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McFarland, David Sawyer Dreamweaver MX: the missing manual. Sebastapol, CA: O'Reilly/Pogue Press, 2002. xii, 779pp. ISBN 0-596-00349-8 $34.95

This book came along at an opportune time, as I had just switched to using Dreamweaver as my site designer and page editor. This wasn't too big a change, since Homesite, the package I've been using for years, is built into Dreamweaver and the package offers the possibility of using a 'Homesite-like' interface. However, Dreamweaver is a very big package and is capable of much more than simple HTML coding. Consequently, the book is very useful, although at nearly 800 pages, one can understand why it was left out of the box!

A book of this kind needs to be more than a manual in the narrow sense; it needs to guide the user to the totality of operations of which the package is capable, and this one takes that perspective. Rather than simply describing the application of menu choices, for example, it deals with the underlying issues and then shows how Dreamweaver copes with them.

The book is in six main sections, plus an Appendix on 'Getting help'. The main sections deal with:

  1. Building a Web page
  2. Building a better Web page
  3. Bringing your pages to life
  4. Building a Web site
  5. Dreamweaver MX power, and
  6. Dynamic, database-driven Dreamweaver

The first section is, in effect a basic guide to using the package to develop a Web page - it assumes no knowledge of HTML and shows how pages can be built without any such knowledge. At the moment, for example, I am using Dreamweaver in its design mode, which gives me a WYSIWYG presentation, and the book tells me not to use the 'Text' tab at the top of the page to change the style of text, but to use the drop-down 'Text' menu - the tab being intended for use in the 'Code' view. Now, without the book, I never would have known that. However, I prefer the Code view myself, so that I can control exactly what is going on. Being a very clever package, of course, Dreamweaver actually gives me a 'Code and design' view, so that I can see the code being developed as I work in the Design pane. In fact, this feature may actually convert me to using the Design pane most of the time. I can type away as though I was using a word-processor and forget about the coding, while being able to check on it from time to time in the pane at the top of the page.

Like other sections of the book, this one is full of diagrams, screen shots and text boxes with nuggets of information in them - I found the information on not using the Text tab in one of these. From a teaching point of view, therefore, the manual is excellent and, although it is keyed to a particular package, I think it would be a very good teaching tool.

This section deals with the basics of page design, including text formatting, links, and images: Building a better Web page, is not really about better Web pages, but about more complex pages with tables, frames and cascading style sheets. Naturally, Dreamweaver has ways of making all of this easy and the illustrations, bullet points and information on the menus provide the reader with well-structured guidance on how to accomplish these tasks. As the text says, about frames:

The Web-page elements known as frames are both alluring and confusing. They're alluring because they can display multiple Web pages in a single browser window—one independent Web page per frame... At the same time, frames can be confusing to build, since they require a multitude of Web pages... to work.

Too true! And it is that confusion that prevents me from using them in Information Research—which does not seem to suffer as a consequence. However, the 'missing manual' goes on to show how Dreamweaver enables one to overcome the confusion.

Section three, Bringing your pages to life is about interaction: forms, dynamic JavaScript features such as mouse rollover effects and other 'behaviours', animation 'layers', and the use of Flash, Shockwave and other multimedia tools. This is well beyond what I want to do with Information Research, so I guess these pages will receive little attention from me.

Section four gets to grips with Building a Web site, and this is where Dreamweaver really becomes an indispensable tool. This journal is part of a very simple site, InformationR.net, which has only four main sub-directories, the most complicated of which is the journal—and that is not very complicated: just four issues a year, each issue having a varying number of files. The navigation links are also not very complicated. As a result, the site map in Dreamweaver has a very simple structure. On the other hand, an e-commerce site, say, could have a highly complex structure and with the help of this manual, you can get Dreamweaver to manage it, and all the links very effectively.

Speaking of links reminds me of the one occasion, so far, where I have been let down by the book. The default state of Dreamweaver results in the appropriate local file names being extended back through the directory tree, whether you want them to be or not. Thus a file named, say 'paper154.html', cited in the text, would be renamed something like C:\InformationR\ir\8-2\paper154.html when the edited file is saved—and all local files would be similarly re-named. I couldn't find out how to fix this in the book, but, eventually, I found the necessary information in the Help file.

Dreamweaver has many more features, such as the ability to store code 'snippets' for re-use on Web pages—my meta-tags are now stored in this way—and the package provides a whole raft of ready made snippets. For some reason, other chunks of text and code are called 'libraries'; for example, the 'How to cite this review' at the bottom of the page could be stored as a library item, instead of me copying it from one review to another, as I've been inclined to do. However, it is now stored as a snippet, so I suppose you can decide yourself whether to call a chunk a snippet or a library element—except that the book puts me right on this:

...Library items can only contain page elements that appear in the document window—in other words, only HTML from the <body> of a Web page. You can't include anything that appears in the head of a page...

Over all, this is a very useful book: it really is much more than the missing manual, it is an intelligent guide to the use of a very complex system and one that will repay study by any Web developer using Dreamweaver.

Professor T.D. Wilson

How to cite this review

Wilson, T.D. (2003) Review of: McFarland, David Sawyer Dreamweaver MX: the missing manual. Sebastapol, CA: O'Reilly/Pogue Press, 2002   Information Research, 8(3), review no. R090    [Available at: http://informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs090.html]