The Software Hall Of Fame

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InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

June 4, 2005

3 Min Read

By Don St. John

Which is better: long division or a calculator?

Unless you're in fourth grade with a teacher standing over you while you figure out how many times 17 goes into 74, the answer is easy. But for the first generation of Web producers, hand-coding sites in HTML was the equivalent of 1479377 divided by 496230, one line at a time.

I did the whole initial site for a magazine just that way, back in the Pleistocene Era (1995). Bigger sites came along where producers had the luxury of database-driven content management systems, but even those could be cumbersome. And early Web tools like Adobe's PageMill or Microsoft's first version of FrontPage? I couldn't fling that crap onto my pile of Worthless Dreck To Be Sold (If Possible) quickly enough.

Dreamweaver was the first tool thatmade it easy for anyone to put up a Web site,no prior knowledge required.

Then Macromedia — the company that brought us Shockwave and Flash, and was among the first to get what the Web could really do — stepped into the fray with Dreamweaver. And it was good. Really good, in fact.

What did it offer? Pixel-deep control of elements, just by plugging numbers into the console. Generated Javascript — a bit bloated at times, but still a ton easier than working it out on one's own. Nice integration with CSS/CSS2 and XHTML. Snappy site-wide control and templating abilities that let you apply changes across a body of pages, no matter how granular. A whole lot more, too. And it was all startlingly easy to use.

In essence, this was the first tool that made it easy for anyone to put up a Web site, no prior knowledge required. Others have followed, and have their adherents —particularly Adobe's GoLive — but to me, Dreamweaver is the template for everything that followed.

That's still important. Lots of sites (like this one) have gone way beyond what Dreamweaver can do for them, sporting sophisticated commerce systems, databases that allow for massive 24/7 updating, blogging software, and much more. It's not your father's Web anymore...except that it still really is, because the promise of the World Wide Web continues to be that anyone can express themselves to the entire planet simply by having their own site.

The old line that freedom of the press is available only to those who can afford a press has been turned on its head: The Web is history's cheapest, most accessible printing press. In a fearful time when "you need to watch what you say" is an operating principle for many, the ability to say whatever you please is perhaps more important than ever. Dreamweaver is a tool that continues to make that possible.

Don St. John is Editor of Server Pipeline.

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