If you haven’t already, drive to the local tar pit and throw in all your applications that create static HTML. If your stodgy IT guy complains, throw him in, too. Static HTML is keeping your Web site stale and costing you time and money every time you need to change the content of your site.
Sure, static HTML is great — for designing Web pages that are never going to change. You can use it to build individual pages that look good and contain your specific content. Indeed, the vast majority of today’s Web pages are based on static HTML.
But the fundamental problem with this approach is that when your site’s content becomes old news, which is apt to happen mighty quickly these days, your designers must head back to the drawing board to redesign your pages based on the new material. This is time-consuming, expensive, and annoying.
Freshen up with Dynamic HTML
If these burdens sound familiar, I suggest you check out Macromedia Inc.’s latest Web development tool, Dreamweaver UltraDev, which creates Web sites based on dynamic content as effectively as its moldy brethren handle the static stuff.
DHTML (Dynamic HTML) allows you to build a Web page without knowing what the specific content will be. The content is not placed directly onto the page but is fed from a database every time a visitor accesses your site. This lets you publish up-to-the-minute information without having to redesign pages.
Not only are the pages constantly fresh, but the update is virtually free, saving you lots of time and money. And by keeping your site current, you’ll attract more visitors and optimize all that expensive infrastructure you have in place to maintain your site.
In addition to offering superb DHTML capabilities, UltraDev includes a comprehensive set of management tools that will give you a professional-looking site without the expense of hiring a bunch of fancy designers.
UltraDev also stands strong in its competitive field: It generates high-quality HTML as well as Adobe GoLive does and creates sophisticated server-side code more intuitively than Microsoft Visual InterDev.
And in July 2000, when Macromedia offers advanced shopping cart features as a free add-on, I expect UltraDev will leave its competition in a state of total panic. For all these reasons, I give UltraDev our top score of Excellent.
A top-notch combination
The release of Dreamweaver UltraDev answers a complicated challenge that Macromedia faced last year when it acquired Drumbeat, Elemental Software’s Web application development tool.
Because Drumbeat contained all the logic for building an e-commerce site, including a shopping cart, Macromedia decided to merge it with Dreamweaver, which at the time was a fantastic Web site tool with flimsy dynamic content capabilities.
Because each tool employed different metaphors and solutions, this merger was no simple task. But Macromedia negotiated these inconsistencies beautifully and allowed the best of both products to shine in Dreamweaver UltraDev.
You can use UltraDev to write the logic and build dynamic pages for all three popular server standards: Active Server Pages (ASP), JavaServer Page (JSP), and ColdFusion.
And if you ever want to post static content on your site (for example, an evergreen element such as a mission statement), UltraDev will handle that for you in a snap.
To test UltraDev, I created an ASP Web site based on a Microsoft Access database and Internet Information Server (IIS).
After designing the static elements, I told the application which database to link to and called up the Data Binding window to choose the tables and fields I wanted to display on my page. Creating dynamic content from the database was as easy as dropping the fields where I wanted them.
With the product’s Live Update feature, I could preview data displayed in the development interface. This allowed me to make formatting and size changes using the dynamic content itself, instead of going back and forth between editing with UltraDev and pressing Reload on the browser to see whether I got it right.
I was especially impressed with the prewritten server-side behavior code with which I could add sophisticated features to my site. You can use this code to add professional touches such as making the Next button disappear on the last record in a series of documents.
Another prepackaged script allows you to display dynamic elements, such as radio buttons or pull-down menus, exactly as you need them.
For example, let’s say your page offers a couple of different kinds of sports T-shirts. If the San Francisco Giants T-shirt comes in four sizes, the radio buttons will include small, medium, large, and X-large. If the San Francisco 49ers jerseys, on the other hand, come only in two sizes, then the buttons will list large and X-large as choices.
These may seem like small details, but they are the very touches that separate professional corporate sites from generic Web pages. They are also the tasks for which you would otherwise pay a programmer handsomely.
UltraDev also includes HTML forms that you can modify to allow users to update the Web site’s database from their browsers.
For example, you can allow the marketing people to update the Web site via the database to reflect the latest prices or press releases, without having to send everything through the Web design process.
Simple permissions ensure that the marketing people update only what they should, whereas those with more authority have complete access to the entire database. And you can do all this without shutting down or moving the database file from the Web server.
One of the product’s best features is its capability of supporting virtually all of the dynamic content server types. For ASP, you can use Microsoft IIS for Windows NT or ChiliSoft for Unix and Linux. For JSP, you can use Allaire JRun, IBM WebSphere, iPlanet Enterprise Server, or BEA Systems WebLogic.
By taking the rocket science out of building dynamic pages, Macromedia has practically hand-delivered huge cost savings and compelling corporate sites that will attract and maintain the attention of online consumers and business partners.
With UltraDev and a little imagination, you can turn your static, “We’re in Business” page into an interesting, high-class, site. If your company is interested in making money off its Web site and maximizing the infrastructure it has already paid for, UltraDev just may be the perfect tool for you.
Steve Jefferson (email@example.com) is a former Test Center editor and is currently free-lancing as an editor and analyst in Honolulu.
THE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENT
Business Case: UltraDev will turn your static Web site into a compelling application that will catch the attention of consumers and business partners alike. It does not require expensive coding and will save you money during site updates.
Technology Case: UltraDev includes sophisticated server-side behaviors and dynamic content coding. If a designer manages your site, almost anyone can enter content, without the assistance of a programmer. Simple permissions define user access.
+ Provides first-rate DHTML Web development and design features
+ Supports three major dynamic content servers
+ Includes many sophisticated preprogrammed server-side behaviors
+ Allows you to preview actual data in the development interface for easy editing
– Shipped before shopping cart features were ready
Platform(s): Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NT, Mac OS 8.6 or later
Macromedia Inc., San Francisco; (415) 252-2000; http://www.macromedia.com.
Prices listed are in US currency.