UltraDev Is a Dream to Use

UltraDev Is a Dream to Use

Luisa Simone

Macromedia’s Dreamweaver UltraDev ($600 street) is a fully integrated visual design tool for database-driven Web applications, such as e-commerce, personalization, and dynamically built pages. UltraDev combines features of Dreamweaver 3 and Drumbeat 2000, a well-known development program that produces Active Server Pages (ASP), and IBM WebSphere-specific Java Server Pages (JSP).

UltraDev dramatically improves those output options by adding support for Allaire ColdFusion Markup Language (CFML) as well as support for a more universal JSP format that can run on a wider variety of Web servers. This makes UltraDev the only cross-Web server development tool currently on the market. And this means that Web developers need to learn only one design environment regardless of the client’s output needs. For example, developers no longer have to switch between Allaire’s ColdFusion Studio and Microsoft Visual InterDev to produce CFML and ASP pages, respectively.

UltraDev is also a more robust visual design environment than either ColdFusion Studio or Visual InterDev. The UltraDev interface—and all of its design tools—are pure Dreamweaver (which Macromedia will continue to market for those Web authors who are not interested in developing database applications).

The new UltraDev-specific features have been seamlessly incorporated into Dreamweaver’s interface. Two new inspectors, Data Bindings and Server Behaviors, handle most of the application development functions. The Data Bindings inspector lets you connect your Web page to any ADO, JDBC, or ODBC database (such as Informix, Microsoft Access, Microsoft SQL, Oracle, or Sybase).

Experienced programmers can write their own SQL statements. An alternate structured dialog box, however, helps designers who may not be familiar with database programming build an SQL query with point-and-click ease. The Data Bindings inspector covers all of the basics—allowing you to specify fields, apply filters or sorting criteria, and assign currency or date formats to raw data. Inserting a database field into a Web page is a simple drag-and-drop operation.

When designing a dynamic page, you can use placeholder objects to indicate the positions of database fields. When used in this fashion, UltraDev is very similar to the Dynamic Link plug-in for Adobe GoLive. UltraDev, however, surpasses GoLive by displaying live data in the WYSIWYG design environment. This lets you develop and edit a page layout while viewing actual content. Even more impressive, UltraDev allows you to change environment settings and specify variables in order to test an application page under different conditions—all without exiting UltraDev or uploading pages to a server.

UltraDev’s Server Behaviors palette is very similar to the JavaScript Behaviors palette found in Dreamweaver. Here, however, the drop-down menu provides access to common server-side scripts, such as advancing to the next record in a database, repeating database fields in a table format, linking a master page to a detailed page, or updating a database’s contents. None of the behaviors that ship with UltraDev include the use of Boolean logic.

For high-end behaviors, such as e-commerce shopping carts, you’ll have to wait for third-party developers to share (or sell) UltraDev extensions on Macromedia’s recently launched Web site (http://exchange.macromedia.com). UltraDev includes a new Extensions Manager, a utility that helps users download, install, or delete extensions.

UltraDev provides lots of small features that make a programmer’s life easier. Because UltraDev is built on Dreamweaver’s open JavaScript API, you can modify the program to support technologies such as JavaBeans, COM objects, or ColdFusion tag libraries. And though Macromedia supplies a full commercial copy of Allaire’s HomeSite with UltraDev, you can just as easily specify Visual InterDev or ColdFusion studio as your text editor.

The one thing that UltraDev can’t do is translate between different scripting languages. You can’t, for example, open an ASP Web site and save it out as CFML, because UltraDev does not use an intermediate, proprietary file format. This apparent limitation is necessary so that UltraDev can implement round-trip coding, in which visual edits are immediately reflected in the source code—and vice versa.

With UltraDev, Macromedia has established a new benchmark for visual Web application development. UltraDev will appeal both to designers seeking to expand their Web skill set and to programmers who want a more responsive development environment.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in PC Magazine.