When Written: Oct 1999
Every once in a while a program comes along that just cries out to be taken notice of. Drumbeat 2000 is just such a program. This program was originally developed by a Californian company called Elemental Software and the product caught the attention of Macromedia who in the words of that dreadful advert ‘ they liked it so much they bought the company’.
So what does Drumbeat do and what makes it so special?
Drumbeat 2000 is a design environment for developing dynamic web sites using Active Server Pages although if ASP is not installed on the web server, it will use Perl scripts. This is not a product like Microsoft’s Inter Dev but more akin to products like Cold Fusion. Complete sites can be built, accessing databases, email, with e-commerce features like shopping baskets, all with out writing a single line of code. It does not stop there however. The whole philosophy of the product is one of expandability and customization. Should you wish to add your own components or routines and incorporate them into the design environment, then this is easily achieved, as can altering the provided components.
Drumbeat 2000 is available for Microsoft’s IIS or Personal Web Server and also there is a JavaServer version for IBM WebSphere servers. We tested the E-Commerce version of Drumbeat 2000. There is also an Active Server Pages version which is recommended for intranet development.
The user interface is divided 5 basic parts: Site Management, Asset Center, Layout, Attic, Basement.
The Site Management area is used to display a tree view of the pages as well as for the management of templates. This area also shows the attributes of the currently select object on the page. To apply a template to a page all that is required is to drag the page under the template in the tree view. This application and management of templates is so easy that applying a web site wide design change is often just a matter of drag and drop.
The Asset Manager is used to display folders of images, text and RTF files, styles, smart elements, queries and contracts. There is a preview pane for viewing many of these types when you click on the file or object in question. A nice feature of this is that these folders can be located anywhere on the network and the files are not part of the web site until they are used in the layout area.
The area called the Attic is used to display data from recordsets and code samples, but mostly it is used to display and select ‘interactions’ which are predefined code segments that say things like ‘ Goto the next record in MyRecordset when CmdNextButton is clicked’, much more understandable than the raw code would be. It is these ‘interactions and ‘activations’ that are key to the power of Drumbeat 2000 and it is important to understand them and how they work with each other.
The basement area is used to display objects that are on the page but are not displayable, like cookies, forms and recordsets, and again from here the properties of these objects can be set as well as their interactions.
So how do you put a navigation button that moves to the next record in your database? After placing the button and recordset objects on the page you shift click the two objects and then select the interaction ‘ Goto the next record in MyRecordset when CmdNextButton is clicked’ and that is it, no code no hassle. Of course you will want to see your efforts, and for that Drumbeat has a preview tab in the layout area. Selecting this Publishes the web site and then displays the currently selected page in a browser pane in the layout area. Drumbeat, like so many other tools in this area, stores the site in its own format and not as HTML, so it has to go through the extra step of publishing before anything is visible to a browser. This can slow things down a bit when developing but the rapid development environment more that makes up for this. On the subject of speed, Drumbeat is quite a beast and I found myself waiting at times for things to happen on a PII 233 with 256M of Ram, and the application seems to take about 30M on loading. So Drumbeat needs a fast processor to avoid too many hold ups whilst your creative juices are flowing !
The other thing that Drumbeat needs is a large monitor and plenty of workspace. As is normal for these type of design environments you need to have lots of areas open at any one time and you can rapidly run out of screen space. The windows of Drumbeat are not dockable so you can not drag them off to a second monitor. I was using the splendid Mitsubishi 2020u running at 1800 x 1440 and with this you can really start to develop with Drumbeat.
A very powerful feature of Drumbeat is their ‘Smart Elements’, which are objects that you drag and drop onto a page to achieve a particular functionality. These elements vary from a simple text box through animations, to mapping and shopping baskets. There are wizards to help you connect up to databases, which create all the navigation buttons for you although I found myself doing it manually as you can understand, better what is going on. These elements can be added to and their properties altered, in fact Drumbeat is incredibly customizable. Another great feature is the ability to change any page to a ‘Smart Page’. Smart Pages detect what browser is viewing them and they redirect the viewer to the correct page for their browser, again all done without writing any code. However it is in using these smart elements that Drumbeat shows one of its limitations. There really isn’t enough help available at times. Sure there are documents that you can read but I found many dialog boxes with no help button on them and often you were left confused as to what the various options do.
When I originally saw this product, the e-commerce capability was limited, because if you wanted to operate an e-commerce site then you had to get involved with setting up secure servers and dedicated links to the Merchant houses to handle the credit card processing yourself. Certainly not something for the faint hearted. However since then, a UK internet credit card clearing company, SecPay (www.secpay.com), a company that I have written about in this magazine before, has, with its partners EIBS in Nottingham (0115 911 4434) and Macromedia (www.macromedia.com) come up with an solution for handling credit cards over the internet which integrates with Drumbeat so that webmasters can immediately start implementing e-commerce solutions with this product. This has increased the usefulness of Drumbeat enormously.
Macromedia suggest that Drumbeat is used just to implement the parts of the web site that need the complexity of ASP and database integration. They also suggest that their other excellent product, Dreamweaver, is used to design and maintain the static element of the site. This seems a sensible suggestion, but there is no reason why Drumbeat can’t handle the whole site, although publish times may get a little long. Macromedia have hinted that the Dreamweaver interface may be brought across to Drumbeat so the products have a similar look and feel. Although Drumbeat enables anyone to develop active web sites without writing any code, it is not a product for the novice. A user will still need to understand programming principles and be able to visualise the solution to a problem. However as a tool for developing this type of site, it relieves the developer from a lot of drudgery of raw code and without a doubt it is second to none in the current market place. I just can’t wait for version 2!
Verdict: Not the easiest product to learn, but the effort is well worth it. Another stunning Internet development product from Macromedia.
Price: £ 349
Supplier: Computers Unlimited 0181 358 5858
Development System: 200Mhz Pentium,60M Hard Disk Space, 64M Ram,Windows 95/98 or NT
Deployment System: 166 Mhz Pentium, 128M Ram, Microsoft NT4 with IIS4 with ASP enabled
Attributes of the table smart element
view onto a content table linked to a database
Drumbeat’s main development areas
a small selection of Drumbeat’s Smart Elements
Article by: Mark Newton
Published in: Mark Newton