Macromedia Dreamweaver 8 Review

After a discussion on hand coding that almost got out of hand (ha-ha) I promised that I would give Macromedia Dreamweaver 8 an honest chance to impress me. So, for a month now I have been using an evaluation copy, both at the office and at home.

To sum up my impressions: Dreamweaver 8 is a decent piece of software for web designers and developers. It has several very useful features that can help increase your productivity. But unfortunately it has some flaws and peculiarities that make it unsuitable for the way I work, so using it actually slowed me down a bit. However, if Macromedia (or Adobe) were to fix the flaws I found, I would consider buying Dreamweaver.

Note: I tested the Mac OS X version of Dreamweaver 8. Some of my complaints may be specific to that version.

What I like

  • Code hinting: Once I got used to it, Dreamweaver's code hinting proved quite useful. The menu does have an annoying way of not showing up when I want it, and getting in the way when I don't want it, but I can live with that.
  • Auto-closing elements: This is easily Dreamweaver's most useful and time-saving feature. When you're working in code view, type </ and Dreamweaver closes the HTML element the cursor is in. Excellent.
  • Manipulating content in design view: One of the benefits that were mentioned by several commenters in the post i mentioned earlier is using Dreamweaver's design view to edit content instead of marking it up by hand. Yep, there's plenty of time to save here if you work with content a lot.

What I don't like

  • Instability: Dreamweaver has crashed several times, making me lose work. And it crashes almost every time I quit it. Very annoying.
  • Sluggishness: Maybe it's because I'm used to the snappy behaviour of much smaller applications, but I find Dreamweaver slower than it should be, even on my dual CPU G5.
  • Flaky GUI: The whole GUI feels like it's home-made. Dialog boxes are weird and don't seem to use the built-in controls in Mac OS X. There are also several GUI elements that have font issues. Sorry I can't be more specific, but my evaluation license has expired so I can't launch Dreamweaver to check exactly where I saw the font problems.
  • Odd keyboard shortcuts: Keyboard shortcuts are essential for quickly moving the cursor within the document you are working on -- it is not practical to reach for the mouse all the time. Dreamweaver's slightly non-standard keyboard mapping makes that more difficult than it should be. And some shortcuts that should move the cursor invoke the "Undo" function. Yes, you can redefine the shortcut keys, but why should it be necessary?
  • Named character entities: I haven't found a way to make Dreamweaver use decimal or hexadecimal character references instead of named entities in XHTML. That is very unfortunate since if you serve XHTML as XML, only five named entities are guaranteed to work.
  • Creating new documents: When I create a new document, I want it to be blank unless I tell my application otherwise. I haven't found a way to do that in Dreamweaver. Sure, selecting everything and deleting it doesn't take long, but it's one more of those little things that shouldn't be necessary.
  • Weak text manipulation: I often use BBEdit's advanced text manipulaton functionality. Dreamweaver doesn't come close. Come on, there's got to be a function to convert text case in there?
  • Annoying search dialog: When I press Command-F to bring up the search dialog, I want it to go away after I enter something to search for and press enter. Dreamweaver leaves it open, forcing me to manually close it.

Dreamweaver is good but needs refinement

All in all, Dreamweaver 8 is a decent application, but its flaws outweigh its benefits, at least for me. I find it especially hard to deal with the unpolished GUI, the sluggishness, and the instability. So I will not be spending my money on a Dreamweaver license until it improves.

This is just my personal opinion. Dreamweaver may be perfect for you, so if you like it and feel it's worth the money, by all means buy it. And while you're at it, get Rachel Andrew's book Build Your Own Standards Compliant Website Using Dreamweaver 8, which explains web standards, semantics, and accessibility, and how to make sure sites built with Dreamweaver are standards compliant and accessible.

Posted on October 31, 2005 in Web General