It was only a few years ago that "static" Dreamweaver websites were common place and the modern day data driven CMS websites were only used for very large, data intensive projects and ecommerce designs. Today however it's very rare we build a website without some sort of Content Management tools built in. Given this move away from the "static" website, I thought we'd stop to look at why we've been seeing this trend and whether or not your business should be thinking about using a CMS for their new website.
Websites Are Now Layered
Old fashioned Dreamweaver websites were single layered entities where we saw the text, design and code all meshed together in the one file. Content management systems changed this by storing all your content in a database. This meant that you could completely change the look of your website without have to re-enter the text or even rebuild the navigation menu. This increased level of flexibility was clearly more desirable for businesses who wanted to be able to upgrade their site without having to start all over again.
Dreamweaver Was Too Complicated for Employees
One of the problems Adobe/Macromedia faced with Dreamweaver was that businesses wanted to be able to update their website but didn't have the skills to do so. Some companies solved this problem by sending staff to Dreamweaver training sessions whilst others tried to integrate Adobe Contribute software into their workflow. Both of these approaches however proved to be limiting and left the website in the hands of staff members who had very limited web development experience. In turn this tended to result in additional work for web designers who not only had to then implement the changes the business was trying to make but also fix the mess that was left along the way.
Content Management Systems effectively solved this problem by creating ways for businesses to be able to change the content on their website without fear of affecting the developers code. By using a CMS like ExpressionEngine, different screens can be setup for different users of varying skill levels. This then allows these users to change everything they need to without being bamboozled by features they don't understand and they can do so with very little training.
Standard Compliance and Browser Compatibility
At the time when static Dreamweaver websites were at their peak there was really only one web browser to consider: Internet Explorer (IE). Internet Explorer was in version 5.5 on Mac and version 6 on PC and provided the changes you made looked ok in IE, you felt assured the majority of users would be able to view your site.
These days however browser testing is more important than ever. There are now 3 - 4 versions of Internet Explorer you'll need to individually test, 2 versions of Firefox, Chrome, Safari and then each of your mobile platforms. The problem here for companies who are internally updating their website using Dreamweaver is that they aren't setup to test on each of these platforms every time they make a change to their site which means that certain modifications they've made can end up causing issues they're completely unaware of.
By using a CMS however, your website will be delivered to you in a standard compliant format and fully checked across each of the major web browsers. Part of this testing process for us also includes putting in place mechanisms to help prevent users from making changes that will break the website in different browsers. This is not always a simple as it sounds but a CMS does come a long way in helping the user avoid browser compatibility issues and ensuring more people can see your website in the way the designer intended.
A Dreamweaver User also needs to be a Photoshop User
One of the best things that Content Management Systems have to offer businesses is in the way they remove technical barriers. For many users, it doesn't take long before they discover they want to upload a photo from their digital camera only to find out it's too large for the webpage. Content Management Systems like ExpressionEngine help solve this problem by automatically scaling the image down to the correct size. Users can also edit photos in ExpressionEngine too, which in many cases, completely removes the need to purchases a software package like Photoshop.
Dreamweaver doesn't adhere to the DRY principle
DRY: Don't Repeat Yourself
A well built CMS website should adhere as closely as possible to the DRY principle. This means for example; a user should only have to change a phone number once to see it updated everywhere across the website. Far too often in static websites, users would have to open and close each webpage of the website to make site wide changes. Dreamweaver has come some way in addressing this with Dreamweaver Templates and site wide Find and Replace but both of these approaches have their limits and can leave a trail of destruction if not done correctly.
No Need to Re-Invent the Wheel
The final aspect we'll look at is how Content Management Systems are often built on modular frameworks which allows 3rd party developers to create "add-ons" for your CMS. This means that if you need to add an e-commerce component, an advertising facility or even just a site wide search feature, you can add one with relative ease and at a much lower cost than getting a web designer to engineer a solution from scratch. This offers a real advantage for businesses as it allows them to delay adding features until they are required, minimising the initial cost outlay and allowing them to focus single elements of the site one at a time.
If however you start with a static website and later decide you need an e-commerce component, this can be a lot more challenging. In many cases we've seen static websites abandoned at this point and completely replaced with an E-Commerce solution like Magento. In other cases we've seen people try to integrate stand-alone e-commerce tools with existing static websites which often end up looking like the after thought they are and lack any relationship with the other features in the website.
In short, Adobe's Dreamweaver was never really intended for corporate use but due to a lack of other options at the time, it ended up finding itself in the hands of employees who had been delegated the responsibility of managing the website. Dreamweaver remains however a fantastic product used by web developers the world over but these days it's used more as an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) rather than the web publishing engine it was in the early 2000's.
The reasons for the move away from the static websites Dreamweaver was producing ultimately came down to flexibility. Business was demanding ways to manage their websites without fear of breaking code, excluding web browsers, constantly repeating themselves and having to go back to the drawing board every time they need to add something new. Content Management Systems provided this platform for growth and lowered the skill level required to manage a website on a day to day basis making it a better long term investment for the organisation.