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Book Review: Dreamweaver 4, The Missing Manual, David Sawyer McFarland
ISBN: 0-596-00097-9
Vendor: Pogue Press, O'Reilly

Author: Steve Weinberg

Date: March 14, 2002

This is one of a "Missing Manual" series of aftermarket books that intend to fill the void left by the software manufacturers when packaging soft and/or hard copy manuals with their products. Not to say that there is no manual on the Dreamweaver 4 CD or packaged in with the retail version, but you may prefer this O'Reilly version that is very concise and well written. This particular book filled in many missing pieces with its tutorial and served well as a reference lookup.

Having used Dreamweaver 4 for some time, I know how to use it, but learned, as many of us do, by trying various menu items and clicking icons. This works for me, but does not expose all the available power of Dreamweaver 4.

For example, Cascading Style Sheets are easy to use to control site-wide look of a website. Dreamweaver 4 introduces HTML Styles so that I was able to style some text just the way I'd like it to appear and then "memorize" it as a known style that can be applied to any text I select in the future. This includes color, size, font and alignment. The book explains these topics well.

Though designed to accommodate readers at every technical level, the primary discussions are written for advanced-beginner or intermediate users. Special "Up To Speed" sidebars provide introductory information to help understand the topic at hand.

I got excellent explanations of web page characteristics interwoven with how Dreamweaver 4 deals with them. In other words, I learned about how web pages work independent of Dreamweaver 4. Among some of the more interesting topics are 'Line Breaks,' 'Non-breaking Space,' 'Special Characters (™, ®, ©, etc.). For instance, web browsers not only ignore multiple spaces (I knew that!), but they also ignore any spaces that aren't between two words. With a 'Non-breaking space,' words will not be split apart at the end of a line no matter how the page is displayed (any browser, any screen size and resolution). These are all very important concerns for web page designers. The book is chock full of these practical tips wrapped in with the Dreamweaver 4 specific implementation (i.e. a non-breaking space = ctrl/shift/space in Dreamweaver 4).

Then, there were Dreamweaver 4 options that were nicely explained such as adding a date to a page with an automatic update option (like in MS Word). The date and/or time information is updated every time you save a new version of a web page. When you publish your web page, the date on the page indicates the last time it was updated.

In the section on importing HTML from MS Word, the "Missing Manual" pulls no punches by stating that Word produces hideous HTML code. ("One look at the underlying code and you'd think that you fell asleep on the keyboard.") There is a "Clean Up Word HTML" command that cleans up Word 97, 98,2000, 2001 and XP HTML. You wouldn't know about this option easily without having read this book.

Very effective and targeted chapters follow explaining text editing, text formatting, links, images, table, frames, cascading style sheets, under the hood HTML editing, forms, behaviors, layers, interactivity, automation, Flash, Shockwave, multimedia, site-management, site testing, site publishing and Dreamweaver 4 Power which includes advanced topics (libraries, templates, automating and customizing). I don't think they left anything out.

The book is both impressive in its well-structured, straightforward approach and useful in a practical sense. It reads easily without fluff. It is useful as a reference, as well. I'll continue to keep it handy when working in Dreamweaver 4. This Missing Manual is truly a winner. As a matter of fact, when I finish this review, I'll save it as both a Word document and as an HTML document (web page) and see how well the newly discovered "Clean Up MS Word" function works.

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