I've always liked friends of ED books - not least because I used to work for a sister company before they were bought out by Apress. The Foundation series has always been their biggest-seller, as it combines a comprehensive overview of a tool for the newcomer (either newbie to Dreamweaver, or newbie to this particular release) with a considered, intelligent tutorial style. Quality used to be an issue for friends of ED; fortunately this book marks a return to form. The marketing guy who sent me the book explained that friends of ED were bored at reading the same dry, rushed-out books written on beta code that always accompany a new Dreamweaver release and so took the decision to wait until the community and its authors had a decent chance to use the software in the real-world before writing the book. Happily, as well, Macromedia released a new update to DMX 2004 that made it a lot faster and more stable, hopefully attracting more customers who'd held off from buying due to the quality issues in the first DMX2004 release, although this book doesn't address features added with the updater, like the return of the timeline.
The authors of this book are professional developers David Powers and George McLachlan, and pro artist and designer Craig Grannell. Unlike many DW books, it doesn't only concentrate on the processes and technical procedures of Dreamweaver development; it acknowledges that you're using DW as a tool and the end-result is a site that has to look good and be attractive to whichever audience you're designing for. I found that refreshing in itself - throughout the chapters, there are aesthetic questions considered and it's never forgotten that you're designing for people rather than the dubious joy of squirting code up to a web server somewhere.
Interestingly, unlike previous friends of ED Dreamweaver books which used Access and ASP as the default server model to teach with, this book uses PHP and MySQL - the most popular combo for web sites across the world. The authors write "we chose PHP because ... it's free, it's cross-platform, running on Windows, OSX and Linux, it's easy to learn and ... there are a large number of resources available".
The book is structured around a case-study - a promotional site for photographic images of Iceland. (It's a shame that the book's only in black and white, as the images look great - but if monochrome keeps the cost down, that's OK by us, right?). The reason for the case-study approach is the same approach as we use at DMXzone for our articles (and our series Ideas to Implementation) - recognising that the easiest way to learn something is by doing it, and making it as relevant to the real-world as possible. So there's a short one chapter on the Dreamweaver IDE (if you're completely new) and then it's straight in with the learning curve.
I won't go through every chapter individually; most notable are chapter 9 which builds the site using CSS rather than nested tables, chapter 10 which handily gives instructions on installing PHP and Apache Server on different operating systems, Chapter 11 which looks at forms, and some simple ways to protect them from malicious scripts, chapter 13 which helps set up and run MySQL, chapter 14 which looks at website security.
The reason I highlight these are because many beginner's books don't touch on security at all (which can lead to a lot of very good sites written by beginners being open to hacks) and because, in a beginner's book, I always like to see installation explained in the author's own voice, as that's the style that the reader has become familiar with (rather than being sent off to a URL - and, frankly, many open-source developer sites are not terribly beginner-friendly). Also of note in chapter 16 - Dreamweaver Extensions - which name-checks DMXzone!!
I liked this book very much; the style was bright and breezy enough so that it never got boring (and I've read a lot of beginner's Dreamweaver tutorials in my time). It hangs together as a book, too; we were shown a lot of DMX 2004 books last year that were written in a rush, hardly edited, and which were 90% of the previous MX edition of the book with a few new screenshots. The learning curve in this book is fast, but not frightening, and it covers all the basics but distinguishes itself by including information on design, the user experience and security which you don't usually see in books aimed at the beginner, but which I believe most definitely *should* be included. The premise behind the case-study is that web sites should be styled using CSS -which is great, but the book doesn't really cover much CSS - just enough to get the case-study up and running.
After reading this book, you won't be up to professional level (you need DMXzone tutorials to do that!); I'm not sure that after reading it, you'd be ready to make a huge site using PHP although, in fairness to the authors, they don't claim that it will - but it will give a newbie a full grounding in the mechanics of making PHP/ MySQL sites with DMX 2004.
Bruce Lawson, DMXzone.com
The Independent Dreamweaver Community