Beyond the Macromedia Mystique

by Scot Hacker

I've just spent the last couple of days at Macromedia seminars in San Francisco. When I think "seminar," I imagine a place where I'm going to do a lot of learning fast. But more and more often, events billed as seminars are actually extended product demos, designed more to get you salivating and/or upsell you to the next version of the product in question. The emphasis is more on showing you what's possible with the product than it is on helping you to tangibly achieve a particular result.

Now granted, this was a heavily attended seminar -- around 700 people in a very large room -- so it's not like they could have provided all of us with computers to work on. And I don't mean to slag the event entirely, since I did learn a lot of useful stuff about the new MX suite. But the lesson here is to set expectations carefully when seminars are held without cost to attendees.

Putting that aside, I'm very curious about one aspect of Macromedia's weltanschaung: The company claimed repeatedly that Dreamweaver is used by 80% of professional web developers. But when I ask around, I get a very different picture. The vast majority I've spoken to over the past few days use some kind of pure hand-coding tool - Allaire HomeSite, Bare Bones' BBEdit, or one of vi, vim, or emacs. Most people I talk to have used or experimented with Dreamweaver, or keep it around for particular types of jobs at which it excels, but I'm hard-pressed to find anyone who uses it as a primary development tool. I think Macromedia is putting some major spin on the numbers here.

The question is not as simple as WYSIWYG vs. code mode though. Recall that Macromedia purchased Allaire a while ago. That means that not only is ColdFusion now one of the staples of the Macromedia MX line, but the HomeSite text editor is now the core of Dreamweaver's code mode.

In other words, what has long been one of the best power text editors for Windows users is now integrated into the best power WYSIWYG editor. So who could complain? In theory, you now get to use all of Dreamweaver's site management and workflow management tools transparently alongside powerful text editing tools. In practice though, it's a different story. Despite these apparent advantages, many of us just prefer working with slimmer, more specialized tools. Editing HTML and writing PHP scripts is a pure text activity, and benefits from lightweight power - 95% of the time, we don't need 95% of what Dreamweaver offers, so the rest of the app feels like bloat.

This is all very subjective, of course. After watching some of the things the Macromedia pros were able to create (not just in terms of design, but also in terms of back-end functionality), I've decided to try and spend more time in Dreamweaver, even if it means less time in BBEdit. To be honest, my experiences in the OS X version of Dreamweaver MX have been highly negative over the past 6 weeks, but I'm going to give it another shot.

On a separate note, it's impossible not to be impressed by the way Macromedia is integrating database back-ends with Flash front-ends these days. With ColdFusion and support for ASP, PHP, J2EE, and others on the back-end, they've got "rich" server technology. Since Flash is the #1 installed browser plug-in in the world, they've got "rich" client technology nailed as well. With MX, Macromedia is trying to put the two together, and is encouraging developers to create full-blown Web applications out of database-backed Flash objects. The concept is admittedly powerful - the demonstrations they made were elegant, beautiful, and lightweight byte-wise. Macromedia has also gone to a lot of trouble here to create standard UI widgets - scrollbars and combo boxes, etc.

It may just be that rich Flash content ends up being the cross-platform panacea for Web applications that client-side Java never turned out to be. Time will tell. For now, I remain skeptical of Macromedia's product-line, and feel like I'm being sold a mountain of functionality I never asked for. As for their business strategy, I worry that a single company with a proprietary product could become a defacto standard for building rich Web applications - granted, Macromedia isn't Microsoft, but I still believe in open standards, and don't like to see large amounts of content stuffed into unsearchable binary blobs. And I'm wary of Macromedia's developer marketing - this 80% claim seems like a gross exaggeration of the facts to me. Would love to hear your feedback on this one.

Are you using Dreamweaver as a primary site development tool, or something else? Do you believe Macromedia's claim that 80% of web developers use the product?


2002-08-08 16:14:03
Use and support SVG
It's easy: use and support SVG. It supports everything that Flash does and does a whole lot more. Oh wait, also SVG is XML-based multi-purpose 2D language specified within the W3C. It's an open spec, its usage is royalty-free and it is not controlled by a or various companies.


2002-08-14 03:03:40
To lock- or not to lock-in
The SWF is still documented and therefor open. If MM would go bankrupt, we could still create SWF's. So what's the problem.

I have more problems with the fact that they don't want to publish AMF specs (yet). It's there highly efficient communication protocol, speeding up communications with the Flash client. It's a definite lock-in into their back-end products, other back-end servers have to communicate via bloated XML documents. Only there products have this little trick. The will have a Java version soon, but they want to sell it as an option. Nothing on PHP yet.

MM is not Microsoft, but these guys should worry. I have a feeling that by 2004 there will be more Flash clients out there than Windows clients on PC's. Due to the fact that Flash seem to be a natural fit with appliances, mobile phones, etc.

2002-08-14 03:09:06
SVG does not support everything Flash does!
Stop using unfair arguments, just because Flash is not opensource. It is just not true. I don't want to start a debate on SVG versus SWF, just do your homework, look into the specs or better yet. Use the product(s) for a while before you start shouting. It takes at least half an hour, before you have a list of at least ten differences. I know, it's a sacrifice - yeah yeah life is sh@t!