How Macromedia Missed the ASP.NET 2.0 Boat

Over the past couple of weeks, I received a number of e-mails from visitors to this web site, asking me about what I use for development, and about my opinion on Macromedia's Dreamweaver 8 and ASP.NET integration, be it version 1.x or 2.0. Considering the fact I wrote books about both Dreamweaver and ASP.NET 2.0, that question makes sense.

In the past I have received similar questions. People asked me how I used Dreamweaver, and how I used it in combination with server side techniques like ASP and ASP.NET.

With ASP.NET1.x, in combination with Visual Studio .NET 2003, the answer was simple. The visual designer of VS.NET 2003 sucks, and it sucks big time. It's the clean coder's nightmare. Other than early editions of Front Page and Visual Interdev, I don't think I have seen a code editor that was capable of screwing up code so bad. I could have a nicely formatted, XHTML compatible HTML page, and by simply switching to Design View and adding a few controls, I could end up with the biggest mess you've ever seen. Capitalized tags all over the place, expanded CSS properties, removed or added tags and attributes and so on. All in all, not a pleasant thing to use.

So, my answer to these questions was always: "For static web sites, I do everything in Dreamweaver. For dynamic web sites, I do all my design in Dreamweaver and then move it to VS.NET. I use Dreamweaver to create the initial HTML, use its great CSS features to visually design the page, setup the page structure and external CSS files and I even use it to do some quick validation of the page." As soon my initial design was done, I'd copy the code into Visual Studio's code view window, and made sure I never hit Design View again (how ironic, for a product with such a name). When I needed to add controls to the page, I'd do so in a separate page and then manually copied the controls and their code behind control declarations from the temp page in my final page. Again, not a pleasant way to approach things, but roughly the only way that worked for me.

In many ways, Visual Studio is a great development tool. I love its code behind support, its great IDE functionality and, of course, Intelli Sense. I remember from the early .NET days (and even VB 6 days), that I learned a lot from Intelli Sense. In fact, I still do. Being able to see what methods and properties an object has, together with integrated and context sensitive help is, IMO, one of the best tools to learn a new environment / technology / language. Macromedia has tried to put some intelli sense in Dreamweaver with their code completion feature but, IMO, failed miserably while trying. For example, in an ASP page, all you get access to is a few methods and properties of the well known ASP objects like Response and Request. But that's the stuff I can easily remember. What I need is to see a list of operations of a COM object I have never seen before, for example. What I need is the "Go To Definition" option to jump from important spot to another. Granted, it does this for HTML and CSS, and it does it well, but that's it.

But, great as a developer's tool VS.NET 2003 is, it misses a few important features that Dreamweaver has had for a long time. Most importantly: Dreamweaver doesn't touch your code (except for a few well known issues with locked regions, recordsets and templates and Dreamweaver undoing a whole lot of your changes). You can easily switch between design and code view (even have the two open at the same time), drag and drop to your heart's content and Dreamweaver wouldn't insert a misplaced character anywhere. In addition to that, I have always loved its support for clean HTML, CSS and the way it used property panels to visually change code. Also, the code completion for HTML and CSS saved me from typing millions of characters, and remembering tag specific options. For beginners in coding, it also has reasonable support for building database driven web sites (that's where my two books on Dreamweaver are about).

So, what to choose. Dreamweaver supplied the looks of web pages, while Visual Studio .NET 2003 supplied the brains (somehow that reminds me of the ancient Pet Shop Boys song...) Since it was impossible to choose, I didn't. Looks in Dreamweaver, Brains in Visual Studio .NET 2003. Things were easy back then....

With the advent of ASP.NET 2.0, things could have changed. Being much more tag driven than previous versions of ASP.NET, Dreamweaver could have added support for it. Click click click and there you have it: Instant Results. Unfortunately, this is not the case. I remember from the time between Dreamweaver MX 2004 and Dreamweaver 8, that a lot of people asked for support for ASP.NET. MX 2004 said it had support for ASP.NET, but IMO, it never had. Sure, you could add a TextBox control and make it runat="server". And sure, you could manually add a whole lot of other stuff that you'd use in ASP.NET, but it never felt like an IDE, where everything is supposed to be integrated. Now, I can imagine that it was hard to add support for ASP.NET 1 to Dreamweaver MX. Things were new back then and it was unknown where .NET would go. However, after ASP.NET 1 was released, it was clear that it was a technology that was here to stay.

At this point, Macromedia missed the boat if you ask me. Knowing that ASP.NET 2.0 was coming and knowing how it would look like (alphas and betas have been around for years), they should have made Dreamweaver 8 ASP.NET 2 compatible. They had a great chance of building a tool that would have suited both developers with the brains and designers with the looks (nothing personal here, BTW).... But, they didn't. Support for ASP.NET is still non-existent in the latest version of Dreamweaver. Even worse (from a Macromedia perspective, not from a coder's perspective), Microsoft came with Visual Studio 2005 and Visual Web Developer. A killer tool, both for the brains and the looks. It has brilliant features, like drag and drop data source controls, code behind, Intelli Sense, integrated database access, a fully (as in fully fully) customizable IDE, smart tasks, design time support for Master Pages (albeit it somewhat limited), import and export options of your settings, intelligent and context sensitive help, deep integration with source control tools, user specific formatting rules for HTML, XML, ASP.NET code and programming languages, and a lot more. But most importantly: it came out of the gray nerdy corner, took of its jam-jar glasses and got the looks: It has improved design time support that allows you see what you're doing. It now helps you design your pages. It knows its CSS, understands the differences between XHTML transitional pages and quirks mode pages, helps you with the differences between the two, and never touches your code, even when you switch between design view and code view. Granted, it doesn't render like IE 7 or FireFox yet, it adds a   element here and there, and it adds a few too many style attributes to table cells every now and then, but I can live with that.

On top of all this, Microsoft is giving away Visual Web Developer Express Edition for free!! Now that is hard to compete with....

So, what to choose. Or better yet, let's return to the initial question: what do I use for development, and how do I see Dreamweaver fit in to that? To be honest? I find myself using Dreamweaver less and less. I still use it for static HTML pages, simple ASP projects and "single page web projects", especially when I work in projects where other people use Dreamweaver too. But, I am not using it for CSS based pages as often as I used to. Visual Studio 2005 is just as good at that (code wise, not render wise). I also don't use it anymore for quick and dirty proof of concepts sites or pages (those tricky three column layout pages for example). And I am certainly not using it for anything related to ASP.NET 2.0; Visual Studio 2005 (even the free VWD Express Edition) is much and much better than that.

Who knows what Dreamweaver 9 will bring.... While I'd like to keep faith, I doubt Macromedia (oops, I should say Adobe now) can compete with the new Visual Studio, let alone the upcoming Orcas version of Visual Studio....

Ironically, I am typing this post in Dreamweaver. I always type and layout my posts in Dreamweaver before I add them to my site through my Content Management System. Apparently, it's hard to learn an old dog new tricks.... ;-)


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On Friday, April 07, 2006 3:23:56 AM Rahil said:
Hello Imar,

Very Good article. This will clearly save time for all those Dreamweaver8 developers who are still in a puzzled stage about asp.net 2 and Dreamweaver8 ( DM8 ) .

I call it a puzzled stage because neither they can leave the old fascination about DM and neither they can enjoy the advantages of asp.net 2.0. I had seen many forums ( more specially the formus on macromedia itself ) about the same questions again and again, how to get the work done for asp.net 2 in DM8, and when will DM start giving support for asp.net 2  and why is macromediaAdobe so quiet about this burning problem.

I think you are aware that Microsoft is once again in the process of making its VWD ( visual Web Developer ) more powerful with more advanced CSS features. The new incarnation will be known as SAPPHIRE.  (pl. see petels blog on msdn blogs for more details )

It is clear indication to kill DM8, and finally with the arrival of " EXPRESSION TOOLS " a bunch of 3 products and more sepcifically " WEB DESIGNER " DM8 will be a history for asp.net developers.

Imar, i think you just missed to write few lines on EXPRESSION TOOLS.Any how i did fill that gap too.

Yes you are right, MacromediaAdobe really missed the asp.net 2 boat. I really wish all DM8 lovers not to wait anymore on the DM8 seashore.

Rahil
(www.softmind.biz )
On Friday, April 07, 2006 4:54:15 AM Nancy said:
Unfortunately, Imar, you failed to mention that when DW8 came out, ASP.net 2.0 was still in beta.  That means changing.  There was no intelligent way the DW team could have added ASP.net 2.0 support into a product that had a release date before 2.0 was even finalized.  The end result would most likely have been Microsoft changing the direction of the specification and a product that wasn't viable.

While Microsoft is famous for pushing back and missing software deadlines, Macromedia (wasn't Adobe then yet) is not and stuck to schedule .. which they should have done.

On Friday, April 07, 2006 6:48:17 AM Imar Spaanjaars said:
Hi Nancy,

I agree that I could have said that a bit clearer. However, I tried it with this:

"Knowing that ASP.NET 2.0 was coming and knowing how it would look like (alphas and betas have been around for years)"

Indeed, Dreamweaver 8 was out long before ASP.NET 2.0 went gold, so it is hard to add full support for a beta technology. I can understand why MM decided not to support ASP.NET 2. However, they also didn't add support for ASP.NET 1.x, something that has been RTM for years now.

Most likely, many developers will make the move to ASP.NET 2.0, but there'll be a lot of developers and projects that still require ASP.NET 1. Dreamweaver could have filled the enormous gap in ASP.NET 1 support that Visual Studio 2003 left behind.

That way, Dreamweaver could be supporting the previous version of ASP.NET. So, when DW 9 comes out, it can have support for ASP.NET 2.

Anyway, maybe it'll never happen, or maybe we'll all be surprised about the next version of DW 9....

About the dead-lines: ha, yeah I know. However, it sometimes also seems that MM is holding on to dead-lines too tight, with too little support to do things rights. Don't get me wrong through, I really like DW 8 as a web tool and I enjoy many of the new features and enhancements that it brings....

Imar
On Friday, April 07, 2006 6:54:33 AM Imar Spaanjaars said:
Hi Rahil,

I didn't mention the Expression tools, because I know too little about them. I have seen what they can do, but I am still not sure what market and end user they are targetting. It's hard for me to determine what place it will get besides the Visual Studio 2005 line and VWD...

Imar
On Friday, April 07, 2006 12:25:06 PM Rahil said:
Dear Imar,

I go against the statement of Nancy. I refer this since i have been witness of all threads for Dreamweaver on Microsoft asp.net forums.( www.asp.net  )

Dreamweaver had a guy called " DreamWeaver Engineer " who was from DW team and was responsible for answering all questions about DW8 and asp.net 2.0

In few threads he also mentioned that Macromedia is serious about asp.net 2.0 support and as a result  he is travelling everywhere to attend each and every conference. He also stated that my company is no fool to bear such costly expenses, if macromedia was not serious about asp.net 2.0

To my biggest surprise that guy disappeared with all the false promises and never turned back, neither Macromedia answered any questions later on.

It is impossible to believe that macromedia was not aware about this great technology. Macromedia was well aware, but the suprise is why they backed out without any answers to the community.

Thanks

Rahil
On Friday, April 07, 2006 1:28:11 PM Tom Muck said:
Nice article, and basically echos what I've been saying for years. The other boat they missed was the ColdFusion boat, which is sad because they own ColdFusion now. PHP has much better development IDEs than DW. It seems Macromedia is not interested in pursuing developers or creating tools they can use. DW is mostly a designer's tool with a few code features piled on.
On Friday, April 07, 2006 6:53:13 PM Darrel said:
Why not say "how MS missed the DW boat"? Same logic.

The main gripe you have with VS'03 is that it makes crappy HTML (and it does). However, MS has fixed with with the new releases, offered them for free, and really hasn't given Adobe a reason to bother with .net support going forward.

You say they should have made DW an .net 2.0 IDE but I bet Adobe's own business analysts clearly said 'don't bother'.

"So, what to choose. "

I still use both and likely will for a long time. Unless Adobe drops OSX support. ;o)
On Friday, April 07, 2006 6:54:44 PM Darrel said:
"Macromedia was well aware, but the suprise is why they backed out without any answers to the community."

Macromedia is no longer Macromedia. They are Adobe. Adobe is a direct compeitor with MS. Not that Macromedia wasn't, but the business politics have changed quite a bit with the merger.
On Friday, April 07, 2006 11:47:32 PM Imar Spaanjaars said:
Hi Darrel,

"Why not say "how MS missed the DW boat"? Same logic."

I don't agree with that. There is no Dreamweaver boat. Dreamweaver is a tool, while ASP.NET is a technology. Not the same thing.

IMO, one of Dreamweaver's strengths is that it has always supported multiple technologies. Whether you were designing static XHTML and CSS pages, or wanted to use a server side language like PHP or ASP, you could use the same, familiar interface.

While there are many sites that still run on ASP, my take is that new stuff won't be built with classic ASP anymore. This puts ASP in maintenance mode, and therefore it puts ASP sites built with Dreamweaver in maintenance mode. There is not much to gain from a maintenance market from an Adobe perspective.

While I am sure there is reasoning behind Macromedia's decision not to support ASP.NET, I think it's a big omission. Macromedia proofed in the past that it is good at providing support for other platforms, like ASP. Why not include support for ASP.NET? Why not fill the gap that VS.NET left behind? I think with good support for a broad range of supported technologies, there is a fair chance of survival for Dreamweaver. There is room in the market for more that one development tool for each server side platform. With only a little bit of support for PHP and classic ASP, and with big competitors releasing other great tools, what's the added benefit of Dreamweaver in the long run?

It won't be an IDE anymore. I'll be dumped down to a very clever tool for building beautiful and correctly rendering XHTML / CSS pages. IMO, that's no longer good enough with today's high demand for complex web applications.

I'll be using Dreamweaver for the foreseeable future, but some weird things have to happen before I upgrade to version 9 and I am sure I am not the only one...

Imar
On Saturday, April 08, 2006 12:00:57 AM Imar Spaanjaars said:
Hi Tom,

"DW is mostly a designer's tool with a few code features piled on. "

Exactly my point, couldn't agree more. It's no longer a development tool, but a designer's tool. The server side technologies it supports right now, won't be good enough for the sites we have to build over the next few years.

And, with the tools that *can* build these sites getting smarter (at least a little) at the stuff that Dreamweaver is good at, I think the market for Dreamweaver as it stands now is a decreasing one....

Imar
On Thursday, May 04, 2006 5:12:59 AM Jason said:
Macromedia/Adobe obviously can't support every technology under the sun without making financial business decisions behind it. I think if they were smart about it, they would market the base Dreamweaver as the best design tool for what they charge now. Then develop different add on packs for purchase to support different web technologies. They could have released DW8 as they did then follow up with an asp.net 2.0 add on pack for development. They make money off the development and we get what we want...support for new technologies in our favorite design tool. I would be perfectly willing to pay for that. I hate the thought of moving to a Microsoft product for a design tool. They don't get it from a designer's perspective. Adobe, please don't drop the ball on this!
On Saturday, May 06, 2006 1:00:26 AM Nick said:
I for one do not belive

It's not that only ASP.net support in DW is skimpy, even the coldfusion plugin for dreamweaver was outsourced. Macromedia did graphics/UI stuff, not back-end business logic.

Watch out for the EXPRESSION Web Designer. Certainly for Asp.net 2.0 programmers, it will probably offer a very clean companion to VS2005/VWD.

Don't forget that although Dreamweaver is skimpy on IDE/business logic features, Adobe Flex is not! In fact the Flex workflow is quite similar to the one you'd find with ASP.net. This could be why Macromedia/Adobe didn't/isn't put much effort into enhancing the server features of DW. For now their concern is much more how to provide a clean interface between PHP, JSP, ASP(.net) and Flex and making this as easy as possible. The idea behind flex is that some of the logic that normally resides on the server would be moved to the client (thick client).

My humble predition: A watered-down version of Coldfusion will be fused with flex 3.0? 4.0?, which allows basic database access etc.

On Monday, May 22, 2006 3:09:34 PM logic said:
I have long given given up on DW. I wrote about almost same stuff you talked about in DW forum after the release of VS 2005. As a long time user of DW; pre Drumbeat, I hate to see such a fine tool fade away, but IMO, MM or Adobe missed the boat and it is only a matter of time before all  the remaining DW disciples leave. Fact is, VS express beats DW Studio hands down.
I believe Adobe or MM will have an answer soon, but it will be too late.  If  my circle of friends can be used as a barometer, then, they; Adobe have already lost the developer\designer community. The only people left are probably, pure play desiners who can't code and are not willing to learn.
Personally, I occasionally, fire up DW installed on my Laptop for the sake of looking at it, but I now do all my developing in VS 2005 and so do all my friends and even the compnay I work for is about to drop DW.
Cheers,
logic
On Thursday, September 28, 2006 7:36:01 PM Larisa Fakt said:
Omar,
Thanks for a very interesting article. I am researching the same subject. I do find that working in DW is easier even then in VS2005 but that's me. I have a practical question. I would like to use both but cannot figure out how set up the site where DW and VS coexist
On Saturday, September 30, 2006 7:56:20 PM Imar Spaanjaars said:
Hi Larisa,

Omar???

Anyway, it can be pretty difficult to work with the two programs at the same time. I usually design a site in Dreamweaver, and then move it to Visual Studio. I still do partial design updates in Dreamweaver, during the development process.

Cheers,

Imar
On Saturday, September 30, 2006 9:58:59 PM Larisa said:
Imar,
Thanks for the respond!. My problem is that I have already several apps on the same site developed in DW. Now I want to move on to VS byt web.config is done by DW and it does not work in VS. The error message is that connections are wron. They have this MM_ sines. How do I adjust to VS my old apps?
Thanks
Larisa
On Sunday, October 01, 2006 9:30:20 AM Imar Spaanjaars said:
Hi Larisa,

This sounds like a configuration error to me, rather than a problem from switching between DW and VWD.

Can you post your code (web.config) at http://p2p.wrox.com in an appropriate forum and send me the link?

Cheers,

Imar
On Friday, March 30, 2007 10:11:29 PM Joel said:
First off, it would be [i]nice[/i] if you [i]mentioned[/i] somewhere near this Reply form that it will [i]not[/i] accept HTML tags, so that we don’t find out after clicking “Post Comment” after typing up a long complex post only to have it go bye-bye because Internet Explo[b]d[/b]er 7 didn’t reload the form contents so that we could edit out the tags by clicking the [Back] button. Sometimes you do get new people here who don’t know such rules, and it’s really annoying to have to find out the hard way, after spending the better part of an hour on a post.

Now, let me see if I can remember part of what I was [i]trying[/i] to say be[i]fore[/i] I was so [i]rude[/i]ly inter[i]rup[/i]ted.…

Okay, I was pointing out that while it was true that DW8 came out before ASP.NET 2 was finalized, that’s no excuse because Dreamweaver has [i]no[/i] server-side code generation abilities (other than manual hand-coding) [i]built-in[/i] to dreamweaver.exe itself. All of the ASP, ASP.NET, PHP, JSP, and ColdFusion abilities, and many of the other seemingly “built-in” features of DW, are actually [i]Extensions[/i] that come with the program and are installed with it.

When Dreamweaver UltraDev was introduced way back when, it only supported ASP Classic VB and JS, JSP, and ColdFusion. No PHP. No ASP.NET. But, a [i]third-party[/i] company named InterAKT created PhAKT, a complete and comprehensive PHP Server Model and supporting Server Behaviors and other Extensions that was in many ways even more advanced than the ASP, JSP, and CF models included in UltraDev!

If InterAKT could do that, why can’t Macrodobe themselves, or even some third-party Extensions developer (and we have several here who’ve demonstrated considerable Extension-writing prowess [I’m looking at [i]you[/i], [b]Tom Muck[/b]!]) develop a Server Model suite for ASP.NET 2.0? There’s no need to come out with a whole new version of DW for this.

Better yet, why not go the other way? Kevin Marshall of WebXeL has developed a replacement DreamweaverCtrls.dll that fixes some of the more egregious inefficiencies of the Macrodobe standard version. I’ve already used it in Visual Studio 2005 Express Web Developer (VSWD), and it works fine for the most part in Source View, including limited IntelliSense and full Object Browser support. The <MM:…≥ tags do show up as errors, though, but you can still develop around that. And, of course, they don’t display properly in Design View. It seems to me that this could be extended with the various designer support features of .NET 2 to allow it to be more fully integrated into VSWD (and, presumably, Expression Web).

That, in turn, would allow those tools to be more effectively used to convert existing DW-generated ASP.NET 1.x sites over to proper ASP.NET 2.0 form. This could be the basis for a whole system to semi-automate this task, including converting Templates into Master Pages, MM:DataSets into SqlDataSources, [i]etc.[/i]!

I, for one, would be willing to pay for either tool, but would prefer the latter: the ability to more effectively port existing DW sites into the new Microsoft tools, and wave bye-bye to DW once and for all. Perhaps DMXzone should do a Poll on the subject, asking others which they would prefer, and how much they would be willing to pay for such tools?
On Friday, March 30, 2007 10:13:14 PM Joel said:
Okay, so the error message lied when it told me that I could use square brackets (BBcode-like) tags. Good to know that not only was I NOT told enough up front, but what I WAS told later simply wasn't true. :-(
On Saturday, March 31, 2007 6:27:14 AM Imar Spaanjaars said:
Hi Joel,

I am sorry you got that error message. I do not allow HTML tags to keep spammers out, and so far it has worked for 100%. And the error message you got didn't say you can use BBcode-like tags to format tags; it said you can replace the HTML brackets with square brackets to enter stuff that *looks like HTML*. People can use this to post *code* as part of a comment.

But, I can see how frustrating this unclear message and lack of instructiions up-front can be, so it's on top of my "Things to do for Imar.Spaanjaars.Com" list....

Anyway, thanks for your post; I aree with most of what you sad, although I doubt it that a site like DMXzone would host a poll that asked people if they'd prefer a tool that allowed them to leave DW behind for good... ;-)

Imar

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