Creating Dynamic Web Pages with Drumbeat
by Wes Thomas
Manufacturer:Elemental Software, Inc.
Windows 95/NT only
166-MHz Processor (90-MHz minimum)
60 MB free disk space (30 MB minimum)
32 MB RAM
IE 4.0 or above
IIS 3.0 server or above for Windows NT, or Personal Web Server for
Windows 95 or NT to build database-driven apps.
Release Date:March 1998
Cost:$399 (normal version); $799 (professional edition)
for a free 30-day trial.
Last July, I looked at Drumbeat 1.0and was impressed that designers could easily drag 'n' drop
prepackaged components (created externally) instead of waiting for a Webmaster to add them into your page at a later time.
With Drumbeat 2.0, Elemental Software has once again pushed the envelope for non-programmers creating Web sites and has added some powerful new features that put it in a class by itself. But don't be misled by the "2.0" version number -- this is a whole new product in its own right.
Figure 1: Drumbeat 2.0 layout view.
Automatic DHMTL generation
Now 2.0 has gone way beyond that with its powerful new "Interaction Builder" feature. This lets any nonprogrammer assemble a variety of Web page functions. These include CSS, streaming video, media controllers and players, form validations, imported RTF documents, and Dynamic HTML filters, transition
effects, and fly-ins.
You can also set up interactions between elements. For example: When the mouse is over one element, dim the other one. And you can drag elements to anywhere on page, as in NetObjects Fusion.
I'm especially impressed with how easy it is to build streaming media pages. Just position a media player and a standard VCR-like controller on a page, highlight the two elements, and choose "Control Media Player" to set mouse actions to start, stop and rewind the audio or video. Drumbeat automatically generates a cascading menu of valid interactions for you to choose from. According to Ed Forman, VP of Products at Elemental Software, Elemental will publish the interface for defining interactions so you can add your own.
Figure 2: Making an image glow is as easy as point and click.
Figure 3: Previewing the image in your browser lets you see the full effect.
Figure 4: Without writing a line of code you can add streaming media controls to your site.
The other really impressive feature in Drumbeat 2.0 is its Data-Driven PageSets, which is a user interface for publishing dynamic databases. This isthe simplest, most intuitive way to publish a database on the Web I've seen.There are two steps:
1. Create a Content Table: This table is a spreadsheet-like representation of your database. You simply specify which CSV (comma-separated value) file or ODBC data base you want to publish, and the on-screen content table is generated automatically, along with a corresponding HTML table. You can add fields (columns) with graphics and other enhancements or edit field labels.
Figure 5: Visually see your data when you bring content into Drumbeat.
2. Create a PageSet: This will be a layout of what the users will see on all pages. Drumbeat 2.0 generates a plain-vanilla default page layout showing a record (row) from the database displayed vertically. By using WYSIWYG layout tools, you can then transform this into something interesting,
repositioning and aligning items (fields), formatting text fields, and adding graphics, nav buttons, links, and visitor interactions.
Figure 6: Customizing the page set layout is done easily by adding graphics and CSS styles.
You can have the PageSet create either a static page or an Active Server Page (ASP), which is built dynamically (on-the-fly). When the page is requested by a visitor, they'll see the latest data that's available. If you're creating a site for IE4 users, the data binding option lets users manipulate the data file locally, not just view pages.
For example, you could create a phone directory database that would allow users to disconnect, then search and sort the data on their local machine. Data binding lets you deliver really useful data from your Web site, not just DHTML eye candy.
You can also allow Web page visitors (typically on an intranet) to manipulate a server-based database remotely via a Web page, updating and inserting records, searching, etc. -- all the normal database operations. Drumbeat also has a DataForm Wizard that lets you accomplish this with just a few clicks. You can then fine-tune the Web page layout, similar to creating a PageSet.
Yes, you can do that with other products, but they usually require knowledge of server-side scripting, weird database access commands, and proprietary servers.
Drumbeat can generate standard HTML pages, or you can create server-side ASP (Active Server Pages) pages that will run on a Microsoft IIS server or Microsoft Personal Web Server, which is included with FrontPage. You can download
Personal Web Server from Microsoft at no cost. In the shipping version, you will be able to generate LiveWire pages for Netscape Web servers.
There are also several new features to Drumbeat:
- SmartPages: These are multiple versions of the same page that are optimized for different browsers (IE 4.0, Netscape 4.0, Netscape 3.0, AOL, and generic, based on straight HTML 3.2 code). A Drumbeat 2.0-generated SmartPage automatically senses the Web page visitor's browser and redirects them to the appropriate page for their browser. When you build a SmartPage, Drumbeat shows you which design elements will work each browser.
- Layout Inheritance: You can modify visual attributes, positioning, and interactions for a whole set of pages or templates by just changing a parent page or template.
- Site-wide Asset Management: You can manage text, images, audio, design elements, content tables, and hyperlinks for files anywhere without having to know what directory they're in. This is much improved over Drumbeat1.0.
Figure 7: The asset center lets users track and preview their assets.
Other new features include flexible one-button publishing for managing server uploads automatically, skill-based collaboration for managing Web site teams and assets, and automatic generation of CDF (Content Definition Format) files to push content to IE4 users.
Figure 8: Manipulate pages and site content in the button bar.
My only quibble with Drumbeat is that the HTML is complex and hard to decipher, like NetObjects Fusion. Also, you can't manually edit the HTML within Drumbeat (there's no source view). But Forman tells me the shipping version will have an "External Pages" feature that will let you edit Drumbeat pages with an external HTML authoring tool (but be careful not to modify the original code -- FrontPage 98 or Dreamweaver are OK because they don't modify HTML code). These external pages (along with other pages created outside of Drumbeat) are then published along with standard Drumbeat pages.
The Preview Edition of Drumbeat 2.0 is available for download. Drumbeat 2.0 is expected to be available in March for $399. Drumbeat 2.0 Professional, which includes the capability to generate database-driven pages on-the-fly automatically, will cost $799.