Drumbeat simplifies Web development

World Wide Web development has a dirty little secret: It's not as easy as it looks. Bringing together a database, business logic and a Web server can involve complex, sometimes immature, technology that can be daunting for the novice developer.

Elemental Software hopes to change all that with Drumbeat 2000, a Web development tool targeted at workgroup Web sites and intranets with database-driven Web pages. We found Drumbeat 2000 to provide a solid development environment that works for the novice as well as the seasoned pro. The only drawback is that Drumbeat takes a proprietary approach, relying on Microsoft Corp.'s Active Server Pages for dynamic content. But if ASPs are OK with your agency, give Drumbeat 2000 a close look.

Drumbeat 2000 does not make Web development painless, but it makes it easier. The package provides a full-featured integrated development environment (IDE) in which to develop applications, but you may find the environment a little overwhelming until you learn your way around it.

Drumbeat 2000's IDE has several parts: a Site Management Center, an Asset Center, a SmartElement Toolbar, an Attic, a Layout Window and a Basement. Cute names aside, each part of the IDE performs a specific function, such as managing site structure and providing access to page elements, script contents, cookies and other invisible elements of a Web site.

We liked Drumbeat 2000's Templates Manager, which lets you create a master template for a site as well as templates for specific areas of a site.

We found it easy to create Hypertext Markup Language elements, such as mouseover images, that are a pain to do manually. We particularly liked the highly intuitive process for creating image maps. Drumbeat 2000's interface for performing these tasks is drag-and-drop simple.

At the heart of Drumbeat 2000's database interaction is the DataForm Wizard, which Elemental Software claims to have greatly enhanced in this release. The DataForm Wizard walks you through the process of defining the database connection and specifying how the Web page will handle data. At the end of the process, the wizard generates the HTML and underlying elements that are necessary to perform the interaction.

It would be nice if Drumbeat 2000 supported native access to major databases such as Oracle Corp. databases and Microsoft's SQL Server, but it supports Open Database Connectivity access only.

We had no trouble defining ODBC connections to access database files using the wizard, but we had trouble getting the SQL Server ODBC driver to return tables in the database. However, this may have been a problem with the driver version we were using. Drumbeat 2000's SQL Wizard provides a powerful, intuitive interface for creating the SQL code underlying a database interaction. This is an area where a lot of tools fall short, and we really liked Elemental Software's approach.

Development with Drumbeat 2000 is a two-step process. The first step involves creating the database and the elements, such as graphics and text, that make up your site. The second step involves combining the elements with Drumbeat 2000.

The key is not underestimating the amount of work involved in the first step. Database creation is not trivial. Also tricky is the process of creating graphical elements for a site, especially if you are not too artistic. Fortunately, the package provides plenty of graphical elements to help the artistically impaired.If you are responsible for creating a small to medium-size Web site or intranet, Drumbeat 2000 is worth a look. You'll find it to be a flexible, powerful and intuitive development tool.

-- Hammond is a free-lance writer based in Denver. He can be reached at ehammond@earthlink.net.

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Drumbeat 2000Elemental Software(760) 931-7171www.drumbeat.com

Price and Availability: Drumbeat 2000 is available on Software Spectrum Inc.'s GSA schedule for $234. For more information call (800) 862-8758.

Remarks: Drumbeat is a shining example of the potential for Web development tools. Experts and novices alike will find it intuitive and powerful.

Final Score: Very Good

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