A few years ago, the Internet was a simpler place. Web sites were created solely to communicate information by text, images and hyperlinks. If you wanted to control the overall design of a site, you had to learn how to hand-code HTML. Today, the possibilities for Web-site design have increased dramatically. Even the most basic HTML page can present such rich media as animation, audio, video, 3D objects and virtual reality. If necessary, Web pages can include the ability to handle financial transactions, respond to user input via online training programs and even run interactive games.
These impressive features don't happen by HTML coding alone. A whole range of products, technologies, programming languages and confusing jargon on the market claim to be the answer to all Web-authoring prayers. It can overwhelm someone setting up a Web site for the first time, but the good news is that the best tools for Web-site creation have made the process much easier. Two of the most successful tools for creating and managing a Web site are Adobe GoLive 5.0 and Macromedia Dreamweaver 4.
Reasons for success
For the most part, both Dreamweaver and GoLive create accurate industry- standard code that results in Web pages that perform similarly on all browsers and operating systems using any popular server technology. GoLive and Dreamweaver also have the advantage of being integrated into product lines from their companies, which handle all aspects of Web-site creation. In fact, when choosing between the two programs, the deciding factor may not be the features of Dreamweaver and GoLive, but rather what other Macromedia or Adobe programs you are using or intend to use. An experienced Adobe Photoshop user, for example, may be better off using GoLive; someone who is planning to make Macromedia Flash a big part of her Web strategy may be better off going with Dreamweaver.
Before we get into the other differences between GoLive and Dreamweaver, let's look at the things they both do well, because the truth is that both programs are excellent at creating and managing most aspects of a typical Web site.
Both Dreamweaver 4 and GoLive 5.0 create basic Web pages using an interface similar to that of a page-layout program. While you are typing and formatting text, positioning images on the page and dragging and dropping hyperlinks on clickable areas, the program is generating good, clean, HTML code in the background. Both programs support most of the latest Web-page features, including tables, frames, layers, cascading style sheets, dynamic HTML, forms and rollovers. Both applications let you place media on a Web page that uses third-party plug-ins, such as Apple QuickTime, Macromedia Shockwave or Adobe Acrobat PDF files. If any code concerns occur, GoLive and Dreamweaver give programmers the ability to access and edit the code that the program creates, but neither program will do any unsolicited alterations to code that has been created elsewhere.
Finally, GoLive and Dreamweaver have good site-management tools and file-transfer protocol (FTP) capabilities for loading Web elements from the local machine on which they are created to the server on which the site is hosted. Both carry a number of useful tools to eliminate or minimize redundant tasks, check spelling, search and replace text and tags (formatting commands), check for broken links and control multiple undo commands with a history palette.
It is not surprising that these programs have so many features in common. Not only must both software applications offer a range of necessary features for Web design, but they must also respond to this market's fierce competition. A new, innovative feature in the latest version of one program usually means that the same feature will appear in the following release of the competing program.
Multimedia apples and oranges
Dreamweaver and GoLive differ in a few areas, however. In each case, these differentiating features are sufficiently unusual or useful that a need for such a particular function could be your deciding factor between the two packages. Among the most important things to consider is the way in which each of these programs interacts with other software programs you may be using, such as Photoshop or Fireworks. Consequently, the other programs you use in the Macromedia and Adobe product lines may determine your choice of Web-design program.
A graphics program, for example, is a must for almost all Web design, and Adobe Photoshop is a long-time industry standard for print and computer graphics. The latest version, Photoshop 6.0, contains a formidable set of Web-graphics tools — a clear advantage for GoLive users. Meanwhile, Macromedia offers Fireworks, a more modest graphics program that is not ideal for print work but carries some interactive Web features and animation tools absent in Photoshop.
A veteran Photoshop user may prefer to use GoLive as his Web tool because, unlike Dreamweaver, GoLive supports native Photoshop files. In GoLive 5.0, a Photoshop image placed on a Web page retains a link to the original Photoshop source image. In other words, the copy of the image in GoLive is optimized for the Web but the full- quality original Photoshop image remains linked to it. As a result, any editing done to the original image automatically updates the Web-page version. Layers within a Photoshop image can also be imported into GoLive as HTML layers, which is a great way to create Web pages with more sophisticated designs.
Another plus for Dreamweaver is its tight integration with Macromedia Flash, which has become omnipresent on the Web because of its ability to create low-bandwidth, high-quality, interactive, animated Web objects. Dreamweaver 4 not only creates all the code necessary to integrate Flash animations saved as Shockwave (SWF) files into an existing Web site, but it even creates Flash text and animated buttons without the need for the Flash application. GoLive's support for Flash is not so rich, although GoLive does include great tools for integrating Flash and QuickTime, which Dreamweaver lacks.
Adobe's analogous application to Flash is called LiveMotion. Adobe wisely chose not to put a competing file format against the dominant, open Flash format. As a result, LiveMotion creates Flash SWF files. The first version of LiveMotion shows promise and has a friendlier interface than Flash, but it does not begin to touch Flash's capabilities, especially in the area of interactivity. At this time, LiveMotion should only be considered a simple adjunct to Flash, not a substitute.
A place where Adobe takes a clear lead is GoLive's fantastic support for QuickTime. If QuickTime video is an important part of your Web presence, then GoLive is absolutely your tool of choice. QuickTime is one of the best and most popular ways to stream video, audio, text, 3D objects, animation, MIDI music, virtual reality, vector graphics and interactivity on a Web site. GoLive supports all of QuickTime's features through an easy-to-use interface that includes an elegant timeline to control how the various aspects of QuickTime media play out. GoLive even supports the integration of Flash movies into QuickTime files, so you get the best of both file formats. If you are interested in QuickTime and video on your Web site, GoLive beats Dreamweaver hands down.
Databases and management
Another area where GoLive's latest version shines is in database integration. GoLive makes it fairly easy to connect Web pages to a database on your server using any open database connectivity (ODBC) compliant database and active server pages (ASP). Rather than incorporating these capabilities into Dreamweaver, Macromedia offers these database and server capabilities within a program called UltraDev, priced at $599.
In terms of site management, both programs are great. GoLive offers some nice site-planning tools that create a mock-up of the whole site before any content is added. For coordinating a team of people working simultaneously on the same site, GoLive also takes advantage of industry standard WebDAV (Web-distributed authoring and versioning) technology, while Dreamweaver accomplishes some of the same functionality with its "check-in check-out" feature. Dreamweaver's method is much easier to use, but all the developers involved must use Dream-weaver to take advantage of this feature.
Facing the user
When considering Dream-weaver and GoLive interfaces, it is entirely subjective as to which is designed better and is more user-friendly. Dream-weaver offers the user more options for customizing the interface to suit individual tastes. For instance, you can split the main screen so the visual Web page appears on one side and the corresponding editable code on the other. Any change to one side of the screen is instantly reflected on the other. Also, within Dreamweaver, keyboard shortcuts can be changed. A series of steps can be turned into a menu command and replayed at will, and the whole program's menu and interface setup can be customized using extensible markup language (XML). An important consideration for Windows users is that GoLive 5.0 does not work with Windows 95; it requires Windows 98, 2000, NT 4.0 or later.
The printed manuals for GoLive and Dreamweaver are both disappointing for learning the programs' wealth of features, but the software companies compensate by offering additional (and better) resources on their Web sites. In online resources, however, Macromedia has a leg up over Adobe with excellent online help, lots of tutorials and links to more resources. The wonderful Macromedia exchange is an online library of additional behaviors, objects and extensions for Dreamweaver created by Macromedia and third-party developers. All items are free, and they add dozens of great capabilities to the program. This makes it easy to update Dreamweaver and take advantage of new Web tools and technologies as soon as they are available. Dreamweaver also has better support than GoLive for XML and, on the server side, includes more options to make programmers happy.
If any of the strengths or weaknesses mentioned above are critical to you, or if you are already happily using other programs from Macromedia or Adobe, then your choice between the two programs will probably be clear. If not, it's hard to go wrong by choosing either program, and it may be worth the time to download the free demos of both applications to see which interface you prefer. For Web design and basic site management, both programs are excellent, powerful and affordable tools that make it easy to create and maintain rich professional-quality Web sites.
Chris Florio is a Boston-based multimedia expert and a frequent contributor to Presentations. He can be reached at email@example.com.