links and structural changes automatically across the site,
  • track all your changes, repeating or undoing them, even combining them into reusable commands

Download and compare
If you like to try before you buy, follow this link to download a fully functional, 30-day free trial copy of the program. I’d recommend that you take the Guided Tour and run through the Tutorial, even if you’ve used Dreamweaver before. You’ll get a good idea of what this package can do, and you’ll be able to compare it with other similar tools. In fact, Macromedia has a page that compares Dreamweaver 3 to Adobe GoLive and Microsoft FrontPage 2000. (You can find that page here.)

If you’re new to HTML and Web pages, the tutorial may tell you more than you want to know. I found it a little confusing, switching back and forth between Dreamweaver-supplied files and the my_files I created. However, the steps for carrying out the various activities are clear and thorough. The tutorial introduces each new activity with a few sentences telling you what you’re going to be doing and why. It also includes tips on good site design and management for those users who are new to the process. I’ve been using Dreamweaver for nearly two years on numerous jobs. I’ve found it to be a great way to learn new tags or refresh my memory if I haven’t used something for a while. I created the table, frames, layers, behaviors, or whatever in the document window, then opened the HTML code and compared it with the finished product. Seeing the two side-by-side helps reinforce my understanding of the cause and effect aspects of HTML layout the way coding in a plain text editor never could. One feature I particularly like is that when you make changes in the HTML window, the document window is updated as soon as you click in it and make it active (and vice versa).
Trainers can use Dreamweaver to create effective online or browser-based course materials. And while you can do quite a bit with Dreamweaver 3 alone, Macromedia’s Fireworks package can help you create impressive animations without spending an inordinate amount of coding time.


System requirements
Some of you may be wondering whether your machines will be able to run Dreamweaver 3. Figure A shows the minimum recommended specifications for Windows and Macintosh systems.

Figure A
Here are the recommended minimum specifications for machines running Dreamweaver 3.

Dreamweaver 3 is a product of Macromedia, Incorporated, 600 Townsend Street, San Francisco, CA 94103. The company telephone number is (415) 252-2000, and you can send them a fax at (415) 626-0554.
Dreamweaver 3 for Dummies, by Janine WarnerColoring Web Graphics 2 : The Definitive Resource for Color on the Web, by Lynda Weinman, Bruce Heavin, and Ali Karp


Barbara Karst-Sabin has been a tech writer and analyst for nearly 15 years. Karst-Sabin is an independent contractor with her own business, Words and Pictures, and is currently developing Web content on the Win2K OS for Hewlett Packard. Please post your comments about this review below, or follow this link to write to Barbara.