Web tools make an art of building your pages

Web tools make an art of building your pages

All have strong selling points, but Dreamweaver has the best touch


Professional Web design and development tools these days must support not only Hypertext Markup Language but also Extensible Markup Language, Dynamic HTML, JavaScript, Visual Basic Script, Java applets and streaming multimedia.

This review will cover two such enterprise-level tools geared to teams of developers: Adobe GoLive 5.0 and Macromedia's Dreamweaver UltraDev 4.0. Two others in the review, Microsoft FrontPage 2000 and NetObjects Fusion MX, better suit offices that want to design their own site but don't have a full-time Web manager.

Previous versions of Adobe GoLive fell short of the enterprise mark. The code was bloated, and there was no way to preserve manual HTML coding. Layout was strictly grid-based, and database support was nonexistent.

Version 5.0 of GoLive does much better. Adobe touts its 360Code system, which preserves code formatting. An integrated editor handles multiple syntax coloring with tags for DHTML, XML and Active Server Pages. You wouldn't want to work on an Allaire ColdFusion application with the GoLive editor, but you can integrate ColdFusion, JavaServer Pages and XML pages with confidence that the code will survive. And you can edit the source code view for on-the-fly changes. But Adobe has no JavaScript debugging and programming tools, nor does it directly support VBScript.

Complex and versatile

GoLive is more versatile and more complex than Dreamweaver UltraDev. GoLive uses 16 floating palettes and has at least two ways to perform any action. It takes quite a while to learn. I initially mistook the design tab for a knockoff of the NetObjects site design function. The handy tab lets you make new site prototypes or revamp existing sites by dragging and dropping templates, links and layouts. It supports multiple designs for single sites and shared design elements across multiple sites. Final designs can be checked into live sites or replaced at any time.

GoLive integrates well with other Adobe products. You can resize and optimize Photoshop, Illustrator and LiveMotion files using Smart Objects without leaving GoLive. Photoshop layers can be imported as HTML. Double-clicking Adobe source files of HTML, JavaScript and GIF animations will open the appropriate editor and automatically store any changes in the GoLive files.

There is little support, however, for dynamic Web pages and database-driven applications. GoLive Dynamic Link for ASP is the only database tool. You must build applications by laying out a mock-up and then binding the placeholders to dynamic content from a database.

Dynamic Link is no match for Macromedia's UltraDev, but it's a beginning and costs considerably less.

The Adobe style sheet editor is the best I've seen. You can create style sheets from scratch or import and modify existing sheets for individual pages or entire sites. But this is not a full implementation of the World Wide Web Consortium's Cascading Style Sheet standards.

My biggest gripe about GoLive is the documentation. Experienced Photoshop and Illustrator users will have little trouble, but the proliferation of palettes might overwhelm anyone else. The 462-page, small-print manual drove me to take an online course at www.elementk.com.

Good manual

Macromedia's documentation was far better. I disliked early versions of Dreamweaver and felt unhappy when Macromedia bought Drumbeat, then dropped it within a year in favor of UltraDev. I began to warm up to Version 3.0. I love Dreamweaver UltraDev 4.0. It has all of Dreamweaver's features plus powerful tools for dynamic content and database applications.

Like GoLive, UltraDev offers lots of customizable palettes. Well-written documentation and systematic tutorials introduce core functions. Interactive minilessons teach common procedures. If you're a little rusty on JavaScript, HTML, style sheets or browser document object models, the Code Reference panel delivers context-sensitive help from Dynamic HTML: the Definitive Reference, published by O'Reilly & Associates Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

I built a drill-down application that could search an employee database by department or name and could be updated with a Web browser. When an Open Database Connectivity error occurred, I left a message on Macromedia's Web site and got four responses from UltraDev users within an hour. One was helpful. In the meantime, I located the suggested fixes in the knowledge base, changed server permissions and everything worked fine.

Unlike GoLive and FrontPage, UltraDev isn't married to one back-end technology. UltraDev developers can write apps in ColdFusion, ASP or JSP. For tweaking or hand-coding, Macromedia throws in Homesite, my favorite text-editing tool, which the company recently acquired in its merger with Allaire Corp., also of Cambridge.

Not only does Dreamweaver preserve imported code, it also produces clean code. JavaScript writers can debug by setting breakpoints and then stepping through the code, watching variables update in real time in a browser.

Dreamweaver 4.0's split view simultaneously presents layout and code. Changes to one view instantly appear in the other. I don't like the onboard Structured Query Language builder, which restricts statements to Select, Where and Order By. Operators have to be manually inserted. Developers might prefer to call up Homesite's integrated SQL query builder.

UltraDev can show live data in design view. You must configure this for each record set, and I found it just as easy to preview server-side data with a browser.

The layout features are awesome. You can draw cells directly on a page and drag them around into a nested table. It's almost as easy as NetObjects' layout tools, but you can modify the results.
The XML menu system is highly configurable, with almost 400 extensions to generate fancy Flyout menus or sophisticated ASP procedures. Customizable templates are available from companies such as Project VII Development of Dobson, N.C., at www.projectseven.com.

Section 508

You can search for empty or missing 'alt image' attributes. Alternate text descriptions of images let assistive devices describe the images for visually impaired users'a Section 508 priority.
Macromedia's support hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific time. Don't call for debugging help with database applications'you're on your own there.

I had hoped to preview the new Microsoft FrontPage XP but had to settle for the aging 2000 version. In combination with its server extensions, FrontPage is a versatile and competent authoring system with underrated features.

Did you know it can do absolute positioning and visual layout in navigation view? Did you know its built-in script editor can handle breakpoints or that you can save a local page as a cascading style sheet and edit it? And a server is no longer required to develop FrontPage sites'you can have disk-based pages.

FrontPage produces relatively clean HTML and preserves hand-coded or imported pages. It has decent editing tools and the cleanest, most intuitive interface of these products. The layout tools aren't as numerous or flexible as those in GoLive or Dreamweaver. But the frameset and the table editor are the best. It also has stronger file import and conversion tools'at least for Microsoft application files.

Better support

FrontPage has better back-end support than competitors, if you can install the Microsoft FrontPage extensions on your Web server. The extensions are application programming interfaces that take the place of Common Gateway Interface programs. They let you create forms that will e-mail the results to you; automatically generate navigable site maps; or set up a registration page or a discussion group. Because the site map is text-based, it improves Section 508 accessibility.

The most exciting development for FrontPage is the growing availability of third-party add-ons. One of my favorite sources, Thomas Brunt's OutFront group in St. Matthews, S.C., offers eye-catching, functional templates at www.outfront.net. You'll need a graphical editor to customize the images, but they still save time.

Jimco's Add-ins, at www.jimcoaddins.com, install as a new FrontPage menu. They let you insert metatags and add background images to multiple pages. One of the most useful plug-ins for federal developers is the Alt-text tool for image maps, which makes maps more accessible with pop-up text.

An indispensable tool set for serious FrontPage developers is the $70 J-Bots Plus 2000 package from Webs Unlimited Inc. of Crescent, Iowa, at www.websunlimited.com. More than 50 components add much of the form, image and cookie functionality present in Dreamweaver and GoLive. You can make images roll over, validate forms and set cookies right from the FrontPage menu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses the Sendit Form Mailer, a CGI program from Webs Unlimited, to handle e-mail inquiries at www.cdc.gov/netinfo.htm.

Take a look at Dave Pfeiffer's DPA Software, which offers FrontLook Java applet components, at www.frontlook.com. Java applets are relatively slow-loading but platform-independent, and they work with Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer versions 3.x or later.

After installing FrontLook, select any text or object, and within minutes you can launch a customized, eye-popping applet. Images can creep, crawl, shudder, shimmer and explode. See the Army's Fort Bragg morale, welfare and recreation site at www.bragg.army.mil/mwr/casbc/contactus.htm.

Last but not least, take a look at www.netstudio.com. Randy Forgard, the programmer of FrontPage, has called NetStudio 2000 the best tool since FrontPage.

Although FrontPage design tools fall short of the competition, Microsoft is the undisputed leader in one important area: technical support.

FrontPage 2000 crashed every time I tried to create a new site. Microsoft's staff spent hours with me trying to fix it. We reinstalled extensions, reinstalled the operating system and installed the most recent Office 2000 service pack. Finally, Microsoft came up with a peculiar workaround that involved a new user profile. It worked.

During all this, Microsoft technicians called me with status reports. They didn't try to jive me; they freely confessed their perplexity. When the application guy had to pass the buck to the OS support group, they included me in the conference. And they didn't add insult to injury by charging for unresolved incidents. Except for the now-defunct WordPerfect Corp., no large company has ever given better support.

Few professional designers will like NetObjects Fusion MX, but it may be the ideal intranet tool for departments without full-time Web managers.

NetObjects claims it has the fastest and easiest path to professional-looking sites. I don't think the claim is inflated.

NetObjects Fusion generates HTML automatically. You can add scripts and metatags in an HTML viewer, but NetObjects won't let you fiddle with the HTML it generates. For that reason, you may find it impossible to craft pages that comply with Section 508.

Consider them all

Which program is best? It depends. If you want total control over code and design, and if you spend most of your time designing and maintaining Web pages, choose GoLive or Dreamweaver UltraDev.

If you're experienced with Photoshop or other Adobe design products, and you use no authoring system, GoLive has the edge. But don't eliminate FrontPage before giving it a trial run.
If you plan any back-end or dynamic pages, Dreamweaver UltraDev is a no-brainer.

On the other hand, if you aren't a full-time developer, FrontPage is a solid, supported platform. Spend a few extra dollars for third-party add-ons, and your pages can compete with the best generated by Dreamweaver or GoLive. The total cost will likely be less than for the power packages.

I advise against NetObjects Fusion for public Web sites until the company makes it Section 508-friendly.

If I were sentenced to a year on a desert island, I would take along Adobe's GoLive, PhotoShop, Illustrator, LiveMotion and Image Ready. On a desert island, I would have the time to learn them. Adobe products are the designer's best choice.

But overall, Dreamweaver UltraDev is my Reviewer's Choice by a nose. On a big enough budget, I would buy UltraDev Studio and Adobe Photoshop. Together they make stunning front ends and solid back ends.

Steve Graves, a former GCN reviewer, is chief engineer at Communications Resource Inc. of Potomac, Md.

Web site packages span skills from design to management with mixed-bag results
GoLive 5.0Dreamweaver UltraDev 4.0FrontPage 2000NetObjects Fusion MX
Adobe Systems Inc.

San Jose, Calif.

tel. 800-833-6687


Macromedia Inc.

San Francisco

tel. 800-756-9603


Microsoft Corp.

Redmond, Wash.

tel. 800-426-9400


NetObjects Inc.

Redwood City, Calif.

tel. 650-482-3200

Pros+ Excellent design and editing features
+ Good site management
+ Super design and layout capabilities
+ Fair editing and tech support; great documentation
+ Terrific technical support
+ Good third-party add-ons
+ Fastest site builder
Cons- Documentation unsatisfactory- Inadequate SQL support- Too Microsoft-centric- Not ready for Section 508
System RequirementsWin 98, 2000, NT or Mac OS 8.6; at least 64M of RAM and 50M of storage; CD-ROM driveWin 98, 2000, NT or Mac OS 8.6 or higher; at least 64M of RAM and 170M of storage; CD-ROM driveWin 98, ME, 2000 or NT; at least 64M of RAM and 170M of storage; CD-ROM driveWin 98, ME, 2000 or NT; at least 64M of RAM and 170M of storage; CD-ROM drive
Overall Grade


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