INDEX BY: Edition / Title
The books reviewed (all published 2001):
Dreamweaver 4 for Dummies Quick Reference by Camille McCue, IDG Books Worldwide, £9.99

Dreamweaver 4 in easy steps by Nick Vandome, Computer Step, £9.99

Dreamweaver 4 Weekend Crash Course by Wendy Peck, Hungry Minds Inc, £15.99

Teach Yourself Visually Dreamweaver 4 by Mike Wooldridge, Hungry Minds Inc, £24.99

Books for Dreamweaver v4.0, Macromedia’s web authoring tool

My experience in web authoring and design comes from building websites. I have learnt about features as I have come across them. I approached these books with an open mind – if I was to buy one for me, which would I choose? Would I choose differently if I were to buy one to recommend to our (mostly trainee teacher) undergraduates?

The books are targeted at different audiences – beginners to advanced users. Their content reflects their intended audiences.

I looked at four aspects of each book. I looked at the way they introduced the application, and at two new elements of Dreamweaver 4, namely layout view (this was coupled with tables), and asset management. Finally I considered one existing feature which I haven’t previously used, layers.

My first impressions of Dreamweaver 4 for Dummies Quick Reference was that you definitely need to have prior knowledge of a web authoring application (but not necessarily an earlier version of Dreamweaver) in order for this book to be useful to you. The steps you need to follow in order to perform a task are not easy to pick out from the body of the text. Within each section, elements follow an alphabetical rather than a logical sequence. For example in the layers section, the headings are Nesting Layers, Overlapping Layers and then Placing Objects in Layers. The tone is no nonsense, but has a hurried feel to it.

Dreamweaver 4 in Easy Steps is altogether a different book. The open style of page layout and the tone gives a much more relaxed feel. This book introduces the importance of design issues, such as site definition and file management, from very early on. However, the sidebar icons and associated text irritated me. They contain information that I felt should have been included in the main part of the text. They proliferate with as many as three different icons on one sidebar. The sequencing of the steps is logical but the layout on the page is not always. I thought early on in reading this book that screen grabs could have been made smaller, allowing for more room for the step by step text and alleviating the need for all those sidebar icons. I would have liked to see the step-by-step instructions in a different font to the explanatory text to make it easier on the eye. I was amazed, but pleased, to see web design a major consideration, that in a step-by-step book, you don’t actually enter text until Chapter 5!

Dreamweaver 4 Weekend Crash Course. I was at first daunted by the prospect of this book. How could you work through it all in one weekend? (There are nearly 500 pages.) Straight away the audience of “total beginners and those who know how and now want to know why” are defined. The idea is to work through this book and to do the exercises to gain the most from the text. There are sidebar icons here too, but they are used sparingly and to effect. As I reviewed this book, I used it for reference as well as for following the step-by-step procedures. I found it easy to read and easy to use. This book comes with a CD for the exercises. I did not use the CD.

Teach Yourself Visually Dreamweaver 4 – I was uncertain, on a first skim through, whether the high quality of the graphics was masking a lack of depth in the text. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case. Very much a “how to” and not an in depth “why” book, I found the style of brief introduction followed by step-by-step instructions easy to use. However, the steps tended to be cluttered. With half a page given over to the introduction, this squashes the main step-by-step graphics onto half a page. They could, in most cases have benefited from more space.

Layers

As you’d expect from a Quick Reference, the subject is dealt with briefly, in alphabetical order rather than logical steps with a hurried feel to the text. It was not as easy to follow as In Easy Steps because of the style of layout and tone of delivery. That is not to say that In Easy Steps was faultless. In among those sidebar icons, suddenly without reference to the accompanying or preceding text HTML appears. With the briefest of reasons for why you would use layers, In Easy Steps gives you the basics. Visually also gives you the basics and omits why you would choose layers in preference to tables. All of the design considerations, including how working with different browsers affects your choice of Dreamweaver tool, and how to apply those tools are comprehensively covered in the Weekend Crash Course.

Now to turn to the new features of Dreamweaver 4, Asset Management (keeping track of all your images, colour schemes and links) and Layout View (a new way of aligning text and images on a page).

Asset Management

This section strengthened my opinion that only experienced web authors should attempt to use the Quick Reference. It tells you what the tool is useful for but not quite enough about for novice users to use it comfortably. In Easy Steps again uses the sidebar icons rather than the main text to give you the relevant information and then throws in Favorites, which I found confusing. In Easy Steps also informs us about assets before it explains how to put text or images on a page. It does not tell us how to move assets between sites or delete assets. Visually gives us short, to the point instructions after the briefest of introductions. The Weekend Crash Course calls asset management “a timesaving feature which will change the way you use Dreamweaver 4”. It covers the feature in depth always considering the designer and the audience.

Tables and Layout View

I have included Tables with Layout view because they fall together in all 4 books. In Easy Steps again failed to impress because the layout of the steps on the page were not easy to follow – the layout suggested that you read Step 1, Step 3 and then Step 2 on p119. In Easy Steps left me half way through some techniques. I was told it was possible to add a border to a layout cell but not actually how to do it.

I looked for Layout View in the index in Quick Reference. Layout View was mentioned several times in the index but in the text was not distinguished as a feature in its own right. The difference in using Layout View and Standard view are highlighted in the creation and manipulation of Tables and the appropriate actions are sequenced but no explanation of what Layout view achieves was mentioned.

Layout View feature is mentioned in the Weekend Crash Course index only to refer you to the statement that the book does not cover layout view because the book is geared to a beginner/intermediate designer and, in the opinion of the author, it is “a dangerous method for creating layout unless you are an expert”. Weekend Crash Course prefers to cover tables in great depth for what it describes as “liquid design”.

Visually needed some concentration. The introduction to the topic is brief and to the point. It was the only book that suggested using a grid to aid layout and showed you how to move a layout cell. Having read through the 3 other books, I felt that Visually covered the “how to” aspect very well. The assumption in Visually that you could easily select a table by clicking on the top left corner is flawed. This is a notoriously difficult way of selecting a table. If you struggle with this method, I think you will struggle with the rest of this chapter, including layout view.

Conclusion

I was pleased that all 4 books consider more than the Windows working environment – usually including instructions for the Mac. All books cover the basics of Dreamweaver 4, and except for Weekend Crash Course, (which omits detail of the layout view, see above), the new features are explored.

Teach Yourself Dreamweaver 4 Visually does exactly what it says on the cover “read less, learn more”. It didn’t stand out for me as the best of the bunch and at £24.99 is expensive, but if you want to learn “how to” and are not so interested in “why” I would recommend this book over Dreamweaver 4 in Easy Steps, its competitor for this target audience. In Easy Steps I found the layout off-putting, and difficult to use. I found the text would tell me about a feature but not tell me quite enough to enable me to use or apply this feature. The main selling point to me of In Easy Steps would be its price (£9.99).

If I felt I wanted the briefest of reminders about the technical features of Dreamweaver 4, had a reasonable knowledge of other web authoring packages, and wanted a reference book to fit in my briefcase, I might buy the Quick Reference. However, I didn’t like the alphabetical sequencing of elements, nor the layout of the instructions, which lead to hurried feel of the book.

If I wanted to buy one of the four for my library, to recommend to my web design students, at a reasonable price (£15.99), that they could use for learning Dreamweaver features, web design considerations, and use for a reference book, I would choose Weekend Crash Course. I liked the tone, the clear explanations of design considerations and of step-by-step procedures, and the good index.

Rosie Diver
Computing Officer
Liverpool John Moores