Dreamweaver MX: The Missing Manual
Posted: 4-Apr-2003

Mac Guild Grade

Publisher: O'Reilly

A

Reviewer: Diane Love $34.95


Dreamweaver MX: The Missing Manual

By David Sawyer McFarland, edited by David Pogue
1st Edition November 2002
ISBN: 0-596-00349
780 pages, $34.95 US

What the Book is About
O'Reilly describes this book as designed to accommodate readers at every technical level. There are special sidebars to bring beginners up to speed and shaded boxes containing material for power users.

Somewhat uniquely in the Missing Manual series, the book covers a product that is available for both Windows and Mac. The book contains keyboard shortcuts for both platforms, screen shots alternately from Windows XP, Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X and takes care to provide separate discussions for platform - specific topics.

The bookÝs 24 chapters are organized into 6 major sections plus an introduction and an appendix on help provision. The major sections are:
  • Building a web page
  • Building a better web page
  • Bringing your pages to life
  • Building a web site
  • Dreamweaver power
  • Dynamic Dreamweaver
Target Audience
This book is intended to be a complete reference for Dreamweaver MX for any level of reader. Like many books in the Missing Manual series, it also covers some broader context, in this case to do with web sites built on top of databases (like Amazon).

The book covers everything you would need to know to build a web site if you had never written a web page or a line of HTML.

While experienced web site authors would not require the introductory material, they would still benefit from the detailed coverage of Dreamweaver MX's user interface and functions.

People upgrading from Dreamweaver 4 may find this book helpful as MX has no user manual.

This book is not specifically about web design or web usability, issues which are important aspects of producing a successful web site. There are plenty of other books and web resources on these topics.
What to Expect
My first impression was that this book is alarmingly large: the cover says "the book that should have been in the box" but in fact it's thicker than the box that Dreamweaver MX came in.

Setting out to read a book this big can be daunting but as soon as you open it, the magical Missing Manual effect takes over and you are among friends. The magic comes from clear and attractive layout with lots of boxes, hints and tips separated out from the main flow of the text, and plenty of illustrations. The voice of the narrative is humorous and all that mysterious web jargon is patiently explained.

An example web site is developed throughout the book and you can follow the whole example by downloading the raw materials, following the steps and checking the results against the final versions which are also available on the web. But don't expect to be able to make your fortune from the example website as it stands: it's for a hypothetical newspaper called "Cosmopolitan Farmer" and features some rather surreal news stories about murderous vegetables.

The organization of the book is for the most part highly logical. The introduction actually sketches out web design and introduces HTML. The major sections follow on in a similar way to the Dreamweaver 4 courses I recently attended. The first section gets you through a web page with text, images and links, the second section then goes on to add more formatting features such as tables, frames and cascading style sheets. In each case, the pros and cons of the various elements are discussed in terms of the two singular constraints of the web medium - effects on download time and coping with the fact that your audience can be using an ancient browser which can't display advanced formatting, or may be using a radically different display resolution from the one you are using to design your web site.

The single aspect of the organization that I found surprising was that layers were introduced relatively late in the third section of the book, whereas the courses I attended covered them early on as static layout methods and then returned to them later for interactive aspects. In the book, both uses of layers are covered in the section on interaction.

The final 3 sections cover getting your web site onto the web, new power user features of Dreamweaver MX and web sites built on databases.

I found this last section to be a great introduction to this whole topic. It explains the server models that Dreamweaver MX can work with, including which are best for (or included with) each platform, what database could be used with each platform and then selects one model to develop an example. The fact that a Windows model is selected for this example is probably not a huge disadvantage for Mac users: the book explains that for Mac users, the pieces of the puzzle are Apache and PHP which come with OS X, and MySQL which can be downloaded for free. As this section is just sketching out the basics, anyone wanting to set up their own Amazon style website would probably want to get more detailed information on these topics before they went live.

The only thing missing that I had hoped to find was a specific discussion on the differences between web and print media. For someone with experience of desktop publishing and word processors where the paper and font sizes are fixed, the transition to the web medium is disorienting - text sizes can be relative not absolute, object sizes can be percentages of the window or pixels, everything is stretchy except pictures which stubbornly stick at the number of pixels they were born with, the fine control you had as a print designer is gone! These issues are discussed one at a time as they arise but not collected into one place. This arrangement is probably best since not all readers may have previous print experience.
Mac Guild Grade
A Outstanding
Final Words
This book is another excellent member of the Missing Manual series, with all the same key elements - clarity of presentation, engaging writing and thorough coverage of the topic and its context. An unexpected bonus was the example material on the web, which makes this book a tutorial as well as a manual.