This review supplements Dreamweaver CS5 First Impressions, which I wrote just after CS5 was announced. That article explains most of the new features in Dreamweaver CS5 like other reviews, but the goal of this article is to share my experience in the field with Dreamweaver CS5 and to tell what works and what doesn’t work for me.
What CSS can do for you
Dreamweaver CS5 got quite a few new features focused on making CSS easier to use, and they have changed some aspects of the way I work with CSS. I still do a lot of hand-coding and don’t care to use the CSS Styles panel and its new features. I do like the Inspect button, which will put the Design view into Live View and color various properties of the CSS elements such as margins and padding. You can turn CSS rules on or off as well in the CSS Styles panel, which helps you see how the webpage is affected by specific rules and properties.
I love the Inspect feature for specific situations but most of the time my troubles with CSS happen with properties that aren’t easily seen, such as position, display and float/clear. I try to do a lot of my CSS positioning without absolute positioning when I can avoid it, and CSS1 and CSS2 tricks like floats aren’t really designed for the task. I wish Dreamweaver could solve these situations, but Inspect doesn’t provide easy solutions.
Handling CMS-generated websites
In my “First Impressions” article I mentioned Dreamweaver CS5 handles dynamic websites generated by PHP-based content management systems (CMS). At the time I couldn’t figure out how to get Dreamweaver to work with a website of mine that uses ExpressionEngine, and a little research suggests Dreamweaver CS5 actually doesn’t work with ExpressionEngine. Joomla!, Drupal and WordPress are the three CMS’s that Dreamweaver CS5 will handle dynamically—and there’s no support for the ASP-based CMS products out there, though there aren’t many.
Dreamweaver CS5 has taken an important first step toward working with dynamic websites but there’s a lot more to be done. Other dynamic systems, such as e-commerce products which are coming up more and more in my work, aren’t covered by Dreamweaver and I don’t do anything more than the design and production in that application. If you run Joomla!, Drupal or WordPress often, then I’d purchase Dreamweaver CS5 since it works beautifully with those products. Other CMS’s—like ExpressionEngine—don’t gain anything new.
The Inspect button is my favorite new feature, but the redesigned Site Definition dialog box is a close second. It makes creating new sites and handling multiple remote servers and environments much easier, though I think this says more about the weaknesses of the previous interface than the strengths of the new one in Dreamweaver CS5. Improvements like these are doubly important because interfaces like the Site Definition dialog box are used very often and if they aren’t well-designed they really grate on you. The other great new interface improvement from Adobe recently is the new File Import interface in Photoshop Lightroom 3, and that one proves that a lot of time and effort can be saved with a flexible and simple interface.
About the HTML5 Pack
Adobe released a Dreamweaver CS5 HTML5 extension a couple weeks ago that adds some HTML5-specific elements to Dreamweaver CS5. HTML5 has become a buzzword now that Apple is throwing it around as a replacement for Adobe Flash (which it really isn’t, at least not yet). I’m sure many web designers will switch from XHTML to HTML5 and Adobe has tried to embrace HTML5 even with the uncertainty around web video and whether it threatens its Flash products.
The HTML5 Pack should be a no-brainer for designers wanting to learn HTML5. The pack includes a couple HTML5 starter layouts accessible from the New Document window, but these layouts are fairly simple and don’t have many HTML5 elements other than the semantic additions such as
The disappointing thing is the HTML5 Pack won’t be much help for actually learning HTML5 or CSS3—it’s something that might have been better as part of the next Dreamweaver update. But I’m happy to see Adobe being proactive about HTML5, because I expect many more designers will at least try it in the near future.
Now that I’ve worked with Dreamweaver CS5 for months, I’ve concluded that its new features really bring a new focus to the application. CSS, PHP and dynamic websites are handled better than ever before, though there’s a lot more to be done. I don’t know if the Dreamweaver team will ever be able to get the application to work with all the CMS’s out there today, but I have to hope there’s some way to do it. It’s more likely that Adobe will tie Dreamweaver to their new Business Catalyst product, which offers a CMS as well as CRM and other tools.
Designers should look hard at Dreamweaver CS5 before buying. CSS-intensive coders who use one of the three CMS’s above would get a huge benefit and should have no problem justifying the cost for the upgrade. I use Dreamweaver CS5 in much the same way I used Dreamweaver CS4 and my benefits have been more modest, though I could probably do more with my CSS productivity. You’ll have to look at your own web design workflow to judge if Dreamweaver CS5 is right for you.