Macromedia Dreamweaver UltraDev

Dreamweaver has established itself as the leading Web-authoring tool in the Mac market place. It can add complex functionality to a WYSIWYG layout, using simple inspectors and palettes rather than tedious HTML. This visual approach to Web-page design, combined with Dreamweaver’s strong site-management tools, have made it a popular choice with professional designers and lay-users alike. In cross-platform offices, both Mac and PC users can use the same application and utilize the project-management features of Dreamweaver – strong plus points in it’s favour. Macromedia is seeking to apply the same concept of a visual-authoring environment to the realm of Web-application development with UltraDev. This allows the easy creation of sites with dynamically generated page content and database integration. This is no mean feat, but Macromedia has taken it one step further by not supporting just one application technology, but three – Microsoft’s Active Server Pages (ASP), Sun’s Java Server Pages (JSP) and Allaire’s Cold Fusion Markup Language (CFML). Though very different, these three technologies share a similar approach – they’re all added to HTML Web pages using inline scripting or custom tags. And, it’s this aspect that UltraDev aids, especially for the non-programmer. In order to test the ASP, JSP, or CFML page, it needs to be run through a Web server running the relevant server technology, and accessed using a Web browser. This then dynamically generates the content of the page, often as the result of running a database query. Thus, to do anything useful in UltraDev requires a Web server, an application server and a database – stuff that will generally be run on a Unix or NT platform. There’s no documentation or support for any Mac-compatible application servers, or the Web server WebStar, or any Mac database. But in an office using both Mac’s and PCs, it allows the Mac to be a part of the application programming team, and connect to the Web server platform through a browser to test the system. Avoid like the plague
The key word here is programming, and for many code is something to be avoided at all costs. UltraDev tries to offer as easy a way to do this as possible, replacing hand-cranking scripts with a more intuitive graphical approach using palettes and pull-down menus. What Dreamweaver does for HTML, DHTML and Javascript, UltraDev aims to do for ASP, JSP and ColdFusion. It delivers results without requiring expert knowledge of the underlying language. It‘s very unlikely that a developer will be flitting between ASP, Cold Fusion or JSP – most will commit to one technology and stick with it. Thus, UltraDev’s three-for-the-price-of-one offer seems more out of a sense of completeness than necessity. You may remember that Macromedia launched a product called Drumbeat 2000, essentially a hastily re-badged version of Drumbeat that it had acquired from Elemental. UltraDev takes many of the core technologies of Drumbeat, adds CFML support, and then wraps it in the same user interface in Dreamweaver, making it a very powerful tool. UltraDev’s environment is identical to Dreamweaver’s, and all the base functionality from Dreamweaver is included in UltraDev. The two most obvious additions are the Data Bindings and Server Behaviour palettes. These let you establish how UltraDev will connect to the Web server in order to work with live data. Right away, things start getting complicated for Macintosh users, because only PC data sources are supported, and using JDBC is the only way of connecting the data source to UltraDev. As this is probably going to be different to the method the Web application server will be using, you need to establish a run-time connection type and the JDBC design-time connection type. Once the data connection has been established, you can develop and test your application. Next define the Recordsets – sets of data returned from a query. The query defines which fields will be returned and the conditional qualifying statements. The basic Recordset definition screen makes it easy to write simple queries, while the advanced view allows you to type in SQL query syntax directly. The Recordset concept is a strong one because queries have to be written only once, even if they’re used on a number of pages or templates. Applying the data drawn from a Recordset to a page involves replacing the text in a page layout with the elements from a Recordset – for instance the title, date and body text from a news story. And it can work the other way around as well, with the elements from a form on the Web page being used to update the contents of the database. While UltraDev cannot replace knowing how to write VBScripts for ASPs, or CFML tags for ColdFusion, it does put a fantastic amount of programming power into the hands of the non-expert, and opens up the field of dynamic Web publishing. But, for the non-technically minded, getting started with UltraDev is a daunting task. For Macintosh users this is doubly so because of the need to set up the JDBC connection to the Windows datasource. But once up and running, it delivers results quickly.

OUR VERDICT

There’s very little competition to UltraDev. Allaire’s ColdFusion Studio, Microsoft’s Visual InterDev, and Adobe’s Dynamic Link Library add-on for GoLive – which allows ASP code to be created in GoLive – are all single-technology solutions, lack the visual approach of UltraDev, and are PC only. For Macintosh users, UltraDev is the only choice, but it’s certainly not a product that everyone will want.

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