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Posted Sep 1, 1998

A Review of Drumbeat - a product by Elemental Software

By Steven Wynkoop

Drumbeat is an interesting product.  It was submitted to swynk.com for review, and we've asked people from many different disciplines to review and comment on Drumbeat.  To say the least, the reviews are all over the board, but it's obvious that this is a truly powerful product given the right marketplace. 

What is that marketplace?  It's my opinion that that marketplace is above FrontPage and just below Interdev-type site developers.  You're probably wondering what I consider the difference - it's pretty straightforward - I consider FrontPager's those that have no desire to mess with the underlying HTML and code that makes up a web page. 

InterDever's on the other hand are those that want total control over the code - they want to hand-code the HTML, get the more comprehensive data connection capabilities, etc.  To be fair, this is where my bias lies - I just can't get around the fact that FrontPage will "helpfully" close tags that it thinks you forgot - even if they're closed in include files, etc.  But that's another review altogether... :)

DrumBeat is built on a foundation of "assets" - things that make up your site, from controls to graphics, they're all managed, and managed very well, by DrumBeat. The UI is incredible! You're presented with a cross between the Frontpage UI and that of InterDev. This gives you access to different components of your site.

The first, and most used area are the three tabs across the top, giving you access to the attributes of your site:

  • Site Manager - as you might expect, this shows you the files (pages) that make up your site. As with Explorer, FP and VI, double-clicking brings up the graphical editor.
  • Templates Manager - DB makes HEAVY use of templates, something that will save you HOURS of development time if used correctly. This tab gives you access to the templates you're using.

  • Attributes - as you might guess, the attributes tab lets you set specific properties for the different objects and characteristics on the page - text size, etc. This is similar to the properties tab in VI and FP, but is more user-friendly (I hate that term too) a bit better organized and easy to use.
Of course the real determining factor of any editor is the actual editing space.

In DB, it's very, very nice. You have rulers, guidelines, a "dot-grid" (my term for the dots on the background), point, click, drag and move access to all elements - something that is a really fun thing to use. Somewhat like NetObjects' product, you can drag and drop an object, any object, anywhere you want it - DB will take care of coding it there for you. Slick. Very slick.

Key Cool Features
DrumBeat has some incredibly cool features. These tools include not only what you might expect (the style sheets, drag and drop UI, etc.) but also one that stands out in a big way vs. anything I've seen before.

Smart pages.

Neat name, too. Smart pages are built automagically for you - code and all from the pages you design. Huh? What happens is you first design your page, then you tell DB - take this page and make it work in browser versions 3.0 and greater.

This is really a great way to get your site going, an excellent way to ensure compatibility, and functionality cross-platform. It writes the sensing code, writes the script, etc. This is a feature that stands out - head and shoulders - above the crowd for any other product like this that I've used. If you're developing commercial sites for the 'net - and you're finding yourself fighting browser wars - this feature alone warrants consideration.

Try it out - it really works.

Another nice feature is the Starting Point idea. This is a library of pre-built site templates - these are nice, solid sites that have the pages built for you, the functionality already in place. All you need to do is modify the content to make it relevant and away you go - you're off with a theme, look and feel and even scripts and other elements (er, I mean assets).

There are several different Starting Points that come with the product, and Elemental's web site features a couple of additional template sites. I'm sure that, with acceptance of this product, this library will grow exponentially as people build these templates and make the available.

What's really nice about the starting points is that they have done some thinking for you - what DO you need in a training site for example? They've included information on travel, speakers, schedule, etc. It's a nice checklist to things to think about.

The drawbacks are one. But it's a biggie if you're an InterDever. Getting to the code is a pain. In fact, they recommend building the site, then editing it in InterDev or some other tool. Not in DB. Boo. I like wizards, I like smart pages, I like starting points, all very nice. But I also need to get to my code - I need to be able to make changes to the code and get it published.

Yes, there is an HTML pass-through capability, but it's not the same as saying - "build this for me, then let me mess with it - in THIS environment."

Saying that I need to attach with VI, or worse yet FTP in and whip out my Visual Notepad™ is just really a drawback in my mind.

Overall Summary
The summary? There are three different ways to approach a recommendation about this product. See where you fit in:

  • Are you looking for a tool that will help you pound out web sites - template-based, data-driven web sites - and don't do much customization or "true" programming of the sites? If the answer is yes, then you need to seriously consider DB. It'll take you beyond FrontPage and will save you significant time, significant money in this type of environment.
  • Are you looking for a tool that will generate sites for you that you can later tweak to get the specific little details into place that you need? Looking for a tool that will put solid, foundational web sites into place that you can use to get sites out more quickly than hand-coding from scratch? DB is worth a look.
  • Are you a coder that likes to feel the HTML tags beneath your fingers, to feel the pulsing power of recordsets... OK. So I'm getting carried away. But seriously - if you're looking for a tool that gives you low-level access to your pages and sites, DB is probably not the tool for you.

Other's Feedback

You can read a hard-core programmer's review here.

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