By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting
Thursday, September 23 2010; 6:15pm EST
The latest iteration of the famous Dreamweaver web design and development tool, CS5 continues its well balanced tradition of function and style. From the polished and thoughtful design of the installation process, to the day-to-day use of the application itself, you will be treated to an environment that helps you work better.
Installation is a painless affair, and gets you up and running quickly. Upon launching Dreamweaver CS5 (load times are quite respectable), if you have been using CS3 through CS4, you will be in familiar territory. Newcomers will notice a clean, contemporary and for the most part intuitive new workspace to call home. A typical tool bar spans the screen width along the top, properties panel along base and various customizable docks along the right represent the main stage you work in. The tool bar menus are generally well laid out and structured logically; similarly the properties panel is uncluttered and intuitive; but the docks along the right can at times feel cluttered and busy, depending on how they are configured, and particularly to beginners.
The split WYSIWYG view by default is vertical between the code and design, which seems to be awkward for properly viewing typical wide format designs, even on large format widescreen monitors. Luckily this can easily be switched to a horizontal orientation so that there is more width to view code and page design. A brilliant feature of Dreamweaver is how it automatically loads and displays below the page tabs all of the associated files that the parent document depends on, such as stylesheets, script files and include files – which makes it incredibly convenient for quickly accessing pages that influence the one you are currently working on.
Getting right into building pages, both the code view and design view are overall a pleasure to work with. Code view does a commendable job of assisting coders with tag, variable and attribute suggestions, auto closing tags, even helping with scripting language tags such as PHP, all of which is intelligently color-coded for easier viewing. The compliant code outputted is generally excellent, with only minor manual optimizations required. A set of code cleanup and compliance tools also helps to validate code for both accessibility and standards compliance, with a combination of suggested remedies and items it can automatically correct. Other tools such as the Find / Replace are fairly intelligent and quite flexible for day to day mass replace tasks that tend to pop up on occasion with web design assignments better use of wildcarding within search phrases would be a welcome addition however.
The pre-made starting points help build a basic framework for pages based on layout and language preferences, which is great, doing away with the undesirable and frankly amateur looking pre-made HTML and graphics templates of other web design tool choices on the market.
So what's new and improved in CS5 over CS4? Possibly most importantly is support for HTML5. Anyone involved in web design will be seriously considering using HTML5 over the upcoming months, if not already dabbling on implementing HTML5 in projects they are already working on. On the subject of up-and-coming, CSS3 support will also be crucial for new projects, and Dreamweaver CS5 supports it. Next up, BrowserLab… Finally, you no longer have to subscribe to online services in order to test for cross-browser compatibility. BrowserLab lets you render your web pages in a variety of target browsers, versions and operating systems; perform side-by-side and even onion-skin comparisons, tre-cool!
If you purchase Dreamweaver CS5 as part of a larger Adobe Creative Suite bundle, you will also have terrific media handling that will allow effortless dropping of PhotoShop, Flash and other media files right into Dreamweaver pages. The connectivity between the applications has continually evolved to further streamline getting creative materials into the code and working faster.
So is it a perfect world in Dreamweaver CS5 land? It's close, but there are some gotchas. We have routinely found that CS5 tends to get pretty lethargic handling large numbers of open files. Navigating between files with the scrollable tabs along the top of the application becomes slow; editing slows and the overall application becomes bogged down using our quad-core test box. We're talking a couple dozen or more files open, which may not be an often occurrence, but it happens. A quick peek at your Task Manager with this many files open will show Dreamweaver thrashing your resources. This was somewhat of a minor issue in CS4 but has become more pronounced in CS5.
We have long wanted automated spell checking on page content, but still requires manual menu selection of spell checking, and the integrated spell checker is minimal at best. Finally, editing objects such as tables visually can be a finicky and tedious at times, requiring patience. While we would like to see the resource hungriness addressed, these are really minor gripes when you look at the overall stellar polish and feature extravaganza that this software shows off.
The learning curve is comfortable with Dreamweaver CS5, newbies may take a bit of time adapting, but no more or less than other WYSISYG editors. And once you have become proficient in the Dreamweaver environment it is a pleasure to work in.
Dreamweaver never seems to disappoint, we continually are impressed that the application stays true to its roots of being the stylish and highly functional design environment. We usually compare competing applications on the market, but frankly, this is it. Yes, there are many other options from the likes of Microsoft Expression, to armfuls of smaller offerings. But this is well beyond the reach of the competition; it just hits the spot. Should users of CS4 upgrade? The environments are identical, but technically, as HTML5 and CSS3 become of more importance the nessesity to upgrade will continue to increase, it may be a sound investment purely on that basis, and there are a handful of other benefits in CS5 that sweeten the deal such as BrowserLabs.
The $399USD license, and $199USD upgrade prices will be tough to swallow by many, but really you're dealing with best of breed, and something that would probably be better purchased as part of a Creative Suite bundle such as the Web Premium Suite to lower the per application cost and to take advantage of the seamless interactive nature of the bundled software. While being more of an upfront investment, you can essentially run your entire web design business with this single bundle.
Dreamweaver CS5 is available immediately at major retailers internationally and online. System requirements are a modest Windows XP with service packs or Mac OS X v10.5.7 and up; Pentium 4, AMD Athlon 6 or multicore Intel processor; 512MB memory; up to 1.8GB drive space, and 1280x800 video resolution. These are really entry-gate specifications, we would highly recommend at least 2GB to 4GB memory, quad core processor and more screen real estate than the minimum to really get the most out of the software, if at all possible, none of which requires a major investment, but makes a considerable difference to the day to day usage of such a critical tool to your business.
About The Author
Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.