Web site design tool integrates databases

The Drumbeat 2000 Web site authoring software offers developers and Web-site designers a powerful tool that can cut the time to develop and deploy a Web site. You can set the software to target various Web servers and browsers. Drumbeat’s packaged scripts and ActiveX controls let you quickly build fully functioning, database-driven Web sites. Macromedia acquired Elemental Software and its Drumbeat line of Web application development products in July 1999. Macromedia officially released three versions of the Drumbeat 2000 product in September: Drumbeat 2000 Active Server Pages (ASP) version, Drumbeat 2000 JavaServer Pages (JSP) version, and Drumbeat 2000 eCommerce Edition, which add the ability to create online stores with shopping-cart and credit-card transactions.

Drumbeat 2000 ASP provides support for comma-delimited data sources and ODBC-compliant data sources, including SQL Server, Access, Informix, Sybase, and Oracle. The software includes a multimedia promotional CD that gives you a helpful introduction to the software and the interface. The introduction shows how you can click a few icons on the toolbar to import an existing Web site into Drumbeat and add database functionality with your choice of JavaScript or VBScript and Dynamic HTML (DHTML) style. You can also click a toolbar icon to add support for multiple browsers, including Internet Explorer (IE) 3.0 and 4.x and Netscape 3.0 and 4.x and above. Creating a Web site from scratch requires more tenacity, but Drumbeat provides numerous templates and wizards you can use to jump-start the process. Drumbeat 2000 includes extensive online and printed documentation. Despite these aids, prepare to invest some time to master all the functionality the product offers.

Installation


To run Drumbeat 2000, you need at minimum a 200MHz Pentium, 60MB free disk space, 64MB RAM, and Windows 9x or NT 4.0. (My installation, which included all options such as online documentation, templates, and a seven-lesson tutorial, consumed 90MB.) Drumbeat supports IE 4.0 or later, Internet Information Server (IIS) 3.0 or later for Windows NT Web servers, and Chili!Soft (included on the installation disk) or other Active Server Pages (ASP) interpretive software for UNIX servers.

I installed Drumbeat 2000 on my 400MHz Pentium II with 128MB SDRAM and a fresh installation of Windows NT Server with Service Pack 3 (SP3), SQL Server 6.5 with SQL Server Service Pack 5, and Option Pack (Internet Information Server 4.0—IIS—and Microsoft Transaction Server—MTS), followed by Service Pack 4 (SP4). I installed these products in the order that Microsoft recommends. Despite following the instructions, I encountered numerous errors.

First, I ran into two DLL read-only file errors requesting overwrites (msvcrt.dll, mfc42.dll) before an ODBC error stopped the installation. The error message said Root:\winnt\system32\odbcint.dll is a different version than the ODBC setup .dll root:\winnt\system32\ odbccp32.dll. You need to reinstall the latest ODBC components to ensure proper operation. Macromedia is responsible for all Drumbeat support now, and offers Drumbeat 2000 Service Pack 2 (SP2), which you can download free at http://www.macromedia.com/support/drumbeat/. Macromedia recommends SP2 for users who purchased Elemental Software Drumbeat 2000 before August 31, 1999. Macromedia Drumbeat 2000, released on August 31, 1999, includes SP2. You can also download an executable to correct runtime error MSVCRT.DLL, which I ran into because of a missing or mismatched version of the DLL. Also, I suggest visiting the TechNotes area of the Macromedia site at http://www.macromedia.com/support/drumbeat/ for current discussions of bugs and their fixes, plus a free-for-all collection of custom Drumbeat tools, SmartElements, and designs posted by philanthropic developers.

Armed with the new ODBC drivers, I clicked the Drumbeat 2000 icon, and a window popped up asking whether I wanted to use a wizard or open the existing Web sites. I chose the wizard option. The wizard first requested a name for the site, then asked whether I wanted to start with a New (blank) Site or use a Drumbeat Starting Point. The Drumbeat Starting Point options include Asset Management, EmployeeDirectory, GuestBook, Intranet, SearchEngine, and UserLogin. Or, you can choose Quick Start Lessons.

I selected options, including Quick Start Lesson 1. Next, a window presented a single checkbox with Go to the Publish Settings Wizard marked by default. The next checkbox was for importing an existing Web site, and it’s unchecked by default. Then the Drumbeat 2000 interface opened for the first time. Again a checkbox appeared, which had two radio buttons, Publish Locally and Publish Remotely. I chose the first.

The wizard started mapping out folders and directories for Drumbeat information. I was annoyed that Drumbeat defaulted to the C drive and didn’t create the folders that it needed. It’s ludicrous that a software package of this scope can’t locate my Web server software and create the necessary installation folders. This failing makes site creation with the wizards unnecessarily tedious.

Aside from the folder faux pas, the Quick Start Lessons and accompanying Quick Start manual got me started quickly with this robust software. I also ran the Asset Management and Employee Directory wizards. These two wizards build full-featured Web sites with extensive database interactivity.

This kind of ASP power doesn’t come cheap in terms of processing resources. Publishing or previewing either the Asset Management or Employee Directory Web sites maxed out the processor utilization for several minutes each on every system I tested it on, including a 400MHz Pentium II, 333MHz Pentium II, and a dual 200MHz Pentium Pro. Fortunately, users can choose to publish only selected sections of a site.

The Interface


As with most Web site design tools, the Drumbeat interface is easier to use when you have a 19-inch or larger monitor. You can click on any of several small triangles at the edge of one of Drumbeat’s three main windows to give the underlying window more space on the screen. If you have a small monitor, Drumbeat 2000’s adjustable interface helps, but your work will be easier if you use a large monitor.

The Drumbeat window comprises several elements: the Site Management Center, the Asset Center, and the main Layout window, which contains attic and basement windows. The Site Management Center and the Asset Center are stacked on top of one another on the left-hand side of the screen. The lower, Asset Center, window acts as a media repository and preview area for images and other media. You can search available assets by their characteristics, including media, pages, interactions, styles, content tables, queries, and links. You can also import preconfigured ActiveX controls, create SQL queries, and define data sources.

You use the Site Management Center to configure the site’s hierarchical structure and define some attributes of the elements in a site. You use an icon to create and add pages. The icon to add pages has a drop-down list with the options Page, External Page, PageSet, and Frameset, which you can use to create new pages or frames and to import pages from outside sources.

The Data Form Wizard is a powerful query importing and creating tool that you use to define new data sources for your site. You can choose one of the data sources provided in the templates or you can create your own. Also, you can populate a database manually by entering the location of an existing database or you can populate a database from an ODBC data source.

The SmartElement toolbar separates the Site Management Center and Asset Center from the Layout window. This toolbar contains commonly used elements such as drop-down lists, cookies, ticker tapes, timers, record sets, scrolling text, radio buttons, etc. To build a page, you drag the elements to the Layout window. Drumbeat provides many design tools, including grid lines and rulers with snap-to capabilities. Screen 1 shows some of the elements you can choose.

The Drumbeat interface contains two additional windows, the Attic and Basement windows, above and below the Layout window. These windows open according to the functionality integrated into the page you’re working on. The Attic window lets you access Content Tables, Interaction Lists, or a JavaScript/VBScript utility. The Basement window houses elements that you might need to tweak, but that you won’t see on the Layout screen, such as cookies, record sets, timers, or hidden form elements.

After working with Drumbeat 2000 for a few weeks, I became adept at maneuvering the busy interface to build intricate Web sites with advanced ASP, SQL and DHTML functionality. Thoughtful use of right-mouse button menus and a full range of amenities Web designers have come to expect from their design tools will please novice and experienced users.

Drumbeat 2000 is a compelling Web design tool choice for developers because it generates browser-specific versions and supports numerous Web servers and data types. Drumbeat 2000 isn’t for the HTML beginner, but it’s a great tool for the developer or designer who wants to quickly move to the next level of data-driven Web site design and functionality.

Drumbeat 2000
Contact: Macromedia Inc.
Web: http://www.macromedia.com
Price: List Price $399 for Drumbeat 2000 ASP version; $499 for Drumbeat 2000 eCommerce Edition
System Requirements:
200MHz Pentium, 60MB free disk space, 64MB RAM
Windows 9x or Windows NT 4.0
Internet Explorer 4.01
Microsoft Internet Information Server 3.0 or above for Windows NT, or Personal Web Server for Windows NT or Windows 95, or other ASP-compatible server to build database-driven applications