Dreamweaver versus WordPress: Which should you choose?

by James Cook on November 4, 2011

Dreamweaver versus WordPressCartoon © TOONrefugee.com

OK, I should admit up front that I'm not really going to answer that question because there is no simple, one-size-fits-all answer. But I do get a lot of questions from people who look at Dreamweaver and WordPress as competitors (I don't). So I thought I'd share parts of an email I got today along with my answers.

Do you think that knowing the fundamentals of Dreamweaver would be a help if I wanted to tweak a [WordPress] website to suit my needs.

I use WordPress myself on this blog and for a number of clients. It's a good choice for many applications. However, the answer to your question depends upon your goals and how you plan to use WordPress.

Installing WordPress (one click on some web hosts) and using a Theme (the WordPress term for templates) can be done without much/any knowledge of HTML/CSS, etc. A lot of functionality comes built in (some of it has a learning curve) and you can add a lot more with plugins and widgets. This lets you accomplish a lot of things that would be very difficult or impossible (especially for a novice user) in Dreamweaver alone.

However, once you start making changes in WordPress, things get very complex very quickly. The first level of changes - modifying the appearance of a theme - requires a fairly good understanding of HTML and CSS and I think Dreamweaver is a great place to learn those skills. I try to emphasize HTML and CSS in my courses but I've found that a lot of college Web Design instructors don't and that's a disservice to the students.

In any case, the more you know about HTML and CSS, the more successful you'll be modifying a WordPress theme. You should be aware however that the HTML/CSS in WordPress is much more complicated than what you're likely to build on your own in Dreamweaver (CSS beyond the basics is fairly complex and also evolving - I've worked with it for several years and I'm still learning).

When you get to the point of making major changes to an existing WordPress theme (or creating your own) you'll also need to become somewhat familiar with the PHP scripting language on which WordPress is built. That goes beyond what I teach in my course but Dreamweaver has become a fairly powerful PHP editor over the last couple versions and I expect this will continue in the future.

If you weren't a trained web designer/developer would knowing Dreamweaver enable you to manage someone else's website?

I consider the things you learn using Dreamweaver – HTML, CSS, uploading files to your server, etc. – the basic building blocks of web design/development. Knowledge in those areas will allow you to manage/maintain small, static HTML sites (which will help you to learn more site management skills). Managing more complex sites, especially ones based upon a Content Management System (CMS) such as WordPress is something that requires more experience (such as managing your own WordPress site) before you'll want to take responsibility for other people's sites.

You should also be aware that there are specialized areas such as e-commerce that are really specialties unto themselves and best left to experienced developers.

Final Answer

Dreamweaver and WordPress are not antagonists (although Adobe might disagree). They are just tools, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The decision to use one, both (as I do) or some other tool (which I also do) should depend upon the level of your knowledge, your skill set and your goals.

Most importantly, whatever tools you use, the first step in learning to create and manage websites should be to focus on learning HTML and CSS. Your ultimate success depends upon it.

Let me know what you think

I've got a lot more to say about this topic and I'll return to the issue in future posts and I hope you'll join the conversation by submitting your opinions and questions using the comment form below.

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