Adobe Dreamweaver has dominated the Web-editing field for longer than most people can remember, but in the past few years it has seemed willing to coast on its reputation, offering worthy but uncompelling upgrades with each recent version. Dreamweaver CS6 version is different. It’s an essential upgrade for anyone who wants to build Web pages or apps that automatically adapt when viewed in a Web browser on a phone or tablet or a browser on a laptop or desktop. For the past few years, I’ve been doing most of my Web design in Microsoft’s clean, efficient, and underpublicized Expression Web, but Dreamweaver CS6 is the first Web editor built for the multiplatform era, with full support for HTML5 and CSS3. Like the rest of the CS6 suite, Dreamweaver is targeted to professionals who are willing to climb its steep learning curve, but even occasional coders can use it to build impressive-looking sites.
Adobe has improved the fidelity and flexibility of Dreamweaver’s “Live” preview, and improved its “multiscreen” preview panel that shows what your page will look like at phone, tablet, and desktop screen sizes. Adobe’s online “browser lab” makes it possible to test your pages on older browser platforms, though Microsoft’s comparable SuperPreview feature offers an even wider choice of old and new browsers to test in.
Another Dreamweaver feature that I’ve wanted for years, and which Adobe scarcely mentions in its PR, is built-in Web font support through a simple dialog that lets you install fonts to your Web server so you can use them on your pages; this was always possible through laborious hand-coding but Dreamweaver makes it easy. Other improvements that I’m glad to see include a completely revamped—and speedy—FTP module with full support for secure protocols. Built-in support for the W3C Consortium’s page-validation tool guarantees full compliance with current Web standards.
The most spectacular new feature in Dreamweaver is its support for “fluid grid layouts,” which means that it creates pages organized according to an invisible underlying grid that changes according to the size of the screen. Text and graphic elements on the page automatically readjust their position when the page is viewed on a phone, tablet, or desktop. I had to watch a demo video (accessible from Dreamweaver’s opening menu) to figure out to use it, but after that it was easy.
You create a fluid grid layout by targeting three screen sizes: phone, tablet, and desktop. First you arrange the page elements as you want them to look at one screen size, with each element aligned to the invisible background grid. Then you click an icon to switch to a different screen size, and arrange the elements in a different way on the grid. So, for example, a phone will display your whole page in a single column with a dropdown navigation menu at the top, while a tablet will display parts of the page in three columns, with a wide navigation bar at the top. The underlying CSS automatically switches between layouts according to the screen size of the device displaying the page. The multiscreen preview panel lets you change any or all of the three built-in screen sizes, so you can test the way the fluid grid will work on any size you want.
Dreamweaver, predictably, is tightly integrated with Adobe’s Flash format. But if you’re developing for iOS, you can’t use Flash in your apps or Web pages, unless you buy Adobe’s $4,500 Flash Media Server to stream Flash in a way that iOS permits. Dreamweaver let me drop Flash video into my Web pages without an hiccup and with plenty of layout options, but when I tried to add HTML5 video to my page, I had to figure out for myself that I needed to download and install an HTML5 Video “widget” and then modify the widget’s code by hand.
For basic HTML and CSS editing, I still tend to prefer Microsoft Expression Web 4, but Expression Web works only on Windows, while Adobe’s apps work more or less identically on Windows and Mac machines. Also, Dreamweaver CS6 is unquestionably the first and only Web-building tool that works smoothly and capably in the new multi-platform world. It’s got its rough edges, but Adobe Dreamweaver CS6 also has more power and flexibility than anything else in its category, and it deserves our Editor’s Choice.