Dreamweaver? Or something else?

What would you recommend for building websites and why? I hear a lot of talk about Dreamweaver. And don’t laugh, but what about iweb 09? Learning curve? Beginner here… decent amount of IT skill, but none in the programming field. And dare I ask - PC or Mac version if recommending software that’ll work on either (sorry, not trying to ruffle feathers).

I’d start with the book Head First XHTML/CSS and get the basics down on building sites. You really just need a simple text editor for that, but you’ll get a much better idea of how dedicated software might help in what you want to do.

I use Dreamweaver CS4 on a Mac. It’s extremely capable, especially when used alongside Photoshop and Illustrator, and the new levels of CSS support are great. I don’t know that I’d suggest using it, though, unless you’re tying to PS and AI as well.

Whatever software you eventually decide on, the stuff you learn in the Head First book will be the basis of how you work in anything.

What kind of sites do you want to build? At the end of the day Dreamweaver is the industry standard so I’d go for that, the learning curve is not so bad as people think. The big jump for anyone coming to web-site creation is between building static sites out of plain HTML (which is essentially a markup language), and creating dynamic sites that use ASP or Cold Fusion etc. (programmatic) to link to a database to serve up dynamic content. Dreamweaver is pretty good at the latter (it sets up your database connections etc.) but it has its limitations. If you want to do anything outside the box you will need to learn ASP/Java/Cold Fusion and use a text editor like BBEdit to fine tune the code. If you just want templated websites that you fill in with text and/or images then programs like iWeb 09 are fine, but if you want to master website building and retain flexibility then DW/BBedit is the way to go, IMHO. As for platform, given that most web servers are PC based I would go for the Windows version (as much as I hate to say so).

Check for a thread on favourite HTML editors. We had some good discussion a while back on varying methods; everything from people like me who just use a text editor, to people who use the iWeb/Google Pages/RapidWeaver type approach.

Based on your description of experience, I would recommend something more along the lines of DreamWeaver. HTML isn’t at all like programming. If you can grasp the concept of stuff (like text, or a picture) being contained by marker elements which can have or be formatting attributes, by virtue of containment or modifiers of that containment, then you pretty much understand all you need to know about HTML in philosophy. It is strictly markup. There is no procedural or logical switching process to it. I’d either pick up a book on it (hint, look for XHTML as that is the direction the industry has been moving in for some time now) or search the web for tutorials. All of that said DreamWeaver might be overkill. It’s really designed for professionals who have to create or maintain massive sites with complex demands. You can certainly put together a simple site with it, but that would be a lot of educational overhead. I myself use TextMate and CSSedit. Both allow real-time viewing as you work, but the former requires a knowledge of HTML. It’s just a text editor, albeit one with a nice HTML bundle of tools. You can be a complete newbie with CSSedit and still put together some decent looking pages, and since it allows side-by-side code and interface editing, you can learn as you fiddle. I’d actually be quite fine just typing in CSS by hand, but CSSedit has a nice set of forensic tools for tearing an existing page apart and figuring out what makes it tick, visually.

The basic packages will get you up and running much faster, after all they are about as complicated as a word processor, but if you are a technically inclined person at all, you will very likely find yourself getting frustrated with their limitations in a few months. You’ll want to add a box with a list of links in it on the right-hand side of the page, but will find that to be impossible since the template does not allow it; things like that. I would really advise staying way from iWeb if possible. It isn’t a very good HTML generator. They spent more time making it look pretty and so forth than they did studying the W3C recommendations and optimising their HTML generation. It’s as bad as when a Word users exports a Word document to HTML. Something like SandVox or RapidWeaver would be a better choice.

Or you can go VERY basic and use seamonkey (firefox with the composer attached) or if you want simple but wysiwyg then use Freeway 5 Express. This often goes on sale for 1/2 off on maczot. It is great for the simple information sites I need. (I use seamonkey for informational sites and Freeway for prettier more personal sites.)


I find it a little odd that you mention ASP, cold fusion and java ahead of PHP, given that PHP is by far the most commonly used, and I think for many the easiest to learn.

I doubt at this point that anything beyond basic HTML/CSS is required.

I would also say, the mac vs windows issue is irrelevant. Standard HTML is standard everywhere, and should be displayed the same everywhere. It is a good idea to test in a variety of browsers on both platforms, but where you write it doesn’t matter.

The server issue is a furphy also. Most servers are unix based rather than windows based, and the server is irrelevant when you are just serving static HTML pages. If you get beyond that, PHP is supported by both and runs the same on both. ASP and cold fusion are more windows oriented though.

What type of sites? Nothing overly complex, but nothing cheesy. First, my own website, and then a few for a couple fellow writer friends. Possibly branch out from there. Why? The geek in me I suppose, that and I guess on some level it combines art with tech. Could be fun. Could make me pull out my hair which I’d like to avoid, hence looking for something not too difficult to get off the ground with.

I’ll look for the HTML post as well.

I’d probably pick up on the code faster with split windows - something that if I worked with WYSIWYG, I can piece together the code behind it.

Four months ago we thoroughly discussed this question and even registered votes.


Personally, I recommend SandVox Pro.

Personally I love Coda from Panic.com - lovely interface, and you can have the HTML open in one pane and the page open in a pane next to it, updating as you edit. On a side note, htmlgoodies.com offers some great tutorials on the basics of HTML if that’s the direction you want to do. I learned the basics of HTML in a few days many years ago, long before I had ever tried programming anything, from tutorials similar to the one on that site. I think it’s a little out of date now, but it’s still useful.
All the best,

Ah yes! Coda. We had a discussion about that a while back, and most of the geeky-already-web-designer types on the board had a look at it and said it would have been nice when they were first starting out, but don’t see it as a replacement for the assembled favourite tools they have amassed.

For someone with a head for computers that is just starting out in HTML—Coda is a fantastic selection. A little expensive, but you get nice integration and a lot of specialised real-time tools, which when you consider the price of some of these individual tools, is more economic in the end.

I don’t recommend learning HTML from a split-screen. That is the primary problem with code generation software. It produces bloated, inefficient element hierarchies the further away from template-driven you get. If you learn from that, you risk picking up some bad habits. HTML is extremely easy to learn, and until you get into advanced stuff like Gmail and Basecamp type sites, there really isn’t a whole lot of trickery about it. It truly is just a mark-up and containment syntax. Very straight-forward and predictable.

The tricky part is CSS, not because it is confusing, but because every browser renders things just slightly differently, sometimes very differently. Learning all of that can be somewhat esoteric. Fortunately you can start simple with that, and work your way up. Since CSS files can be included dynamically within the page, you can edit the appearance of your site as you learn new tricks. Thus you can get content out faster and then gradually refine the visual presentation of it. You definitely will want some books on CSS. Many of the tricks are not things that most people would divine intuitively, but CSS is powerful enough to make drop-down menus, column layouts, tool-tips, and so on out of nothing but a raw 1994 looking page.

I’m not sure what you mean about “learning HTML from a split screen”; and I don’t think Coda is just for beginners, either, although I don’t claim to be an advanced HTML coder by a long shot. Unless I have missed a big feature, Coda is not code-generation software. That’s certainly not how I use it. I used to use TextWrangler and still do for many things. But for HTML I have now replaced it with Coda just because the latter allows you to write your HTML in one split and view the results in a WebKit web view (i.e. just as in Safari) in another. It’s no different than writing your HTML in TextWrangler or BBEdit then opening the resulting HTML file in Safari and hitting “refresh” every time you make a change - except that you don’t need to hit “refresh”. (My only complaint is that recent versions of Coda are a little too aggressive in their code-completion, but I’m sure that’s just because I’ve been too lazy to poke around in the Preferences and switch it off.) As a result, Coda is now my text editor of choice for HTML simply because it allows me to see the results of my HTML code real-time. Am I missing something? Amber - have you actually tried Coda? It may be that the web kit side of it fails for advanced CSS or something that I don’t know about, but it sounds as though you have the misconception that it is like one of those programs that generate the code for you… Instead, it is more like Scrivener-for-HTML-writers, in that it combines TextWrangler and Safari with a source list. I truly love it.
All the best,

P.S. For instance, here is me editing an update to the L&L website in Coda:

On the left, in the browser, is the contents of the folder on my hard disk that holds the site. The left pane shows my HTML for the new tech support page. All of it is hand-written HTML, nothing generated by any program. On the right is how the page will look in Safari etc - Coda’s “Preview” of the HTML you are writing.

I read Amber’s comment as broken into two parts: the first bit about Coda, saying it is good for beginners because they are forced to use proper HTML; and the second explaining the reasons why the alternatives that generate code for you are bad for a beginner.


Having looked at it a little more closely. Coda does look like an excellent program to use, and I would love to use it myself.

But $100 for a basic HTML editor, an FTP program, and a browser… I can get all of those for free. Is having them integrated worth that much money if you don’t expect to be editing pages that often?


KB, How well does coda render PHP in the webkit view? I am working in PHP these days and am sick and tired of cmd-r. Debating shelling out a couple of hundred for Komodo IDE (I do a bit in perl as well) as I like the Komodo Edit app (not recommending it, just works for me).

Jaysen, before you fork out for the Komodo IDE, check out Aptana Studio - aptana.com

Both Komodo and Aptana are built on the Eclipse framework (with the latter being runnable as an Eclipse plugin to, if you are already using Eclipse for other things), and both are fairly good, but Aptana Studio is definitely one of the most complete web development IDEs available for ANY platform.

It’s really very, very good. Not only does it have an excellent HTML/CSS/JS editor (and debugger, which is a version of Firebug), but it’s also got a full suite of plugins for PHP, Ruby/Rails, AS/Flex, and recently Python (they acquired PyDev). By full suite I mean the whole IDE works - code completion, code analysis, refactor tools, server management and deployment tools, version control integration, etc. It also has built in plugins for most of the major Javascript libraries - notably jQuery 1.3, Scriptalicious, MooTools, YUI, EXT/JS, etc - which adds their syntaxes to the code completion library.

The best part is that Aptana is free. The only thing the commercial version adds is a JSON editor (handy but not essential), a Ruby profiler (same), and priority support.

I started using Aptana for some Google App Engine development (moved to it from a TextMate workflow, which I moved to from Coda), and haven’t had a need to go back yet…

Ah, yes, I think you’re right. I read the bit about the split-screen as being about Coda’s split screen, which is what threw me - I missed the bit in the earlier post where someone mentioned learning code from a split screen in a different context. This is what comes of posting replies after champagne and beer (yes, I’m so romantic that I come and answer posts on the forum after a Valentine’s night out…). Apologies to Amber for the misunderstanding; though I would still say that Coda isn’t just for beginners…

As for price… Hmm, I don’t know. When I bought Coda it was $79, and the economic climate at the time meant that the pound was strong against the dollar, so it would have cost me only around £40-£50. For that price, it was worth it to me. I like the tabbed interface and the ability to split the window with a preview. At $100 and with the current exchange rate, it would cost £70 or more… And at that price I probably wouldn’t have bought it, to be honest. I really like TextWrangler and for the way I use Coda you can get the same effect by having TextWrangler (or BBEdit or whatever) open on one half of the screen and Safari on the other. Coda is just more convenient because you can switch between tabs to view the code and preview for different pages, navigate the pages in your site using the browser, have the preview updated without pressing refresh, and not have to worry about finding two application windows again after switching to a different program. That’s worth £50 to me when I’m working on number of changes to the site (as I am right now - very minor changes, but ease of navigation through the different files and seeing the effects of my changes instantly is still very useful).

Jaysen - I’m not sure about PHP as I rarely use it (and when I do it is only incorporating other people’s PHP scripts). If you send me some sample code to place in Coda I’ll happily post a screenshot showing how well it does or whatever, though. Or they do have a free trial on their website, too.

Oh, and I’m not trying to persuade anyone to buy Coda, by the way. I just like it for my own needs. Apologies for going on a bit, as I don’t think Coda will necessarily fit the op’s requirements anyway…

All the best,

I personally use TextMate a lot, but while looking for an editor I also checked out Amaya from W3C, which is open source. I’m not sure how easy it is for a beginner, but you can do a lot of designing just by clicking buttons in a menu. You can edit your page either as it looks in a browser, as source code, or in a tree view of the structure (which I find rather appealing). Could be worth a look.

Didn’t mean to insinuate that Coda was just for beginners, but that it is an excellent choice for beginners—and other people too if they are looking for some new tools.

And yes, split screen comments were in reference to DreamWeaver or other code generation software. I code “split screen” in the Coda sense, too. TextMate uses a separate window, but live HTML and CSS rendering while editing is invaluable and a great way to learn, too.

I’m a Dreamweaver person doing static & dynamic sites. It has the advantage of being both WYSIWYG as well as having the option of the (excellent Homesite) code view. For me it’s a best of both worlds.
I did buy RapidWeaver (thinking of avoiding the DW expense) but I just can’t get the hang of it and I don’t like the interface. If you want to try out something WYSIWYGish before you fork out all those $ though, you could try Kompozer (the updated version of NVu). It’s a fairly decent, if cut down & basic, editor. I also use TextMate (not WYSIWYG though) when DW isn’t around.

Someone mentioned graphics integration with Dreamweaver earlier in the thread, and from a developer/coder/dogsbody point of view, I would never use either Photoshop or Illustrator for anything web related (except maybe in very, very early stages). Fireworks is the only graphics program I really use - for optimisation of images, slicing & naming, exporting etc, PS can’t touch it. For me, using PS for web stuff is a square peg, round hole situation. The only thing I use PS for is photo manipulation/editing and then I stick it in Fireworks if it’s web related. YMMV, of course.

Add all that to Firefox browser with Firebug installed and you’re a web developer! Just don’t tell anyone it’s that easy. We like people to imagine we’re a secret cult.

Msr, Clangy-Bangy (sorry to resurrect that, but I had to),

In spite of all vic-k has insinuated I find your suggestion most helpful. I believe someone else suggested it as well, but I clicked through immediately following your post. I may ned to buy to a beer or 3 as thanks for saving me a few dollars.

KB, a simple

echo "hello world"

should suffice. Ugly, but if you see just the hello world you are rendering the PHP properly. most of the time you need to go through apache or the PHP cmd-line executable. As noted above I am giving aptana a shot. Something about needing to save a tremendous amount of scratch to buy a rumored upgrade to scriv. :stuck_out_tongue: