When Written: Jan 2002
Verdict: Offers a business opportunity to Web developers and with its integration to Macromedia’s Dreamweaver, designing Actinic sites has taken a great leap forward.
Price: All prices exclude VAT
Internet – www.actinic.co.uk
System Requirements (min) –
OS – Windows 95 or later
CPU – Intel Pentium
Ram – 32M min
Disc – at least 100M
Needs Dreamweaver on the machine for the extensions to work
Web Server – must be running Perl
Actinic, the company that produces Catalog, the ‘web shop in a box’; has been hard at work with new releases of Business and their Sage link, both of which were reviewed in this magazine in issue xx. In this review we are going to look at an interesting new product in their range called Actinic Developer. The concept behind Actinic Developer is to enable a web site developer to design Actinic sites easily. With this they can build themes that can then be applied to Actinic Business to generate an on-line store. Once a site has been designed and uploaded the designer can then sell their client a low cost version of Actinic Business to manage the site.
More of all this later, first let’s look at one of the age old problems with Actinic range which is the difficulty of changing the supplied templates to alter the design. This has been improved immensely in the latest versions of the programs but with Actinic Developer they have taken a leap forward with the inclusion of an extension for Macromedia Dreamweaver. Using this extension you can examine the pages generated by Actinic Business in the preview mode and see which bit of the page is generated by which code section of a template. You can then open up this code and edit it and immediately see the result of your changes, all within the Dreamweaver design environment. This facility is a real help in trying to get those pages the way you want. It still requires a high degree of knowledge of HTML and the way Actinic generates pages before you get the results you want if you are attempting any large scale changes to the layout, but small changes to fonts, alignment, etc are made so easy using this extension that this justifies the cost almost in itself!
Actinic Developer also allows you to design your own templates and these can then be applied to a Actinic Business site. This process is a little more than a click through wizard. You need to create new graphics for the theme, all the buttons, logos, etc. These have to have the correct file names. You can then convert these graphics to a format so that Actinic will allow you to change the colours, just as you can do with the supplied themes. This is done by running a supplied program over them called ActCBNMaker.exe. When asked what CBN stood for, Actinic revealed that it was Colour By Numbers!
Next you need to alter the primary layout template. This you can do in Dreamweaver, and after doing this you have to make sure the correct Actinic Variables are in the right places in your layout. This requires careful following of the instructions, which needless to say Actinic supply, and if you follow them, all seems to work fine. It’s not an easy task yet; no doubt it will be improved upon in later versions, but we are talking about a product aimed at developers and not a quick web site solution which Actinic previously was thought of, so the complexity of this area is permissible in the first version of the program.
Actinic Developer is aimed fair and squarely at the web designer who intends to create more than one web site using Actinic. The license key allows you to develop as many sites as you wish, and the pricing reflects this, it really is a bit of an overkill just for one site. However the ability for the designer then to supply their client with Actinic Order Manager for a small licensing fee makes for some interesting marketing opportunities. It is a shame that Order Manger does not allow any uploading by the client at all. I would have preferred also to see a ‘cut down’ version of Business which allows the client to update prices, special offers, their Brochure pages etc, but with the ability to change the design, ISP and payment provider settings disabled.
So a client can be ‘let loose’ to maintain their web site that you have designed, safe in the knowledge that there is little that they can ‘break’. Clients often want to maintain their web site themselves, if Actinic offered this ‘safe’ version of Business as an enhancement to Actinic Developer then I feel that they would defiantly have ‘built a better mouse trap’ as Actinic Business/Developer could also be used to build non e-commerce sites as they now have what is called a “brochure” section which allows the generation of plain HTML pages from data entered into the Actinic database.
Actinic Developer is a great step forward and a product to look at, not because it is easy to use or cheap because to be truthful it is neither of these, but because it offers a business opportunity for small designers to offer professional looking e-commerce sites to companies who would normally be unable to afford to have such a thing designed. In these times of post .dot com bubble, it will help to breath some life back into the industry.
Ease of Use 3/6
Value for Money 3/6
By using the Actinic Extension in Dreamweaver the areas that are generated by what Actinic template are clearly marked.
Actinic Developer looks very similar to Business except for some extra features.
By clicking on the Actinic icon in the design view of Dreamweaver you can see the code that Actinic will use to generate that part of the page.
Article by: Mark Newton
Published in: Mark Newton