Sunday, October 5, 2008

Whither Dreamweaver?

"O0h-hoo Dreamweaver.... I believe you can get me through the ni-height!" If you are over 40, the word "dreamweaver" brings about thoughts of San Francisco Riding Gear jeans and bad pre-pubescent dances in the late 70's. However, Gary Wright's famous song name is also the name of the leading product for handcrafting web sites. I've been teaching students how to use Dreamweaver for many years, and lately I've been wondering if this is a good idea.

HTML (hyper text markup language) was created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1991 as a way to put a graphical user interface on the early internet. Before Tim divined HTML, users of the internet had to rely on a DOS-like environment to look at content. HTML allowed users to link text, media, and networks in way that revolutionized the way we navigate information.

In ye olde days of the interwebs, people would use the awesomeness of Notepad to type in HTML tags (a simple set of formatting commands that you could turn on and off). Essentially, the HTML tags would instruct the browser how to display content in a given web page. Web designers would save these ".txt" files with a ".html" extension and viola, you had a web page. Later, several companies introduced html editors to build more complex and graphically rich sites. Microsoft acquired a product named FrontPage, Adobe had Go Live, and Macromedia built Dreamweaver. Ultimately, Dreamweaver won the editor wars and became the industry standard. About three years ago, Macromedia was acquired by Adobe and now it's part of their suite of web-focused apps.

I've taught basic HTML (aka XHTML) to my students since 2001. I used to believe that they needed to know basic tag structure and coding techniques in order to become a professional. I've pushed Dreamweaver as the best way to build sites for small to medium-sized businesses. In the past, coding pages to look correctly in any browser (colors, fonts, tables, etc) had been an arduous task. Dreamweaver made the process much easier. But in the last three years there's been an onslaught of easy-to-use free tools to create web sites. For the most part these tools obscure the underlying HTML code and allow you to easily create beautiful, media-rich sites in a very short period of time. This blog is a great example. You simply sign up for a free account, choose a design template and start posting. Obviously, Facebook and MySpace are also great examples. Some others to check out:

The advent of open source software development has also brought innovative new tools. This category of software is called Content Management Systems (CMS) and you can get several from Most of them are based on a simple trilogy of technologies - PHP, MySQL, and simple web server software. To install them, you simply unpack a zip file on your host and you have a fully functional web site with user accounts, add-ons, and an incredible array of customization options. I've used the following CMS tools:

If you are a teacher and you currently host a site for school-related purposes, I would recommend checking out Moodle. It's created specifically for education. If you are a small business owner I would go with Joomla or Drupal. You can build very complex web sites with these tools in very little time.

So the question in my mind is, "Should I teach Dreamweaver?" It's hard to see students slog through learning Dreamweaver and HTML when they can build a fantastic web presence with the aforementioned tools. It's kind of like building a house with hammers and hand saws, instead of nail guns and power tools. The end result is the same, but the underlying knowledge is quite different. I've been a teacher long enough now that I'm starting to feel out of touch with the market. I'm curious to know what people think. Drop a comment and let me know. Meanwhile, I'll ponder Gary's eye shadow.


Anonymous said...

sweet graphic

Dona Barfkneckt

Atlas Rune said...

Heh, none of us faulted you for trying to teach funny table structure.

Thanks for showing us the correct way in the end... ^_^