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The BIG Reason

Music, opinions, and portfolio of Mark Eagleton, musician and web developer in Northern CA.

Dreamweaver Dumbass Edition

Last weekend, the Adobe acquisition of Macromedia was completed. Its implications have been in the back of my mind since the announcements over the summer, some of which have already come to light.

Last week I voiced my concern over what would become of my beloved Fireworks workflow, and raised a thought about Dreamweaver's shortcomings as a professional web development tool. Now that the proverbial shit is starting to hit the fan, I've had one or two more thoughts about these shortcomings, or more appropriately, inconsistencies with the rest of the Adobe CS suite, and how they might just be able to turn them around.

Professional vs. Novice

Adobe Photoshop has been uncontested as the leading professional digital image-editing tool for the better part of two decades. Adobe Illustrator has also been a staple for professional graphic designers for a hugely significant amount of time. Adobe InDesign has all but turned the tables on Quark, which seems to have owned the professional print publishing sector for about as long as there has been one. With their acquisition of Macromedia, they have taken drastic steps to do the same with the professional web-publishing world. The only problem is that their newly acquired, "big web tool" (okay, their other "big web tool"), seems to be heavily geared toward novice users.

Both Dreamweaver and GoLive are pretty well known for being greatWYSIWYGweb development tools. While each does offer fairly robust code editing modes, the whole WYSIWYG thing is by far, what they are most known for. WYSIWYG in and of itself is a feature geared towards novices. Here's why I say so:

The whole concept of WYSIWYG as it pertains to the web, is probably the most cruelly devised concept in the entire history of naming product features. Anyone who has ever attempted to design a website will tell you, what you see isn't really what you get. After all, Internet Explorer 6 for Windows, Firefox 1.0 and Safari 2 don't always agree on that. Given the fact that Presto—Opera's rendering engine—is behind its design view, Dreamweaver may also have a different opinion on the matter all together.

No, WYSIWYG is more of a tool to take the edge off of all the intimidating XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript code for people who don't have the patience to learn it (I'm looking at you, graphic designers). Hey, even I did it for years. I can tell you first hand; if your projects require the true cross platform/user agent consistency, and graceful degradation any true web professional should be able to provide, design view is of little use to you. In fact, it's going to slow you down exponentially.

"So, don't use design view." You say. Bingo! Dreamweaver is a great text editor. It even has some cool features that BBEdit doesn't. But that's not my point.

Adobe provides professional solutions for publishers and graphic designers that do little to accommodate the novice. They don't sugar coat Bezier curves, kerning, and color separations in their professional design and layout products. Why should Adobe's professional web development tool be different, then?

It's Already There, So What's The Harm?

Frankly, I suppose there isn't really any harm. I mean aside from adding a bunch of useless tools to a somewhat sluggish interface. Dreamweaver is actually a pretty good learning tool for coding. Sure, the visual design process is a bit quirky in a program that acts more like a word processor than an Illustration tool, but if you can learn its quirks and watch what's going on behind the scenes, you can get a pretty good feel for how markup works. On top of that, if you don't like design view, you don't have to use it.

I used Dreamweaver for most of my non-professional web-developing career. The latter portion of which, I found myself using code view exclusively. There are a lot of pallets and features that you end up turning off when you only use code view. This prompted me to wonder if there was a tool that was more focused on the way I preferred to work. As it turns out, there were a few.

Harm isn't the issue here, either. The issue is providing a useful tool that professional web developers can't live without—just like graphic designers can't live without Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. The reality is that most professional web developers can live without Dreamweaver. I haven't opened it for about three years, myself. I don't know a graphic designer who could say the same about Photoshop. Adobe's track record suggests that they aim to take web development by the nose hairs as well. I just don't see that happening with Dreamweaver as it exists today.

What Web Developers Can't Live Without

This brings us to the six hundred million dollar question—what magic feature could possibly make Dreamweaver the answer to every web developer's needs? Before I answer this, let's make sure we have all the bases covered, shall we?

There isn't much that Dreamweaver's code view is lacking. What comes to my mind is a more robust snippets tool that allows for better replacing of wildcard triggers and cursor placement. Grep search would be fantastic as well. To be fair, Dreamweaver has a few features that I miss in BBEdit, like code completion, and keyboard shortcut to FTP your files to the proper directory of your web server.

These guys certainly have a few things they could learn from each other, but most can be chocked up to personal preference rather than deal breakers, and to that end, preferences that aren't necessarily worth the $200 difference in their price tags.

My friends, the end-all, be-all feature that would make Dreamweaver mandatory equipment for every last web developer, on every platform is the very thing that makes it a novice tool today: WYSIWYG.

I'm not talking drag and drop layouts here, though. Unlike the WYSIWYG feature I berated in the beginning of this article, this WYSIWYG is the real deal. I mean give me a live viewer with a select menu/tabs/drawer/whatever for switching between multiple versions of WebKit, Geko, Presto, Triton and Tasman; a viewer that will let me view my layouts locally and on the web from a single computer, running a single OS, in a single authoring environment.

One of the reasons the Mac platform is popular for web developers, is that it comes stock with the Apache web server, MySQL and PHP. These are very popular, open source Internet technologies that allow for local development of dynamic web content. It's extremely useful to have all of this power integrated in to a single platform. The fact that we have all this development power locally, but have to rely on emulation software, or additional hardware just to check rendering discrepancies in a web browser or two is insulting.

As a Mac guy, I have little tolerance for things like viruses, spyware, and full screen window environments. These are completely foreign concepts to me. With the release of Windows Vista on the horizon, its staggering system requirements, and inability to run multiple installations of Internet Explorer, the added cost and trouble of maintaining multiple Windows installations just for the ability to visit a few websites is along the same lines of reasoning as hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, because it feels so much better when you stop.

Likewise, web developers on the Windows platform could also benefit from the ability to preview their designs in webkit without the need for additional Mac hardware.

But That's Crazy Talk

Yeah, that could never happen. Or could it? Technically speaking, it is possible. I'm already running a few versions of all these rendering engines on a single computer at the same time. I'm even doing so in a much more complicated fashion than the ideal I have suggested. A few versions of Firefox here, an install of VPC there What's to say they couldn't all be consolidated into a single environment? Netscape 8 does it with Geko and Triton.

Okay, then legally, that would be a total nightmare. Are you sure? I mean, I already have multiple, legal copies of all these rendering engines running on a single computer at the same time. Opera, Apple and Mozilla license their respective engines to third parties all the time. Legally, it's already almost there.

Fine, but it's just not cost effective for a single company to license all of these engines for one piece of software. Are you freaking kidding me? The cost could easily be passed onto the consumer.

At the bare minimum, I already have to fork out an extra $230 dollars for Virtual PC with Windows XP, plus $80 for anti-virus software just so I can run a few Windows browsers. It's either that, or spend an additional $200 to $300 more to get a dedicated Windows machine. I'm willing to bet most web professionals would be happy to spend the same or more for the added convenience of not having to run multiple environments and, in some cases, virus protection, just for the ability to run a web browser or two.

A Slippery Can Of Worms

Indeed, the reality of such an ber browser raises a lot of scary possibilities. Some of these are already being considered after Adobe's recent Acrobat Reader/Flash Player integration announcement. Would this put Adobe into the browser business? Could this be a useful tool for the average Internet user? Does it give Adobe too much power?

He who gets up off his ass to take a chance and fill one of the biggest, largely ignored holes in the web design process deserves all the spoils he wins as far as I'm concerned.

Adobe, are you serious about owning professional web development, or is a Photoshop Elements, "prosumer" feature set all we can expect from you?

Can someone at least port Triton to Mac OS X already? Sheesh.