Because of its ability to separate design from content, Cascading Style Sheets has become an extremely important technology in web development. A single CSS document can contain information regarding the position of elements on all the pages in a web site as well as style information such as font, sizes and colours. In terms of building websites, CSS definitely represents the future.
Dreamweaver has long had support for the use of CSS and has responded to the growing importance of this pivotal technology. Dreamweavers implementation of CSS is all the more important since many of the people using the program are not specialist web developers and rely on Dreamweaver to guide them through the maze of technologies which drive web pages.
Previous versions of Dreamweaver assumed that most users would be using tables to control the layout of their web pages. Dreamweaver CS4 is the first version of the program which encourages users to create CSS-based web page layouts. When the users create a new web page, they are offered a series of CSS layouts, on which they can base the new page, consisting of single, double and three column designs.
CSS page layout is based in the DIV element, an HTML container which can be used to hold an arbitrary amount of web content. The CSS rules control the appearance and positioning of DIVs on the page. Dreamweaver CS4s preset CSS layouts create a series of DIVs containing placeholder text and basic formatting. The placeholder text, as well as the code underlying the page, both contain useful explanations of how the page has been constructed and a few tips on how to personalise them.
CSS works most efficiently when you can place all of your CSS code in one external file and link that file to each of your HTML pages. Dreamweaver CS4 still does not make it easy for inexperienced users to create CSS-based pages in this way. If the user creates ten web pages based on Dreamweavers preset CSS designs, each will have its own code embedded within the page itself. There is, however, a great feature for moving embedded code across to an external CSS file. You just select a series of CSS definitions, right-click and choose Move CSS Rules which is available in the CSS Styles section of the context menu.
Although this ability to move CSS around is really great, its not something that beginners will necessarily think of doing. It points to the fact that Dreamweaver could still do with a few enhancements to its implementation of CSS.
It is also disappointing that Dreamweaver still automatically generates CSS styles called style1, etc. each time the user applies a font or colour to selected text. Surely it would be easier to simply remove these basic attributes and just let the user either apply a style to the selection or, if no styles exist, create a new one. Perhaps this will be introduced in the next release of this excellent program.
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