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Macromedia Gets It Right With Dreamweaver UltraDev 4.0

Macromedia Gets It Right With Dreamweaver UltraDev 4.0

by John Peterson


Dreamweaver UltraDev 4.0 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 previous version!)

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 greatly appreciated. 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 I don't buy this "books get out of date too fast" argument.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 No matter what the medium, if it's in the box it's outdated. At least give me the outdated information in a useful format!)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. Of particular usefulness is the built in O'Reilly HTML, CSS, and JavaScript reference 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... )

ASP Editing

Dreamweaver UltraDev Split View Screen Capture

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.

Site Management

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.

ASP Code

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.

Dreamweaver UltraDev db_count.asp Screen Capture

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.

My Conclusions

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.

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