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Introduction to Macromedia Dreamweaver UltraDev

Introduction to Macromedia Dreamweaver UltraDev

In the Beginning…

As the Web sprang to life in the early 90s, it lay in the hands of the elite—the technically empowered few. The ability to design and code respectable HTML was held as a miraculous feat, and the HTML programmer was born.

Unfortunately, many of the early HTML designers were just that—programmers. Designing visually appealing HTML pages requires a skillset very different from writing a piece of software. The result was often functionally correct sites that were either visually unappealing or visually over-stimulating.

When it became apparent to the world that the Web was not going to be a fly-by-night operation, companies began to realize that they would need Web sites in order to compete. They also realized that they would need the talents of graphic/interface designers and layout artists included in the process of Web page creation. Still, the HTML programmers held onto the power—creating Web pages based on the graphics and content design of the artists. This process, while effective, is very inefficient. Creating content, passing it on, and waiting for the results is not an effective use of time.

The world was in need of tools to empower non-programmers to create HTML and collaborate with others on Web projects. The WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) HTML editor was born of this necessity.

Then There Was Light (A Very Dim Light)…

As more people began to write HTML, more and more editors appeared. The early editors were crude, but enabled the user to create pages visually in a fraction of the time that it took to manually write the HTML. These editors were easy to use and resembled very primitive word processors. Netscape's free “Composer” product is a good example of a first-generation editor. It has evolved very little since its introduction, but offers an easy way for beginners to get started with Web page design.

The problem with these editors was that the evolution of the HTML specification greatly outpaced their ability to keep up. To make matters worse, the companies creating the browsers began to grow impatient with the HTML spec itself. It was being updated very quickly, but not quickly enough to address specific features that they felt were important. To fill this void of “important tags,” companies began to add proprietary tags to their browsers. Have you ever visited a Web site that had incredibly annoying flashing text? You can thank Netscape Communications for the <BLINK></BLINK> tagset.

The browser battle between Netscape and Internet Explorer led to new tags being creating that were supported in some HTML editor environments and not in others. It became very difficult to design an editor that could generate HTML that would look the same no matter what browser or system you were using.

The Smoke Clears…

With the HTML 3.0 and 4.0 specifications, many of the proprietary tags in the browsers became unnecessary. Improved object attributes and features such as cascading style sheets (CSS) finally made it possible to create HTML editors that actually worked.

In 1997, Macromedia released the Dreamweaver HTML editor for the Macintosh and Windows. It quickly became the standard by which other editors were judged. Combining the power of the full HTML language and an interface that made publishers and designers feel at home, it brought cross-platform HTML development to the world.

As time passes, Macromedia has upgraded Dreamweaver to keep it current with the HTML specification and introduce new features such as group Web site collaboration, site management, and Javascripting. Dreamweaver continues to win numerous awards for ease of use and technical superiority.

The world, however, isn't standing still, and neither is Dreamweaver.

The Second Dark Age

With HTML in the hands of the masses, Web page design is available to anyone. This has pushed the elite HTML programmers to move onward and upward to the next big thing. This “big thing” that is taking the Web by storm is creating sites that interact with the user. Rather than just presenting static pages to the site's visitors, today's Web sites store and process information, creating an experience that can be unique for every single person. These are no longer just Web sites; they are Web “applications.”

Online stores, catalogs, and bidding services are everywhere. Programmers who were writing HTML have now moved on to write the server-based code that drives these dynamic sites. A plethora of languages and technologies is used to drive these custom sites: Cold Fusion Markup Language, Active Server Pages, and Java Server Pages—to name a few.

Similar to the birth of HTML and the WYSIWYG editor, dynamic Web applications have led to tools to help non-programmers design Web site logic. These tools have been very lacking—supporting very few server technologies, which are limited to a single platform for development and created for people who already know how to program.

Once again, the power is in the hands of the few. Or is it?

Enter Dreamweaver UltraDev

Macromedia has once again risen to the challenge of creating an environment for designing Web applications that combines the power of dynamic sites with the existing Dreamweaver interface—Dreamweaver UltraDev. UltraDev, as I'll affectionately call it from here on out, is a one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art, development environment.

UltraDev supports not one, but three different server technologies (JSP, CFML, ASP) with the capability to expand to new technologies through plug-ins. Furthermore, Macromedia is supporting this product on both Windows and Macintosh platforms, enabling Mac users—who grudgingly were forced to code on Windows computers—to return to their familiar desktops.

The UltraDev package can create fully database-driven Web sites through a point and click interface. Unlike other packages, it offers the designer the ability to preview data in real-time through the UltraDev interface. Guessing how a product catalog is going to look in your browser and seeing it laid out before your eyes is the difference between a two-hour and a two-day job. UltraDev makes life even easier by allowing the person designing the application logic to work on the database side while designers work on the page layout. The days of handing files off from one person to another are over.

As you make your way through this book, you will learn how to use the capabilities of UltraDev to their fullest. Whether you've never used Dreamweaver, or have never even used an HTML editor, you'll be creating your own database-driven Web sites in 21 days. The only prerequisite for reading the book is a basic understanding of HTML and access to a Windows-based or Mac OS–based computer.

The Coming Weeks

Before we get started, let's take a look at how this book is structured. You might find that you want to skip around depending on your interests and current skill level. Don't worry. Although the book is based on a 21-day model, you won't find that a week of your life has mysteriously vanished if you skip from Day 8 to Day 15.

The first week focuses on the HTML editing capabilities of UltraDev and introduces the basics of database-driven sites. You'll learn the tools for managing and editing HTML, and will become a pro in the WYSIWYG environment. After the interface features are covered, the real fun begins. Learn about the fundamentals of database design and the different server technologies supported in UltraDev.

In week two, the power of UltraDev becomes apparent. After successfully connecting to a database, you'll start including dynamic data in your Web applications immediately. Discover the data visualization tools and pre-built server behaviors. Near the end of the week, you'll learn several fundamental techniques that are commonly used in Web application design.

By week three, you'll be ready to start building real applications. The last seven days are dedicated to creating and maintaining real-life projects. You can take these applications, extend them, and put them to work immediately. You'll also learn some tips for debugging your finished applications in case something doesn't appear to be working as you had planned.

When you're finished with the book, you'll be ready to create a variety of Web applications for three Web server technologies with unparalleled ease and speed. Now you'll be the one with power.

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