David Gans (tnf) Sun 24 Nov 02 12:15
Christian Crumlish is the author of "Dreamweaver MX / Fireworks MX Savvy," an indispensable resource for web professionals, beginners, and people in between. Dreamweaver is the most popular program used to design and develop websites today. It runs on both Windows and Mac machines. Fireworks is a web- graphics tool that integrates seamlessly with Dreamweaver. Organized logically into sections - planning a site, assembling graphic assets, developing pages, designing navigation, building dynamic (database-backed) web applications, and going live (launching and maintaining your site) - "Dreamweaver MX / Fireworks MX Savvy" functions as both a linear tutorial and a flexible reference. "Dreamweaver makes it easy to develop and manage web sites without sacrificing design sophistication," Christian writes, "giving you a visual, graphical interface without hiding the underlying markup and code. Dreamweaver also includes tools for testing accessibility and your sites' appearance in numerous browsers." Christian maintains a website for the book (http://dreamweaversavvy.com/), where readers can obtain updates, downloads, and news, as well as ask and answer questions and make suggestions for the next edition of this book. He also publishes a syndicated blog channel called "Fireweaver" about web development, information architecture, and of course Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and other Macromedia products (at http://fireweaver.com/blog/). Since 1998, Christian has worked part-time as a literary agent, specializing in book projects with an Internet community or collaborative web-project component. He's authored more than ten books on technology, including the best-selling "The Internet for Busy People, Fifth Edition," and co-founded Enterzone, an experimental literary webzine ("hyper web text media zine art") in 1994. He also loves to sing and dance. Our interlocutor for this discussion is Jeanne DeVoto, a 17-year Net veteran and a longtime jaundiced observer of web design trends, and may have coined the term "Left-Hand Index of Death." Her professional specialty is technical documentation for programmers. A WELL member since 1988, she has hosted several WELL conferences, from Current Events to Hosting.
"Is that a British publication?" (jdevoto) Sun 24 Nov 02 15:57
Christian Crumlish (xian) Sun 24 Nov 02 16:02
Howdy! I just typed up a long preamble but your first question is better... (for the record, it was: I suspect this will be a slow time in the inkwell, what with Thanksgiving coming up and all, but I'm hoping we can have a wide-ranging discussion about designing and developing websites. I based the structure of my book on the lifecycle of a web-development project, from conceptual planning through launch and subsequent maintenance. I find this approach is more useful than simply wandering through the applications explaining what the widgets do. My aim is to give an overview of the process and show readers how to use the software to automate what can be automated, lock down what needs to be locked down, and efficiently build out anything from a personal website designed by an individual to a robust dynamic web application built in collaboration with a large multidisciplinary team.)
Christian Crumlish (xian) Sun 24 Nov 02 16:11
Great question: "With the rise of sophisticated tools like Dreamweaver, what's been gained - for web designers, and for the web as a whole? Has there been an offsetting loss?" I guess in some ways the gains are obvious. When you and I started building websites, you had to hand-code everything. To this day, many people pride themselves on working this way, and criticize the adoption of tools like Dreamweaver because of the way the whizzy interface hides the code and enables people to create websites without understanding the underlying markup... but, the fact remains that without shortcuts, this work can be tedious as hell. When we didn't have fancy schmancy tools like Dreamweaver, we at least used tricks like making templates and reusing them for similar pages, and things like that. To my mind, tools like Dreamweaver and Fireworks mainly help by automating certain processes and keeping track of others. For instance, in the old days, if you reorganized the structure of a website, you'd have to hunt down all the internal links and make sure that they were fixed to point to the new, correct paths. Dreamweaver notices where the links are pointing and when you move a file it updates any references to the moved page (after checking with you first). But aside from shops that are completely standardized on Dreamweaver (or, gopod forbid, FrontPage), very few developers spend all their time working inside one application. I still do a lot of handcoding, for example, but I find it useful to set up all of my active sites in Dreamweaver if only for the automated FTP and synchronization between my local server and the remote hosting site. I'm getting longwinded here, but to answer the second half of your question, what's lost when there's a total reliance on something like Dreamweaver is an understanding of how the Web works. There is also the risk of perpetuating bad or inefficient design decisions because the software makes them for you. For example, the people who promote Web standards (such as the fine folks of http://webstandards.org/) have worked with Macromedia to get it to support CSS (cascading style sheets), and the support is improving, but out of the box Dreamweaver still encourages you to build your page designs out of nested tables and to apply deprecated "FONT" tags to your copy to format the text. So, yes, there is a risk of losing a certain degree of control or finesse, though I think it's offset by the benefits: not just the shortcuts and reusable library-of-assets concept, but also the ability to create a site template and hand it over to someone else to build out. There are a lot of great collaboration features in Dreamweaver now that make working in teams much easier.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 25 Nov 02 15:24
Off-WELL readers are invited to send comments or questions to inkwell- email@example.com
David Gans (tnf) Wed 27 Nov 02 15:49
I am about as far from a web wizard as you can be and still have a computer on your desk (or lap), but I do have a web page and I sorta know how to get some information up there. But keeping it interesting seems like a major challenge. Can you talk a little about the difference between designing/implementing a web site and maintaining it as a living, breathing (and interesting) thing?
Christian Crumlish (xian) Wed 27 Nov 02 17:55
I think that this persistent interactive medium that we currently call the web is still so new that most of us don't really yet grasp its full dynamic. I'm not talking about the Internet's full "potential" which is huge but largely unknowable right now. I just mean that right now very few people really get how the web swings. What this translates into is that there are still a lot more people who are experts at throwing a beautiful looking website onto the web then there are people who know how to build an engaging interactive site that doesn't immediately go stale. For me, I've been through web publishing, web design, and now web development, where we think of the web site as an application running on the web as a platform. As the projects got more complicated, I picked up a few specialties - content management, information architecture, user experience strategy, user interface design, and so on, and one thing I noticed is that the content management needs for a website are almost always overlooked during the development and initial launch. At best, it's usually folded into the general site admin (such as adding users, security, etc.). Inevitably, a site goes live and after a little while the people who have to really live with the site (on the backend side, that is) day in and day out realize that it's a royal pain to update just about anything. That's when you end up retrofitting some kind of custom content-management interface. Ideally, I like to consider the people supplying the content for the site as one of the user audiences and develop the backend maintenance interface in the same way that the front end is developed for the paying customers or members or readers or whatever. More on this later... I need to make dinner while my partner makes pie dough for a few pies she's baking tomorrow morning.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Wed 27 Nov 02 17:56
(for "then there are" in paragraph 2 above, please read "than there are" instead)
"Is that a British publication?" (jdevoto) Wed 27 Nov 02 22:21
It's interesting that you mention the bifurcation between the people who create the content of a site and the people who make it work technically... it seems to me this, like the tools that let us insulate ourselves from the gory details of HTML, is another change that comes with pluses and minuses. There was something special about having sites that came in their entirety from someone's creative vision... but on the other hand, no one can deny that most creative people really, really don't want to get up to their elbows in code. (Or, for that matter, site design and architecture.) With most sites these days being developed by teams of people filling different roles, is there still room for the small personal site built by a single person? There will always be small sites for friends and family, and simple sites that present static information on a specialized topic (and don't need a lot of bells and whistles to do it). But are there individual website creators these days who are doing new things with the web - technically and creatively? Or will we see innovation coming mostly from teams of specialists from now on? Is there still a place for the generalist?
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer... (sd) Thu 28 Nov 02 08:01
hi christian, if i'm still a little slow with dreamweaver, will upgrading to MX help me or give me more things to stumble over?
Christian Crumlish (xian) Thu 28 Nov 02 08:57
answering out of order.... (sd), i think each version of dreamweaver has been a huge improvement over the last. when i first saw the program (around version 1.2 or 2.0), the concept was there but the execution was kind of weak. I think Adobe SiteMill was the state of the art in web design and site management then, In the meantime, though Dreamweaver has come a long way. I still handcode a lot of my pages and templates, but I use DMX to manage all my sites (keep track of the FTP information and the link relationships) and I'm very happy with it for that. I'll get to Jeanne's question next, plus I'm still thinking about David's question. Eat lots of food today!
Donald Pasewark (pasewark) Thu 28 Nov 02 10:55
Hi Christian, As a designer with basic coding skills, I find Dreamweaver MX to be a really great tool. I have found that I am fascinated by functions like searchable databases, etc. How hard do you think it would be for an art dweeb like myself to get a handle on this and maybe implement these functions in Dreamweaver MX. I assume they are covered in your book? Thanks! Don p.s. - Left navs. Functionally they are kind of cumbersome for right handed people. When I worked at seattletimes.com we experimented with right hand navs and extensive top navs, but found that for sites with extensive content (news sites in particular), our users preferred left hand navs, presumably because we always read left to right and users are used to seeing the nav there.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 28 Nov 02 11:07
Hey Don! Thanks forjoining us!
Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Thu 28 Nov 02 16:27
I got the book. Thanks! I'm new to Dreamweaver and I'll open it and design some pages before I jump in here. But I'll be listening.
"Is that a British publication?" (jdevoto) Thu 28 Nov 02 20:13
(Hope everyone's having a great Thanksgiving.)
Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Fri 29 Nov 02 08:29
I have a bunch of Front Page (shudder) enabled websites that I would like to move over to Dreamweaver for management, are there any gotchas to doing this? Can they be managed concurrently with both Frontpage and Dreamweaver or will this lead to problems. I have a community of authors who depend on me for web space and guidance as to tools for authoring and managing their websites. And I am planning on rolling out Dreamweaver to them as I get to know it better.
Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Fri 29 Nov 02 09:37
I see two Frontpage references in your index, the first is to page 213 and is in the HTML setup box where you choose Frontpage HTML as opposed to Dreamweaver HTML (I guess this is Fireworks specific). So I'll check this. Then on page 587 there's a reference to something called the Frontpage Migration Kit, which sounds like it let's you use Frontpage reports from within Dreamweaver?
Donald Pasewark (pasewark) Sat 30 Nov 02 07:45
Hi David! Great Topic - Thanks!
Christian Crumlish (xian) Sun 1 Dec 02 12:08
First of all, let me apologize for neglecting this topic just as it's starting to hop. I plead overindulgence at the groaning t-giving table(s)... So, I'll try to catch up now. Please forgive me for posting a number of replies sequentially. Re (jdevoto)'s question in (8), you write "There was something special about having sites that came in their entirety from someone's creative vision... but on the other hand, no one can deny that most creative people really, really don't want to get up to their elbows in code. (Or, for that matter, site design and architecture.)" I agree with both sides of this. The web has been a great medium for multitalented impresarios, and some of the best sites still emerge from a single person's vision. But it's not just that designers may not like to write code or that engineers may not have the aesthetic training or skills to do beautiful designs. There is also the issue of content versus design. Some graphic designers are good writers and vice versa, but it's sort of unrealistic to expect people to excell in every aspect of a multimedia format. Myself, I come primarily from the writer's perspective, and I dabble in artwork (sketching, painting, computer stuff) in my spare time, but I really don't seem to have the best design chops (or I don't know enough tricks),so I really like collaborating with people whose primary skills are in that area. In return I offer to write copy for them or rationalize their information taxonomy or something like that. Jeanne asks, "With most sites these days being developed by teams of people filling different roles, is there still room for the small personal site built by a single person?" And I say yes, absolutely. I still think the web is an ideal personal medium and hugely flexible in that sense. I may not want a single person to develop an e-commerce site for me or some dynamic application, but just look at blogs, which are almost always designed, written, published, and maintained by a single person. These are currently some of the most popular sites on the net. Personally, I think blog software packages and Dreamweaver share something in common: they help automate part of the web development or maintenance process, freeing people up to focus on humane skills and leaving the tedious repetitive i-dotting and t-crossing to the machines. Not to get too far afield, but I was wondering recently if it might be cool to have a blog conference here on the Well. Should I start blog.ind? Jeanne goes on, "... But are there individual website creators these days who are doing new things with the web - technically and creatively? Or will we see innovation coming mostly from teams of specialists from now on? Is there still a place for the generalist?" Watch me talk out of both sides of my mouth: Yes, and yes. As I said, I still think the web is the perfect medium for the auteur or impresario. Think of people like Derek Powazek, who combine art, design, community-building, and writing skills all in one person. I think generalists will always be drawn to the web. On the other hand, I think even generalists tend to have a sweet spot or comfort zone, and it's always going to be true that you can accomplish more ambitious endeavors by collaborating with teams of people. In my own work, I've been trying to get better at working with multidisciplinary teams, which partly involves learning to let go of total control of all aspects of a project. On the third hand, I continue to have these skunkworks/drawing-board type projects I'm always fiddling with where I'm very slowly doing all the work myself, if only because they are not commercial (or at least not immediately or obviously so), and there's no real incentive for anyone else to expend their energy helping me get these things launched. One thing I should probably do is list those projects publicly and see if anyone wants to step in and fill some of the gaps that I am less well equipped to handle myself. For example, my dreamweaversavvy.com website could really use a non-crappy design!
Christian Crumlish (xian) Sun 1 Dec 02 12:11
also, still following up (sd)'s question in (9), one way to evaluate DMX is to download it and try it for free for 30 days. I believe the URL for that is http://macromedia.com/dreamweaver/download/ (and the addresses for Fireworks MX, Flash MX, etc. are formed analogously). We also give away the trial versions of these programs on the CD in the back of my book, again so people can get started even if they haven't decided for sure to buy in or upgrade.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Sun 1 Dec 02 12:27
re (pasewark)'s question in (11), first of all permit me to gush as a fan for a moment: Don, I've been an admirer of your artwork and design for some time now, so it's a pleasure to have you here! Anyway, you ask, "How hard do you think it would be for an art dweeb like myself to get a handle on this and maybe implement these functions in Dreamweaver MX. I assume they are covered in your book?" First of all, I'm not surprised that you like Dreamweaver. I think that while it tries to appeal to people coming from various background bringing various skillsets to the table, it has always been first and foremost a designer's tool, trying to bring a kind of Photoshop interface and design approach to web development. It's usually the hardcore coders I encounter who find DMX to be too much of a crutch and prefer to do without the wysiwyg interface. These same people might argue that the code DMX writes for you is not optimized or is some other way clunky. Usually when you have software writing code this comes with the territory, because it has to fit as many context as possible. But definitely you can use Dreamweaver to build database-backed web apps, make them searchable, password-protect sites, and build other kinds of dynamic, interactive interfaces. Macromedia used to have a separate product called Dreamweaver UltraDev that had all of the database and web-application features, but with this MX version they've combined that with the basic product. While experienced programmers will always prefer to write their own scripts by hand, DMX makes it possible for people without those hardcore skills to pull together dynamic interfaces more-or-less automatically. You can build and populate a database in DMX and then build a front end for querying the database and displaying the results. Most applications are really just custom databases with an interface in front for putting information in or getting it out. Dreamweaver also "speaks" a number of different popular server-side scripting languages (ASP, JSP, PHP), so you can use it with existing dynamic sites or develop with whatever technology is available on your server side. For example, I have Dreamweaver running under OS X on my Mac, and I have PHP and mySQL going along with the Apache web server that comes with. This means that I can build and test database applications all just on my Mac, and then when they are ready, I can publish them out to my Linux server (hosted by a friend in New York), which also runs Apache, PHP, and mySQL. I find that pretty cool. As for left navs, I had never noticed that issue of lefty vs. righty before. I'm a lefty myself, which might be why. That upside-down L-shaped design really took over, at least among commercial sites, at some point. One problem with that is that unless you are using CSS for your layout and are creative about the order of the DIV's, people using nongraphical browsers will end up having to wade through a lot of navigation cruft before gettting to the juicy content on the page. My http://radiofreeblogistan.com/ blog uses a sidebar down the right-hand side of the page, although I can't really remember why I decided to go with that. You say "...our users preferred left-hand navs, presumably because we always read left to right and users are used to seeing the nav there." This could also be just because people had become familiar with the layout. In a sense, users get trained to expect certain interface elements and get disoriented when they are absent. Website developers, especially information architects and user-experience people often way overestimate how transparent the interface is. Most users have a very narrow concept of what they're looking and few can recreate the hierarchical navigation tree for a site, even one they are very familar with. For example, can anyone easily describe how the content at The Onion is organized? I read it every week and I'm not sure I can.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Sun 1 Dec 02 12:42
Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Mon 2 Dec 02 14:38
Another question I have is about building forms, I have both FP2000 and DW MX as options. Which do you feel has superior form building capabilities, or do you recommend another tool?
Aw shucks! (pasewark) Mon 2 Dec 02 20:06
Hi Christian, Wow. Thanks for the kind words! My own web site has been down for almost 3 years. I need to get it togther soon. I just moved to the bay area and I'll need my web site when I go job hunting. I think I need to wrap my mind around this database stuff before I mess with it. To me, creating an Excel database is a challenge. Although I'm not all that interested in doing heavy duty stuff, I like to understand how things work to the point that I can create dynamic pages with a simple database. Perhaps like a tapelist? heh, heh. I'll have to place an order on Amazon tomorrow . . .
"Is that a British publication?" (jdevoto) Mon 2 Dec 02 23:43
Christian, the book has a web site (as mentioned above - <http://www.dreamweaversavvy.com/>). How has that worked out for you? Have you seen a lot of hits on the site? Do you think it's brought sales of the book, or is it more in the way of an additional resource for readers? I had a tech book out in 1994, and I did write a page for it a couple of years later, but at the time it came out, having a web page for a book was pretty much unheard-of. But it's common now, at least for computer-related books. Do you think the web's changing how tech books are marketed and presented? With the web's ease of updating, will we see computer books presented online, or does the printed doorstopper have a long life ahead of it?
Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 6 Dec 02 14:16
Profuse apologies for my delay in responding to the last round of questions! I had a minor project fire to put out and then yesterday brought a last-minute ticket to the Other Ones show over at the Kaiser (which I'll probably post about elsewhere on the Well...). Catching up now...
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