Dreamweaver vs FrontPage vs Expression Web

by cdwise 8. July 2009 23:22

As I have mentioned before I  subscribe to Google alerts on a couple of web topics. Primarily, Expression Web since I happen to write about it but in addition to being a Microsoft MVP for Expression Web I am also an Adobe Community Expert for Dreamweaver so I tend to watch for Dreamweaver topics as well as general web design/front-end web development stuff.

In the last week I have seen several threads in my Google Alerts asking “Which is Better FrontPage or Dreamweaver?” So rather than go and register at a bunch of different forums and respond in the threads (after having gotten disgusted with some of the CAPCHAs I have seen and not received the confirmation email from two others) I decided to address the topic here.

First, why in 2009 would someone even be asking which is better “FrontPage” or “Dreamweaver”. FrontPage has been discontinued since 2006. Anyone who hasn’t been using FrontPage since before it was discontinued shouldn’t even consider buying it now – that is assuming they could even find a copy legally for sale. While never as bad as painted by most web professionals FrontPage does tend to write Microsoft Internet Explorer proprietary code. Since FrontPage has not been updated since 2003 its target version of Internet Explorer is IE 5 and Internet Explorer has changed a lot since then.

Second, unlike some of the people in the threads I don’t consider Adobe Dreamweaver to be the best choice of editor for every web design purpose or situation.  I will say that Dreamweaver is my primary web editor and I use it on a daily basis. However, I also use Microsoft Expression Web on a daily basis.

So why do I use both editors?

I do so because each has their strengths and weaknesses.

CSS, both have very good CSS editors but their approach is somewhat different, which you prefer is an individual preference. I slightly prefer Expression Web’s but your preference may vary. I am not going to spend a lot of time explaining the differences since that is an area you can easily test for yourself with the free trials each company makes available.

Site management tools in the current versions Dreamweaver’s site management tools are considerably better than Expression Web’s for publishing but the gap narrows quite a bit when Expression Web 3 is launched on Friday but Dreamweaver still wins on site management. Dreamweaver’s DWT architecture and capabilities are the more advanced, so in this category I prefer Dreamweaver.

Extensibility, Dreamweaver wins this one quite handily. Microsoft doesn’t have a good SDK for Expression Web and has not settled on a good framework for extending Expression Web reliably across versions. I have add-ins from InstantFX that only work in Expression Web 1 and other extensions from WebAssist and D2Stuff.com that had to be updated by the makers for each version of Expression Web.  On the other hand I have Dreamweaver extensions that were created for Dreamweaver MX and still work in Dreamweaver CS 4. That means the extensions work over 5 different versions of Dreamweaver (MX, MX 2004, 8, CS 3 & CS 4) without a single update. Okay, I wouldn’t use some of those extensions anymore because the web has changed a lot in that time frame but I could if I wanted to and if I were an extension maker I’d much prefer to write Dreamweaver extensions so I didn’t have to rewrite every release.

Previewing your work, both editors have pretty good WYSIWYG design surfaces approached in different ways. Neither are what you would actually see in a browser but given the variety of browsers and operating systems out there anyone who expect the design window to look exactly like what their visitor will see is foolish at best. Dreamweaver offers live view which is good and allows you to set up connections for testing servers as well as production servers. Expression Web includes a light weight testing server that lets you test asp.net and php pages in whatever browsers you have installed on your computer. There are pros and cons to each approach depending on your workflow.

Scripting, here is where you see real differences in the programs. If you work on pages with ASP.NET 2.0 and take advantage of the power of master pages, then frankly Expression Web is the design tool you should be using. Adobe’s decision to not support ASP.NET 2.0 is one that I have disagreed with from the first time I heard about it. As far as I am concerned I don’t particularly care if Adobe provides the web applications for ASP.NET 2.0 (forms to database add/update/delete) that they do for Classic ASP, ColdFusion, and PHP but I really do wish that Dreamweaver supported Master Pages. They are basically server side DWTs and if you work in an ASP.NETshop as a UI or web designer the ability to work with them is essential.

However, while Expression Web does offer support for php, Dreamweaver has a far more robust feature set and the ability to “see” server side includes in the design surface makes Dreamweaver the better choice here. Obviously, if you use ColdFusion Dreamweaver is the choice as well. Surprisingly, Dreamweaver is also the choice if you are maintaining a Classic ASP site since Microsoft’s Expression Web testing server doesn’t support Classic ASP and there is little benefit to using it over Notepad.

Dreamweaver has Spry, APIs for jQuery and YUI libraries while Expression Web only has ASP.NET AJAX support so for client side scripting Dreamweaver again is the better choice.

Troubleshooting, one of things I do both for clients and for students is to figure out why something isn’t displaying correctly on the web and how to fix it. For this I tend to use Expression Web since I can easily open a page directly from the internet and step through the display issue’s html and css. This ability using IE’s Page > Edit with Expression Web is so handy I haven’t even tried using Dreamweaver for such troubleshooting since Expression Web v1 came out as a CTP (Customer Technology Preview).

Conclusion

There is no clear winner hands down winner between Dreamweaver and Expression Web both are very good web editors but each has a different approach and methodology. They both require you to know basic HTML and CSS. Both require you to have an understanding of how the web works and the other technologies behind it. Both require an understanding of browsers and their differences in rendering. Both have a learning curve – Dreamweaver steeper than Expression Web due to its wider support of web technologies. Neither is perfect and each has feature sets the other doesn’t which is why I use both.

My recommendation – if you already use Photoshop or other Adobe programs check Dreamweaver first. While if your primary applications are from Microsoft check Expression Web first. Notice that I say “first” because what I really suggest is that you download the trials of each and see which fits both your needs and how you work. For me, I’ll continue to use both.

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Expression Web | Dreamweaver

Editor Comparison

by cdwise 16. June 2009 05:07

In just under a month Expression Web v3 will be coming out. I am thinking of doing an editor comparison between Expression Web 3 and Dreamweaver CS 4 once v3 is available. What I would like to know is what sort of things should I compare the two programs and whether or not I should include Expression Web v2 in the comparison.

What do you think?

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Expression Web | LiveMeeting | Dreamweaver

Call me list-nazi

by cdwise 11. June 2009 03:19

Okay, I’ll admit it when I own/moderate a web group I enforce the list rules. I’ve been on too many lists where there was no List Mom and ended up being filled with spam or dreck. If this makes me “arrogant” then so be it.

That means if you post a question to a list where I’m List Mom you need to:

  1. Be on topic – if you have  a question not directly related to the list topic but related to web design/development in general mark it with OT so that list members are alerted to the nature of the question. Keep it relevant or it moderators will shut down the thread.
  2. Use a descriptive subject line – this helps ensure that you get the attention of contributors who are knowledgeable or interested about that particular area. Do use subjects such as PHP form display issue, or Content Div not displaying, or Set a default editor for images. Don’t use “Question”, “Help”, “I’m a beginner”. This is especially important on a large or high volume list.
  3. Trim your quotes, other than the forum here at http://by-expression.com/forms every group I moderate is an email group whether on Yahoo Groups or Google Groups. On some of these there are a substantial percentage of folks using dial-up, being charged by the byte or receiving the digest version. So we ask that people be considerate and not quote everything when they reply. In addition to removing any adverts put in by say Yahoo, trim everything except what is needed to put your reply in context.
  4. Be courteous, and that means to everyone including the moderators if they make suggestions on how to improve your post. Flaming is not allowed nor is trolling. Doing either will get you banned.

Lists I own/moderate include by topic:

<moderator hat>

This is a convention used on many mail lists that I first saw years ago on one of the mail lists I belong to (I think it was css-d but I really don’t remember) that is used to distinguish a post made by a list owner or official moderator to remind people of list rules OR to call a halt to a thread that has drifted too far off topic or become abusive.

The use of this tag is meant to be a more or less gentle reminder that the list is moderated and keep the list on topic. The alternative is to either ban participants in off topic threads and/or violation of list rules, something that seems to harsh or go to a list that is a free for all. Neither of which would be good for any list in the long run.

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Dreamweaver | Expression Web | Misc

Not an April Fools Prank

by cdwise 3. April 2009 23:47

Someone asked me yesterday if the quiet announcement by Microsoft that starting April 1, 2009 SharePoint Designer was free and that Expression Web would become a SharePoint instead of web tool the FAQ it is not. The handwriting for the separation of internet from proprietary oriented editors at Microsoft is on the wall:

HideBut Expression Web does not currently support SharePoint sites. When will that change?

Expression Web does not currently support SharePoint sites directly. However, we are working to ensure that Expression Web becomes an excellent choice for SharePoint customization. This capability will be available in a future version of Expression Web. In the mean time, customers who receive this Software Assurance benefit should continue to use SharePoint Designer for their SharePoint needs, and can utilize Expression Web for other non SharePoint needs.

I am extremely disappointed to read this because one of the major problems with FrontPage that caused it to be perceived as a second class citizen in the web design community was the proprietary nature of the FPSE and that so much of the "advanced" functions required Microsoft proprietary installs on the hosting server. As a result the output was heavily biased towards Internet Explorer and not always the latest version of it either.

I have been an outspoken advocate of keeping MS proprietary intra/extranet tools out of their "internet" oriented web Expression Web.

Many of you will  remember that I argued that all the FPSE required bots should be removed from Expression Web back when we first saw the original CTP release in 2006.  The decision to keep that key difference between Expression Web and SharePoint Designer was something I thought a good decision. I believe that the headway Expression Web has made in the professional web designer/developer community is directly due to that decision and was helped by Adobe’s decision not to support ASP.NET Master Pages in Dreamweaver.

[aside: Several shops that I know of who have used Dreamweaver exclusively are now using Expression Web for their front-end design of ASP.NET sites and master pages. So I think Adobe made a mistake not to support ASP.NET 2.0 Master pages in CS4 even if they did decide to drop ASP.NET application support.]

Unfortunately, this decision of Microsoft's to incorporate SharePoint design and editing into Expression Web will only validate the position taken originally by many that Expression Web is nothing more than a new name for FrontPage and its proprietary output. In addition, Expression Web has been on a release cycle comparable to other web editors, approximately every 18 months or so. This allows it to keep up with the pace of what people are doing on the web. Expression Web and SharePoint Designer were released more or less at the the same time in 2006. Expression Web is now in version 2 and we’ve seen at MIX 09 something of what they are working on for the next version with SuperPreview. Yet SharePoint has not had a new release being tied to both Office and Windows Servers it is on a much longer release cycle. Will putting SharePoint support in Expression Web put it on the same release cycle as Office and/or Windows Servers? Seems to me this change puts the strengths of Expression Web – the ability to host on any server and use PHP as well as ASP.NET into what may become a second class status in favor of a proprietary SharePoint orientation.

This is the second Expression Studio product that will be a casualty of Microsoft turning away from standards and towards proprietary solutions that server only a small segment of web designers/developer's needs.

I have watched Microsoft take a good graphics program and strip it of almost everything that made it a good web graphics program and turn it into something useful only to create WPF graphics. Now I see Microsoft taking their best web editor to date and moving it in the direction of a Windows only tool and am disheartened. Turning the focus of the entire Expression Studio inward to focus on SharePoint and Windows desktop (WPF) applications will only destroy what remains of the Expression Web community that has still not recovered from the move to the forum structure.

Microsoft – make SharePoint Designer free if you want to encourage people to use SharePoint but please don’t turn Expression Web into the “new” SharePoint design application.

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