OK. Have you ever seen that movie, “A Christmas Story”? The one where 9-year-old Ralphie Parker wants only one thing for Christmas: “an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.” 

After weeks and weeks of anxious waiting, Ralphie finally gets the thing for Christmas, and immediately runs out to play with it. The first time he shoots it, it ricochets, cutting his eye and knocking off his glasses, so he steps on them in the snow and breaks them. Poor Ralphie – this toy he wanted so badly not only has turned out to be not what he thought it would be, but has actually caused him pain.

Dreamweaver is my own personal Red Ryder Rifle.

I have worked my way, sometimes with pleasure, sometimes painfully, through this program, with the promise of Dreamweaver ever held out as the carrot at the end of the stick. I struggled through Linux, javascript, Database design, Applied Database with PHP and MySQL (and a pox on the creator of the relational database…but that is another story). I got through what is possibly the most condensed course on Photoshop in the history of the program, and zipped through Flash on a revised schedule. And finally, on December 7, we started the Dreamweaver course.

I had a myriad of questions going in. How do you position divs so they show the same in the design view as in a browser? How do you use SmartObjects from Photoshop?  How can you enforce the use of one template across a whole site? What about editable regions and repeatable regions, and can you convert one to the other? Imagemaps?  Consistent navigation? What’s a Spry? How does it differ from a sprite? And what’s a Spry Asset, then? What’s a snippet and how do you use it? How do you make those nifty accordion thingys? How do you embed Flash?  And on and on…

I know how to create an Imagemap in DW now, and I know one way to use SmartObjects to edit images without having to open Photoshop. I am fairly confident that I can tell the difference between an editable region and a repeatable one (since the tabs are clearly labeled that way), but I am very shaky on the application of a full template.

I can hand-code those accordion thingys (Thanks, Sayed, for leading me through javascript) but have not figured out how to get Dreamweaver to do them for me. I manage consistent navigation by putting it in the header and just copying the whole div to every page. Positioning is still a quest to be gone on when I have the time.

And why, you ask, is Dreamweaver such a disappointment? It is not the program itself, and certainly not the teacher, who is interested, helpful, and consistent. The fact is, we have spent the last week doing nothing more than Database, using Dreamweaver.

Database – in Dreamweaver?!? How can such a thing be possible? Well, I have to say; that being able to create recordsets and have them repeat and be accessible from multiple pages is a great idea. We did it in PHP by creating functions outside the page and calling them whenever we needed to, in any page.  And most of us (OK, I had problems but I also have perseverance and a whole Web full of tutorials to draw from) can do it more simply, with tighter, more secure code.

Just for one example, in DW you can create a “secure” login page.  But, to use a login page you first have to have a registration form of some kind, and without using regular expressions to check the validity of the registration, you’re likely to get some real garbage written to your database. And also, just my opinion, of course, but automatically telling people what usernames are currently in use as part of a login error message – well now any potential hacker has 50% of what he needs to get in – not a good scenario.

I think the extra stuff Dreamweaver does is going to be a boon for any designer who does not have coding skills, doesn’t have the time or the will to learn any, and hasn’t got any programmers to work with. But the problem with trying to make one size fits all is that it will never, ever, look tailored. (If I had a buck for every time our poor teacher had to ask us “Did you use the program to do that or did you hand-code it?” I could buy a Green Tea Frappuccino Blended Crème Grande for the whole class!).

Dreamweaver is meant to be primarily a design program, and as such, it is an amazing tool. Just understand that you cannot rely totally on the program to do all of your work for you – if you do, it is likely to smack you in the eye.