Dreamweaver MX was released in May 2002. Macromedia states that this version of the product enables designers and developers to “unlock the benefits of emerging standards and new web technologies, including XML, web services, XHTML, and accessibility compliance.”
The WaSP Dreamweaver Task Force has worked with Macromedia during various stages of the development of this release, and at the outset identified a number of key objectives for improving standards and accessibility support in Dreamweaver. In assessing the release of Dreamweaver MX, we must look back to our primary objectives and measure the final release against them. Below is a brief summary of our findings.
Dreamweaver MX (DMX) produces valid markup “out of the box,” and offers the choice between XHTML and HTML versions, inserting a valid DTD for the user’s choice. DMX also takes steps to produce code in accordance with the document’s DTD, and in most cases achieves this well. This is a big step forward for this release, and meets a number of our primary objectives.
Through a new set of preferences and options, DMX enables users to easily create web documents accessible to all. Previously available as an add-on extension, Macromedia has included an Accessibility Report in the Site Reporting tool, another first in this release.
DMX renders CSS2 to a reasonable level of accuracy. Pages laid out with CSS can be worked on within the Dreamweaver visual environment, although there is further room for improvement. There hasn’t been much improvement in the ability to edit CSS within DMX, and most serious developers will find themselves using an external, dedicated CSS tool for this task. The important factor is that the pages render reasonably – another big move in the right direction.
DMX no longer corrupts valid CSS layouts by inserting inline styling as Dreamweaver 4 did. For pages with
CSS positioning and an external style sheet, Dreamweaver no longer inserts inline style attributes when editing a positioned object.
Instead, the external style sheet is correctly edited. In addition, the Layer tool (which inserts
DIVs with inline styles and absolute positioning) has
been deprecated within the Dreamweaver interface. It used to be on the primary common tool panel, and it’s now hidden away somewhat.
DMX users are able to be reasonably confident that their Dreamweaver-created pages will validate and have a good level of accessibility. Dreamweaver has a built in HTML/XHTML validation tool. It’s pretty good, and more importantly it emphasizes the need to validate. This is a crucial improvement, as it means that less experienced users are far more likely to turn out valid, compliant pages without having to put in any extra effort.
The Task Force has always maintained that Dreamweaver should not encourage the use of deprecated tags or attributes by its default settings or interface design. In DMX, there has been major breakthrough on this front. Since Dreamweaver 1, the default Property Inspector (main toolbar) has been centered on the use of font tags for text formatting. Thanks to campaigning led by the Task Force and a huge amount of flexibility and hard work by the Dreamweaver engineers, an option has now been added to toggle the interface between using font tags and using CSS selectors. Font tags are still the default (for practicality – this change came late in the cycle), but a user wishing to use CSS instead can click a toggle to replace the font options with CSS options. Fantastic!
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. Macromedia has made a positive move in the right direction – even if they’re not 100% there yet with this tool. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and there are many more ways in which Macromedia can improve the level of standards support within Dreamweaver. However, Macromedia “gets it” and they are listening.
If visual editors are your bag, Dreamweaver MX certainly leads the field. It will help you to build pages that not only validate against current web standards, but that are also accessible to all. Possibly even more importantly, when Dreamweaver can’t help with your standards-compliant implementations, it does its best not to hinder you. This is something that could not be said of Dreamweaver 4, so a big thumbs up to Macromedia for that.