Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 and Web Standards

Adobe CS4
Adobe Creative Suite 4

The fourth installment to the Adobe Creative Suite series was launched yesterday with updates to the web and graphic designers favorite software tools. The list of new versions go a long way: Photoshop (with two versions), Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, After Effects, InDesign, Illustrator, Premiere and Soundbooth.With a tagline “Shortcut to Brilliant,” Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) aims to build on the addition of former Macromedia products in the previous version.

I looked at the features list of Adobe Dreamweaver CS4, the app that focuses on the building of websites and web pages, and there’s a feature that caught my attention:

CSS Best Practices
Implement CSS best practices without writing code. The new CSS tab in the Properties panel shows the styles for the current selection as well as all the applicable CSS rules. Hover over any property to view a tool tip with no-jargon English explanations of CSS principles. New CSS rules can be created and applied in the Properties panel and stored in the same document or an external style sheet. Dreamweaver CS4 even gives you control over the specificity of your rule: Just click Less Specific or More Specific in the updated New CSS Rule dialog box to target your style precisely.

I haven’t tested the actual software myself, but this looks promising, especially for the budding web designers who need to layout easily and get familiar with Cascading Style Sheets. However, I do hope that it won’t spoil the designers into taking CSS for granted, ie, not caring enough to work with CSS without Dreamweaver or similar tools. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m not too high on the prospects that CSS becomes a mere “feature.”

Let’s see when CS4 ships and how this new feature pans out.

Working with Drupal

I’m doing my MBA internship here in Infosys in Bangalore, India and my 2-month project here involved architecting and building a throw-away prototype of a system to be developed in the future. I was tempted to develop it from scratch using some PHP framework (like CakePHP or CodeIgniter) but I decided to create it with Drupal, after sifting through several resources and reviews. I took some time to evaluate if Drupal could create what I wanted to achieve based on requirements documents and while I wasn’t yet 100% sure of the fit, I went ahead with Drupal in the interest of saving time. (Yes, I have a tight deadline).

So far, I’ve been living off modules developed by the Drupal community for version 6 and I would say that 60% fo the functionality I need is already out there, with minimal customization. My strategy so far has been “DBA”– Don’t Build Anything— meaning I’m trying to avoid writing code and always look for some module that approximates what I need. This is the really the first time I appreciated the open source community effort for its effect on my actual work. (I’m not counting the WordPress community becuase I’ve used it primarily for personal purposes.) I also saw this class site from the Univesity of Michigan on Drupal that is extremely helpful– with slides and screencasts to boot!

I’m also at that point that I’ve exhausted the available modules out there and I may start to hack and write code for a Drupal module. My issues really stem from altering the workflow of the base package by adding layers and layers of moderation and review. (I absolutely welcome any suggestion in going about writing a workflow module.) My only nitpick about Drupal is its rather unique user interface– too unique that it takes a lot of getting used to and for some reason, my installation in my test server is terribly sluggish.

I personally am optimistic that I’ll achieve 100% of the funtionality that I need and if there’s anyone out there who can give nice resources for Drupal, I’d be very thankful. 🙂

A Tale of Two Happy Web Designers

Ia Lucero and Noel Perlas are two web designers who undoubtedly happy these days. Both are the raffle winners of the Adobe User Group – Philippines‘ raffle during the Philippine Blog Awards and both have received their prizes on the mail. Each of them got a boxed Adobe Creative Suite 3 Design Premium worth $1,799.00.

Congratulations again to Ia and Noel and have fun with your spankin’ new CS3. 😀

A Dreamweaver guy tries MS Expression Web Designer

ExpressionI’ll make this clear from the start: I’m really a Dreamweaver guy. But with all the posturing Microsoft has been doing on the web design/development against Adobe lately, I can’t help but be curious about what the Expression Web Designer can offer the web designer. Does MS Expression Web Designer have the goods to sway the Dreamweaver crowd?

I downloaded the beta version of MS Expression Web Designer (EWD) and installed it on my PC. Here are my impressions of this application:

The User Interface

  • Once I got EWD up and running in WYSIWYG, I felt I was using MS Word. Its interface is very true to any MS application– front the look and feel to the interactions. As a Dreamweaver user, I’ve gotten used to its interface and I appreciate the difference in my use of DW and Word.
  • EWD has extensive drag-and-drop features. You can insert form elements, html tags and visual components using that method. VB developers will probably like this but it may take some gettting used to if you’re a Dreamweaver designer.
  • The Code View in Dreamweaver is superior in my opinion. The default code coloring in EWD is something I don’t like. However, the Intellisense feature in EWD is top-notch.

Using the Application

  • The Help windows took forever to load.
  • ASP.NET is the only server-side scripting langauge supported by EWD (Surprise!) So much for doing PHP/Ruby on Rails development.
  • There are built-in ASP.NET components that can be inserted via drag-and-drop. Although Dreamweaver has some pre-built components, the use of drag and drop is a appeals to the lazy, ehem, smart coder in me.
  • There is a thesaurus feature in the editor! I like this feature very much. Saves me time from switching from DW to Word when writing web copy.
  • You will need a map to get to the Template feature.

Web Standards

  • CSS is handled very well in EWD.This is one aspect that Dreamweaver guys will like.
  • Style management is clean and efficient. Editing a style brings you to the code and panel view,so you can choose where to tweak your CSS.
  • Formatting of components already is defined in to the webpage stylesheet by default. Nice.
  • EWD puts a premium in the use of tables. It has a control pane exclusively for layout using tables. it even has a separate menu item for tables. The standardista in me just wants to scream.

Although I did try this application in its Beta phase, it’s pretty much sufficient. From Frontpage to this applications is a quantum leap on its own. However, I think Microsoft Expression Web Designer doesn’t not have what it takes to get Dreamweaver users to switch based on features alone.

Google Gadgets: One step closer to the Web Desktop

The writing is on the wall– Google Gadgets is the search giant’s first of many steps to wean the public on the Web Desktop concept. And ultimately this new age desktop environment Google envisions will render the underlying OS into a much lower level that users will no longer interface with it.

This type of desktop environment is essentially a platform where people can actually become productive exclusively on the web, without much reliance on traditional desktop software. This means it is not impossible for you to have conference calls, run meetings, manage projects, and crunch numbers all on a web platform in the near future.

But before you ditch Windows, there are several challenges this Web Desktop is facing at the moment:

  • The ambiguity of where the application begins and ends. A lot of people still see the web as one monolithic glob of applications, as opposed to clearly defined desktop applications with their own unique looking interfaces.
  • Where are the installers and uninstallers? If I want to add Google Gadgets to my web application, I have to code it. This presents a barrier to those less inclined to technology.
  • (Un)Responsiveness. Yes, AJAX and Flex have done a marvelous job at creating a better user experience for web applications, but the response time is still contingent on the bandwidth.
  • Non-standardized interfaces. Thanks to web standards, this snag will probably be a non-issue in the future. But for now, with IE still mangling layout and CSS still have to iron things out, it is an issue.
  • Hacker’s Delight. With people depending on a platform being remotely accessed, black hat hackers would be happy to serve you a DOS when you are about to download that important web document.

If there is one thing Google Gadgets show us is that although the Web Desktop still has a long way to go, it is now a step closer.