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Those of you who may have read my ColdFusion review will know that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Microsoft. They seem to have the knack of making products that people will accept (usually because they’re so widely distributed) even though there’s better stuff available. This opinion is about one competitor to a Microsoft product in the area of web design tools – Macromedia Dreamwever. I’ll hold up my hands right out of the gate and admit that most people will be more than happy to use a tool that comes bundled with their computers cos it’s free. DreamWeaver you’ll have to buy (unless you can thieve a copy from work) but I’ll do my best to convince you to convert. Macromedia Dreamweaver UltraDev is the main competitor to FrontPage. MDU is a web page design tool that not only allows the user to build very polished looking sites and to organise and maintain them effectively, but allows the user to include ASP, ColdFusion or JSP functionality to a basic HTML page – it’s worth noting, however, that there is a simple web design only version of DreamWeaver for more basic web site design. Upon installation, MDU will guide through the creation of the local and remote copies of your site (very handy if you’re developing over a network) and will also prompt you to choose which of the server-side languages will be used – ASP, JSP or ColdFusion. This in turn has the effect of altering the design environment to support the chosen languages. Creating server behaviours and database connection is also far less daunting than in other programs. With a very nice graphical representation of the folders of remote and local computers, UltraDev’s intelligently designed connection screens make linking to a remoter database a far less daunting task than it would be if done via hand coding. NOTE : a word of warning though – you MUST make sure that you local copy of Personal Web Server or IIS is up to scratch though. These are the programs that your computer uses to control how it connects to other computers and databases over the network. It can save a lot of frustration. Site administration is done using a very nicely designed tool that is very easy to use. Uploading and refreshing sites is extremely easy, as is integration with the developers God-send, SourceSafe. Actually creating the sites is a joy. Forget coding HTML by hand – you’ll wonder how you stuck it out for so long. Complex pages, with forms embedded in tables, applets inserted with ease, SQL queries and data connections can all be set up through a series of wizards or if you prefer by dragging and dropping from a very comprehensive tool list. The drudgery of coding in HTML is removed as repetive or the more complex of tasks are reduced to a key press or mouse drag. It’s also easy to create a page as a template – create one and the rest of the site can be created in seconds, leaving you to simply change the content. Macromedia are very practised at creating a development environment that is very powerful and easy to work with. If you’ve used any of the the other members in the Macromedia suite you’ll be right at home. All objects created in Fireworks or Flash (the graphics and web animation packages) are importable, and displayed exactly as the would appear in the source application. The design tools and windows are all extremely powerful too - windows exist for the designer rapidly check out tag rerences from the embedded O’Reilly reference tool that comes bundled with package, as well as managing CSS’s and site assets like icons and buttons. You’ll never need to remember the location of all the funky images you’ve created either, MDU creates Libraries of such things as they’re used. Youc an even create Flash buttons and text from within the application with no need to load Flash as a separate program. For example, creating and maintaining a table in HTML can be one of the most frustrating tasks, especially if someone hasn’t taken the time to indent them properly. Thankfully DreamWeaver allows tables to be drawn, much like in Word and the cell sizes, formatting and even the data ordering and sorting can be controlled graphically. If you must code by hand though, don’t despair. One of the best things about UltraDev is the Environment view. Traditionalists can view the native code and amend as necessay, or the design view can be used to see the site as it would appear within a browser. Or, for the best of both worlds, the view van be split half and half, so you can see one view change as you alter the other. The real winner thought, is the live data view. Assuming the site is to be connected to a database of sometime, the user can watch changes being made to the operation of the site affecting the data in real time. This is an exceptionally powerful means of design, as it allows the designer to identify and correct errors relating to the data-sourced components of the page before they occur. The tools provided allow the user to rapidly develop very polished solutions. Server-side includes, live objects and form objects can all be added, edited and removed in a professional and beautifully presented user interface. Couple that with the products integration with ColdFusion and you have a tool that really is top class.
This is an update to my original op as I have now used UltraDev for over a year and learnt far more about it. ============================================= I've used Macromedia products for over 2 years now, and I find that they're the best for creating websites and multimedia products. The most recent addition to my list of skills is Macromedia UltraDev 4, the latest version of their web design software, which now supports database access. Installation ------------ This is probably the simplest part of the process as it's the same as all other Macromedia products. You have to enter your details and serial number as usual and select the options to install. Then it spends a while copying all the bits into the right places and whatever else it needs to do before it's finally ready. This can take a short while to copy over, especially if you install the help and sample files - but they're useful for new users. One point to not here is that to correctly use database connections you will NEED Microsoft DAC2.1 (from the Microsoft website) - otherwise, like me, you'll spend HOURS trying to figure out how to get the program to work correctly - when in fact it won't without this! You have been warned! It would also be a good to mention at this point that if you are going to use databases, you'll need to install a web-server on your machine (e.g. Personal Web Server). Dynamic pages (such as ASP) require a server to translate the page before it's shown correctly in a web browser. PWS can be found on the Windows CD-ROM in the addons(?) folder. Site Manager ------------ As with all other versions of Dreamweaver this is similar to Windows Explorer and this is where you create folders and files for your whole site. Using the "Define Sites" menu you can simply switch between sites which is great if you're like me. Dragging files around between folders prompt s the user to change links within the moved pages, this is great as it's so easy to keep your hyperlinks and images working - mind oyu, it's always a good idea to try to put things in the right place to start - but if you're updating an existing site this is a great feature. You can view your site either as a standard FTP style interface (with both local and remote locations) or as a navigation diagram. Personally I prefer the file view as it's less confusing and fits on the screen better. Also, if you wish you can FTP straight from this view which makes the whole program more of a complete package. Another common feature is "Find & Replace" - however, this is taken one step further and lets you replace items over the whole site! You can match even select if it matches the page text or the source HTML. Great for changing phone numbers or e-mail addresses over a corporate site (as I once had to do!) Page Editor ----------- Again this is almost the same as previous versions. The floating toolbar allows you to add common HTML elements, forms, frames etc with ease. One button switches between WYSIWYG mode and HTML view - so if you prefer you can edit manually - something I tend to do every now and again - especially when writing scripts. Talking of scripts - the behaviour window allows you to add pre-written scripts to various parts of a page, for example, a hyperlink could open a new page in a popup window. These scripts can be used based on the target browser (i.e. Netscape or IE) which is a professional touch. The "Assets" window shows you all items used across the site - so you can simply drag and drop common elements as required. Cascading Style Sheets can be created in either the current document of in a separate file for sharing across the site. Styles can be easily created or edited. Also, if you don't wish to use CSS on your site there are HTML styles inst ead. These are similar, but actually re-write the HTML so that the page is compatible with all browsers (and not version 4+). Data Bindings ------------- This is the advanced section. Firstly to get UltraDev to connect to a database you need to define a connection. Clicking on a button brings up a popup window prompting you for the necessary information. I won't go into detail here what to type because there are loads of step-by-step guides on the Internet - and it's not part of this op - but other than that, this makes the whole process very easy. A test button gives you an indication if it worked or not. Once a connection is active, you can use this to search through a database by adding a query. In the standard view you can filter data based on one set of criteria - such as a variable containing an e-mail address. In the advanced view you can add more criteria to create the required SQL query to produce the required results. This is a little tricky at first but does get easier one "it clicks". For writing into a database UltraDev allows you easily take data from a form and insert or update records. This is the fastest method of doing this, although it does write far too many lines of code to do it efficiently. Deleting records is also simply a couple of clicks away. Overall ------- Since I've used UltraDev for quite a while now I feel that it's great for beginners to learn ASP (or JSP or CFM) - as I did. Other than the cost (i.e. it's too expensive for most people) I'd still prefer to develop pages by hand coding. It's far easier to create an efficient code by hand - added to that, you have the flexibility to create a page to do exactly what YOU want - and not what UltraDev wants. It's a great program and I'd certainly recommend you at least try the 30-day trial, but after that you're probably best sticking to the standard version of Dreamweaver 4 combined with good old notepad!
If you're a web application developer and haven't already purchased this great piece of software what are you doing? If you want to trial it, you can download a fully working demo from the Macromedia site. UltraDev is based on Dreamweaver architecture, so if you have used DW before you'll soon find yourself at home with UD. You can currently create web applications using the following technologies: ASP, JSP & ColdFusion. PHP support will be added at a later date. The great thing about this product is its extensibilty - already a large array of extensions have been created (including shopping cart! ) and believe me this is only the beginning.
OK, i'm prepared to forgive UltraDevs many shortcomings due to it being only release 1 of the software. Create a connection and recordset and take a look at that bloated mess of code you get! Then for a real laugh, create a paged recordset and see those page sizes go through the roof!! Seriously, with NO error checking, poor support of only ASP 2.0 and seriously lacking database interfacing (no Getrows, Getstring, disconnected rs's) i'm going to stick with hand code. But thats me, if you think about who this software has been made for (ie, web designers not developers and programmers) then you would have to say that its a fine piece of software. You probably wouldn't find a simpler solution to database integration for designers and creatives (less technically minded!!). Im sure with further releases this software will be decent enough, but why scrap Drumbeat when it was just starting to get good?!
As a professional site builder I`ve been used to creating dynamic sites using ASP for over two years. This review is based around ASP as this is what I can comment the most about. Up until a 2 months ago there was no software available to build dynamic sites via a WYSIWYG interface using ASP. That has all changed (too some degree) thanks to the arival of Dreamweaver UltraDev, an extended version of the popular html edit Dreamweaver 3. UltraDev power lies behind the ability to be able to control a connection to a database and manipulate it in various ways (for the techincal minded - creation of recordsets). You can extract, update and delete data from the database in various ways, and print it out to the page in various way. All very handy, and usually quite a slow process by hand. One problem I do have with Ultradev though is the lack of functionality that it offers. Only basic database manipulation is allowed (things like Stored Procedures are not catered for) and the code it creates is typically quite fat, but for a non ASP coder it is a great and does allow you to put up a dynamic site quickly. A great product, but be warned. Unless you need to create dynamic pages its has no added functionality over Dreamweaver 3
Dreamweaver Ultradev hey, so what's that then. Well its Dreamweaver 3, with its international claim as the BEST Web site builder, plus it does lots of nice Server Side Scripting whatnots. I won't go into Dreamweaver 3 here as its been covered by someone else and all the features of DW3 are present in Ultradev. Dreamweaver Ultradev came about because Macromedia wanted to get into this server side business as it is growing, massively. So it bought out a company who made a product called Drumbeat. Its now taken this Drumbeat technology and integrated it seamlessly into Dreamweaver Ultradev. So what's this Server Side Scripting malarkey? Well, at its simplest its taking your webpages with scripting in, processing them on the server and then passing the results as a web page to the clients browser. Doesn't sound overly exciting does it, but the things you can do with it really are. E-commerce would be all but impossible, customisation depending on the person viewing the page would be unfeasible and sites like dooyoo just wouldn't be there. The Server Side Scripting Ultradev supports are Active Server Pages (ASP), Java Server Pages (JSP) and ColdFusion pages (CFM). ASP was invented by Microsoft and is actually rather good, Java Server Pages from sun, which must admit I know very little about (I think dooyoo use JSP, I'm sure someone can verify/correct me on this), and ColdFusion from Allaire which is very highly regard, and I personally think is brilliant. PHP is notable by its absence, but I suspect someone will be working on an extension to enable PHP use. Which one you choose is of course dependant on the server you are running and if you intend on just using Ultradev then this doesn't really matter as Ultradev will create exactly the same pages, just using different code. If you think you may need to use some feature of a server side technology then obviously the choice does matter. So is Ultradev any goo d? Well yes, its brilliant in many ways, but does have some faults. It builds on the highly successful Dreamweaver and makes it a very powerful Web application development package. It also has Dreamweaver Extensions, and Ultradev specific ones. These extensions allow the capabilities of Dreamweaver/Ultradev to be added to. They can be as simple as a menu item to add a print button to your page, or as complicated as an entire WAP site editing facility and testing or a shopping cart add on. But back to earth and the limitations start to pop up. As it is all interface driven it can only use the features of the server side technology that Macromedia has programmed into it. What it does is does brilliantly, and easily. Its a breeze to query a database. Its fantastic at forms. its a snap to pass information from one page to another. But if you want to do some more serious and customisable stuff you still have to get down and dirty with code. Other drawbacks are it won't generate for you complex SQL code and you will probably still need some knowledge of SQL and databases for all but the simplest queries. The help is, typically of Macromedia, excellent, although the tutorial is a little bit limited being aimed at beginners. The interface is fantastic, although if you haven't used Dreamweaver may take a bit of time getting used to. All in all this is a great package, very well thought out, has all the fantastic capabilities of Dreamweaver 3, its extensible, flexible and easy to use and get great web applications out of. Its just a shame that if it doesn't do what you want it to you have to resort to coding by hand, something which Dreamweaver Ultradev doesn't do very well.
Designed specifically for application development, Dreamweaver UltraDev is a brand new product based on the Dreamweaver core architecture. If you already use Dreamweaver, you will appreciate the familiar interface and working environment. If you are currently developing Web applications by hand or with another solution, you'll find that Dreamweaver UltraDev makes it faster and easier to get your work done.