Of all the Creative Suite giants, Dreamweaver has perhaps the toughest job, needing to remain relevant for those immersed in the rapidly evolving web industry. Other media aren’t static by any means, but the web changes at such a rate that software finds it nigh-on impossible to keep pace – especially software that’s infrequently overhauled.
Throughout its history, Dreamweaver has had a tendency towards cruft and legacy, but recent revisions have mostly dealt with such things, and Dreamweaver CC feels for the most part a release shooting for the web’s present rather than being mired in its past.
New document starting points are impressively contemporary rather than being littered with outdated code; the CSS Transitions panel enables you to rapidly compose custom transitions that would be fiddly to hand-code; a small range of useful jQuery UI widgets can be added in seconds via a menu; and the new suite-wide Edge Web Fonts window provides you with more typographic scope by freeing you from the tiny handful of web-safe fonts, for no extra costs.
There are also attempts to deal with modern web workflow. There’s Fluid Grid Layout, flagged by Adobe as new but actually a feature that made its debut in Dreamweaver CS6. (It’s ‘tweaked’ here rather than new.) This custom set-up quickly gets you on the path to building a responsive website that reworks itself for different viewports.
We’re in two minds about the feature. On one hand, it’s great to see Dreamweaver embrace a hugely important modern web trend. The workflow is user-friendly and reasonably intuitive, with you visually repositioning containers as the viewport is adjusted.
On the other, it feels like a solution appropriate for methodologies as they stood at least a year ago, largely because the default set-up makes the dangerous assumption ‘mobile’ equates to 480px, ‘tablets’ to 768px, and desktops to ‘1,232px’. You can, of course, customise the code, but the foundation does lead users into a false sense of security regarding compatibility and targeting (given the hugely variable viewports in modern devices), and the interface elsewhere sometimes also embraces similarly dated concepts of ‘safe’ breakpoints.
The ‘actually new’ CSS Designer panel is far better. Reminiscent of browser dev tool inspectors, it enables you to select an element in Code, Design or Live view, and access the CSS source, media queries, related selectors, and properties. We found the media queries section particularly useful, with its ability to snap the visual preview to any defined width via a single click – great when you’ve a dozen or more media queries.
Computed properties also display clearly, providing a simple means to explore and update your site’s design; however, users will need to be mindful of specificity issues – it’s easy to select an element, update a property value and watch as you realise a more generic/higher-level element has in fact been adjusted, thereby affecting your site more widely than intended.
Still, the level of assistance this feature provides is impressive, and we imagine it will in particular drag more corporate users into the world of modern CSS. In a sense, it’s a pity the updated code-hinting couldn’t also be more helpful in terms of adding some default values, and triggering more reliably.
Dreamweaver CC, then, is the next version of Dreamweaver, which is neither criticism nor compliment – more a statement of fact. For those wedded to the app, it’s a no-brainer upgrade, even if there’s hardly a glut of new features. It’s also a powerful tool for working on sites created with the program itself, as you’d expect.
For those who’ve abandoned Dreamweaver, there’s little reason to return. For newcomers, it’s a decent – if weighty – product, but code-oriented designers should be mindful for three months’ ‘rental’ of Dreamweaver, they could buy a permanent copy of Coda 2, Sublime Text or Espresso.