About six months ago, Macromedia's Dreamweaver UltraDev 1.0 hit the streets.
Overall it was an impressive tool but when it came down to working with
ASP files, it fell a little short of the needs of the serious developer.
With their latest release they seem to have addressed many of the concerns I raised
in A Scripter's View of Dreamweaver UltraDev 1.0
and have released a product that can really compete for a place in
any ASP developer's toolbox.
If you haven't read
A Scripter's View of Dreamweaver UltraDev 1.0,
I suggest you do so now. While much has been changed, the heart of the product seems
to have remained the same and in this review I'll be focusing primarily
on the changes. (I don't know where versions 2 and 3 went, but 1.0 really was the
There's Still a Book!!!
It seems that Macromedia is a company after my own heart... they still ship a book.
The inclusion of a hardcopy manual in the boxed evaluation version I was given is
While it's not really a change from the last version (which also had a good manual), it
is a welcome change from today's norm of a small getting started guide with a link
to a set of HTML files. While I realize books cost a lot more to compile and
maintain then the online help, they really make all the difference when you're getting
started with a new product. (Oh and on a side note... I don't buy this "books get out
of date too fast" argument. When was the last time a company sent you a updated
version of their help files? No matter what the medium, if it's in the box it's outdated.
At least give me the outdated information in a useful format!)
Now that I've rambled on about the book, I'd like to take this opportunity to assure
you that not all the effort went into the book. The online help isn't lacking any either.
panel. It gives you easily accessible information right within the workspace of the
product (the way non-book help should be IMHO). There doesn't seem to be a VBScript,
JScript, or ASP reference, but hopefully we'll see them available from their website
for download. (Hint, Hint... )
Perhaps the most notable change for an ASP developer is that the tool now lets you
edit the code directly. This was probably my biggest complaint with the previous
version and has been addressed in an excellent fashion. The new code editor is
top notch and includes every feature I could think of with the exception of code
completion (which I haven't seen in any product that doesn't ship out of Redmond).
Of particular interest is the extremely useful "Split View" which allows you to see
both source code and it's rendered equivalent simultaneously.
The site management tools continue to be top notch and, although you can't use
FrontPage Server Extensions, the interface handles all the ftp or
WebDAV tasks for you once you set it up. While it's not totally transparent, it
still gives you a similar "click and edit" feel you get from Interdev.
UltraDev still integrates well with MS Source Safe, and even without it provides
a basic level of source control, which is invaluable when
working on team projects. For smaller shops it will probably handle the majority
of your source control needs all by itself.
This is where version 4 of the product really steps up to the plate and starts
swinging. If you recall, version 1 was about as useful as a fountain pen when
it came to editing existing code. It wrote good code and would help you get a
database-enabled web page on your site in no time, but if you had an
asp-centric site you needed to make changes to, it really wasn't of much use.
This time around the code editor rivals the best out there.
I really couldn't find very many weak points in it and the fact that it's built
right on top of one of the best HTML editors around certainly doesn't hurt
any either. That being said, don't get me wrong... the tool is still much
stronger and really shines when designing new sites or writing new pages,
but the main source of pain I felt in using version 1 has been alleviated.
The result is a tool that is no longer simply a small part of your toolbox,
but really can handle most any task you throw at it.
In an effort to be fair, I picked the same file I tested version 1 with and tried to open it.
While the visual editing was still pretty useless, the code view made working
with the file a breeze.
What is this? NT4?
This brings me to one last point and my primary complaint about version 4.
My final complaint about version 1 was that
it seemed to be a little behind the times. It only supported ASP 2.0 and it
didn't produce XHTML. That was sometime last year so I was expecting at least
ASP 3.0 support this time around and was relatively disappointed to not find it.
While there's really nothing that precludes you from writing ASP 3.0 level code
or authoring XHTML, at the same time there's nothing to help you do it either.
I was hoping for an update on the web for version 1 and will continue this hope
this time around, but I was once again a little disappointed to not see this
functionality out of the box.
Macromedia has once again listened to customer feedback and used it to produce
a great product. They fixed most of the major complaints I had about version 1.0
and then some. Except for the lack of auto complete and help for ASP 3.0
and XHTML tasks, I really couldn't find anything to fault the product for.
It does almost everything you'll need to get your work done and somehow it
manages to pull them all off well.
This time around UltraDev is on par with the
best ASP development tools available. It's not cheap, but if you're in the market
for a new tool, it's probably still a good buy even at it's list price of $599 and
you should easily be able to find it quite a bit cheaper.
The manuals are helpful so if you're thinking of buying a copy I recommend you get the boxed version with the
manuals as opposed to the download version. If you're also in the market for a graphics program,
the Macromedia UltraDev 4 Fireworks 4 Studio will get you their top notch
web graphics package (which works extremely well with UltraDev) for only $100 more.