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A couple of months ago, I looked at how powerful multimedia graphics can be created for CDs and websites using Macromedia&#39s Director software. The company specialises in producing high-quality graphics and web tools for users who want something more sophisticated than you would be able to create using standard software.

Just as Director is a high-end alternative to PowerPoint, Macromedia&#39s website creation package Dreamweaver is the next stage up from Microsoft&#39s Front Page.

Like Director, Dreamweaver is not to be used by the faint-hearted. If you are looking for something easy to begin with, Front Page is probably a better alternative. On the other hand, if you want to produce a result worthy of a serious designer, Dreamweaver may well be worth a look.

Again, I would recommend a dedicated training course to achieve the software&#39s full potential although the package does come with a range of training tools, such as a guided tour, movie and tutorials in addition to the usual guide, manual, online help and support centre. Investing the time to learn how to use the product properly is a small price to pay for a great end-result.

When you get used to the software, the fun that can be had is immense for those who enjoy some creative computer work. Once you have overcome the learning curve with Dreamweaver, creating pages is quite easy and you wonder what all the fuss was about.

The interface is similar to that of Director with floating tool windows and palettes that can be opened, closed and rearranged. The toolbar follows other standard Windows applications, for example, to create a new page you select New from the File dropdown menu.

It is easy to get carried away with design but keep in mind the amount of time required to download a page on the net. Pages may look like they are loading quickly when you build them on your own PC but when a user is accessing them over the internet they may be far slower.

There are few things worse than waiting for the contents of a page to appear – it can even drive people away to another site. Dreamweaver shows the file size and download time on the taskbar for the page, based on the modem speed you set it to refer against.

You can also easily reuse any documents you have created in Microsoft Word and other desktop applications by saving these as HTML files, opening them from within Dreamweaver and using a wizard to clean them up. Using this facility, you can take information that has been used in mailshots, newsletters or presentations and quickly add indivi-dual content to your own site.

Disappointingly, the software does not provide basic templates. However, there are facilities to create your own and these are then easy to reuse in creating multiple pages. Within a page template, you will have editable regions that can be altered and protected regions that cannot. Saving page templates in this way helps maintain continuity across your site.

The workspace in which the web page is built allows the user to drop elements conveniently into the document window from palettes, Windows and other applications such as Explorer.

To see which files are going to be viewed on the web, the user can simultaneously view the contents of files on the local folder (the files that are sitting on the machine they are created on) and remote server (the computer that contains the files to be viewed on the web).

If there is a new or altered file that requires placing on the web, it is “checked in” to the remote server. Should a file require removing from the server, it is “checked out” by either dragging and dropping, using the same method used in Windows Explorer or by using the icons on the toolbar.

Dreamweaver uses the what you see is what you get concept, meaning what you see on your computer is what you will see when the page is viewed on the web. Although it can take time to get used to it, it does allow the opportunity to experience more about certain aspects of web creation. For example, you might want to have a website with buttons or text that change colour when a cursor moves over it. This technique is created using Javascript, which is made easier with a built-in tutorial.

Dreamweaver includes palettes that consist of tools to insert, edit or launch elements to help in the creation of the page. The palettes can be customised and can be opened or closed and moved around on the working area.

There are three main palettes – Objects, which allows you to manage items such as graphics, tables, forms and special characters, Properties, which gives control of an area such as background colour, text size and font types, and Launcher, which gives access to a range of sub-palettes.

Dreamweaver comes as a standard version 3 that retails at around £265 including VAT or the Dreamweaver Fireworks Studio, including an additional tool for complex graphic designs.

It is important to remember that to deliver a quality IFA website, it is likely you will need to work with one of the major service providers which can deliver industry-focused interactive tools, quotation engines and other services. This means there is likely to be some element of commonality. Yet I am aware of many IFAs who want to have some personal involvement in building their sites. It is important to check your website creator can work with Dreamweaver pages. For IFAs with such interests, this is probably the most attractive option around.


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