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One User's Opinion

© 2000 by Foster Coburn. All Rights Reserved.

Review of Macromedia Dreamweaver Ultradev

Macromedia Dreamweaver Ultradev

600 Townsend Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
FAX 415/626-0554

Software Requirements for PC

· An Intel Pentium processor or equivalent, 120 MHz or faster, running Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows NT version 4.0 or later
· 32 MB of RAM plus 20 MB of disk space
· color monitor capable of 800 x 600 pixel resolution
· CD-ROM drive

Software Requirements for Mac

· Power Mac, running Mac OS 8.1 or later
· 32 MB of RAM plus 20 MB of disk space
· color monitor capable of 800 x 600 pixel resolution
· CD-ROM drive

Cost: Dreamweaver 3.0-$299, Dreamweaver Ultradev $599

I've always been somewhat of a purist. To that end, I prefer editing raw HTML code over a fancy WYSIWYG editor. That's when Macromedia Dreamweaver Ultradev landed on my doorstep. For grumpy purists like me, it includes HomeSite 4.5 (Windows) and BB Edit (Mac). And the Ultradev version adds the ability to easily connect databases.

I'm going to break this review into two pieces. First we'll look at Dreamweaver itself. Then we'll look at the features added in the Ultradev package for database development. And as a purist, I'll talk about some of the pros and cons of using Dreamweaver over hand coding.

I've found two major problems in other WYSIWYG editors. First, they make it very easy for users to design pages that don't work in all browsers. Plus they create HTML code that is an absolute mess. Dreamweaver is certainly guilty of the first charge, though I give Dreamweaver credit for explaining what features may or may not work in all browsers. And they make it very easy to convert functionality backwards and sometimes even forwards.

As an example, Dreamweaver encourages the use of layers to layout Web pages. Yet layers only work in the latest version of browsers. One of the menu options will convert a "layered" page into one built using tables. This can also work in reverse to convert a tabled page into one using layers.

Another area where there are multiple methods is in text formatting. For the ultimate in backwards compatibility, you can use HTML tags to spruce up your text. These are tags like H1, H2, B, I and the other basics that have been around since the early days. You do this by simply highlighting the text and clicking on the tag you want. Next up are HTML styles. Don't confuse these with Cascading Style Sheets though they are used in a similar fashion. HTML Styles are simply presets that can be quickly applied to text. You can create all the styles you want. But the underlying formatting uses the FONT tag to dress up the text. Last are CSS Styles, the kind that are based on Cascading Style Sheets. They are by far the best method to use for formatting, but they only work in newer browsers. Even if you choose not to use CSS Styles for pages on the Web, Dreamweaver provides a way to convert them to HTML markup in one fell swoop. So no matter the method, Dreamweaver has you covered. At right is an example of the Dreamweaver interface showing the CSS Styles palette and the Property Inspector as ways to format the selected text.

Where Dreamweaver really shines is in creating pages with more advanced or complex features. Forms are a great example of this. Laying out the forms can be done visually so that you know things will line up correctly. Applying names and variables to each of the fields is as simple as filling out a few dialog boxes or the Property Inspector. I used Dreamweaver to quickly create a "Jump Menu". This is a drop-down menu that jumps to a URL based on your selection. Not only does this require a form, but also a little JavaScript to handle the jumps. With Dreamweaver it only took a few minutes to have everything working perfectly. At left is the Jump List dialog box used to populate the list.

Most editors can handle GIF and JPEG files. Dreamweaver can also handle some of the newer formats just as easily. Working with Flash files in particular was a breeze. All of the settings you may want to adjust are right on the Property Inspector. If you have used layout programs like QuarkXpress or Pagemaker, the Property Inspector will feel like an old friend. It is a context sensitive floating toolbar that almost always has just the settings you need to adjust the element you are changing. This feature alone is a huge timesaver over other software. Below is the Property Inspector when a Flash file is selected.

Now that we've looked at the basics, let's move on to the database connectivity provided in the Ultradev package. Some of this is a bit complex for me so I sat down with an experienced database programmer. His expertise had come by using Microsoft Interdev to create Active Server Pages (ASP) connected to Microsoft Access databases. Ultradev can work with ASP, Java Server Pages (JSP) and ColdFusion.

The first thing you need to do is specify which server model you'll be using. If you specify ASP and later want JSP, there is no automated way to make the switch. This would be a very nice feature if pages could be translated between models. When you choose the server model, Ultradev inserts any necessary tags, scripts, Java code, VB Scripts or JavaScript needed for that model.

Another requirement is that you must define a "local site" on your system. This is required and is quite easy to do with Dreamweaver's excellent site management tools. You'll also need to create a database connection so that Ultradev will know the data elements in the database and have the ability to connect with the Remote Server. This connection allows you to preview your pages with live data. At right is the dialog connecting the database to our site.

Adding the data elements to the page is as simple as drag and drop. Interdev, by comparison, would seem like writing HTML code in Notepad. At left you can see the data bindings that are available for our page. In under an hour, we were able to create dynamic pages displaying information from a database, a form to search for data, a search results page and a form to add data to the database. Below is the dialog where we set up the query for the search form.

Ultradev was developed as a replacement for the Drumbeat product Macromedia had purchased. As it is a completely different product, there is minimal forward compatibility. Users have also been dismayed to find that Ultradev does not include any templates for handling a shopping cart and other e-commerce functions. One alternative is to visit Macromedia's Exchange area where developers can share code with one another. Some of it is free, some shareware. But there are plenty of good examples including a shopping cart available.

As someone who has traditionally coded HTML by hand, I was a bit skeptical about Dreamweaver. While it does some incredibly complex layouts, it leaves HTML code pretty much unchanged. For me, this is fantastic as I can do many things by hand and then use Dreamweaver for the more difficult tasks. If you have no need for database connectivity, you only need the Dreamweaver 3 package. For those who want databases, go for Dreamweaver Ultradev. The time you save will easily make up for the extra cost.

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Foster D. Coburn III has written six best-selling books on graphics software and is currently the Webmaster of the Graphics Unleashed Web site.

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Last Updated November 7, 2000.


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