From the programmer’s point of view: UltraDev 4 vs. Visual InterDev 6 – what’s better for Guam’s Web professionals

by Jason SalasTuesday, June 26, 2001

KUAM.COM Labs reviews two leading Web applications development suites


In last week’s article on the importance of and need for Guam’s Web developers to get in touch with their programming side, I mentioned a variety of vendor development application which can help you design more intelligent, more self-sufficient business solutions. Specifically, I mentioned two of the more popular programs for building such sites, Microsoft’s Visual InterDev 6 and Macromedia’s Dreamweaver UltraDev 4.

Well, assumption is the mother of all mistakes, so label me with a “MY BAD” tag for thinking that everyone would know the difference between the two. I'm here as an unbiased developer...is having gone through growing pains and learning curves just like the next guy.

I’ve got lots of e-mail in the past week from people wanting to know exactly what these programs are and what they are capable of, including some from the Web development community itself asking which one is better to run for their own projects. So in this week’s Tech Talk, we’re going to look at these two platforms and you can see for yourself which one fits your own needs better as a developer.

Basically, both products are designed to help you as a developer create, manage, maintain, and expand sites with dynamic content (such as information stored in a database), using back-end tools. The programs are based on a simple programming principle: RAD (rapid applications development). They take the arduous task of writing hundreds of lines of code out of the picture by automating the “hard parts” and streamlining the means by which you can manage your Web application.

Thus, more advanced programming is the key to making these sites work in being able to display information, store user information, control user sessions, and a variety of other applications, using a combination of client-side and server-side scripting, based on specific scripting languages. And this means more complex code to write. And lots of it.

The major advantage that these type of programs provide here is developing Web applications, such as e-commerce systems (or in the case of KUAM.COM, information management).

Comparing the Two: Visual InterDev vs. UltraDev

  Microsoft Visual InterDev 6 Macromedia
DreamWeaver UltraDev 4
 Advantage
Cost (full version)  $520.00 $530.00 -
Learning
Curve
 If you’re an experienced developer, this would be the choice for you. Unfortunately, most Guam devs aren’t. While InterDev does a decent job of inserting code for certain functions, you’ll need to know how to write good, solid code on your own to get the most out of the program.

Having experience with scripting languages like VBScript, JavaScript and Jscript is helpful in this sense. The AutoComplete and ToolTip sections as you write code are also helpful, something UD is missing.

The online documentation that ships with the product is fantastic for the newbie. Unlike InterDev, the tutorial is more intuitive and detailed, and the user interface is a bit easier to learn, with clean, dockable windows.

The color coding method for UD is a bit better than InterDev, highlighting more syntax, and making it easier to track syntactical mistakes.

UltraDev
Database integration Simple recordset generation, SQL statement creation and presentation through Active Data Pages. Good for simple queries. Again, best use would be if the developer knows scripting syntax by hand.  The very reason why UltraDev was created – to make the complex task of Web database management simple. Outstanding ability to quickly create database connections and generate dynamic pages from recordsets. Added built-in features such as repeat regions, paging through recordsets. Very powerful and yet still flexible. UltraDev
Site management Provides everything from automated site layout and navigation. Critics have concerns about the overuse of templates, but hey...they work. Again, works best when used with other Microsoft apps.
 
Pretty much the same features, minus the interoperability with other InterDev (slightly)
Platforms supported ASP  ASP, JSP, ColdFusion UltraDev
Team environment Works better in large-to-enterprise teams, can integrate with MS Visual SourceSafe for versioning control. Team-wide development is encouraged for building both public Web and distributed applications for intranet/LAN environments. Better for single-person development, although somewhat scalable. Uses its own built-in document check-in, check-out method to preserve code. InterDev
Debugging An inline debugging utility and Microsoft Script Editor make the inevitable task of debugging your apps a bit more manageable. Makes writing dynamic apps at design-time or run-time better.  You basically rely on the error-reporting methods of your developmental platforms. InterDev
Interoperability As with most Microsoft products, VID’s true magic is achieved works best with other MS products. This isn’t so bad, as there are little alternatives in enterprise computing on Guam for Web development. Works fluidly in combination with other Macromedia applications like Flash or Fireworks, or completely by itself. InterDev


I consistently recommend minimizing idiosyncratic debugging chores and subtle but oh-so-irritating differences in proprietary code that ultimately result from using different platforms by should always try to maintain a single app throughout the development process. The online documentation is more complete, the tutorial is more intuitive (big surprise there), and the user interface is a bit easier to learn.

The only marginal difference for developing database-driven apps would be the fact that should you edit the code directly in UltraDev, it doesn't have the AutoComplete and ToolTips features about syntax and structure that Visual InterDev does. This is a little harder for developers just getting into scripting. But, UltraDev does do a more aesthetically pleasant job of coloring code based on the precise language being used (i.e., VBScript, JavaScript, HTML, ColdFusion), which makes debugging easier.

Also, newer features in UltraDev like password protection for user authentication are really easy, and the UltraDev Extensions, installable modules created by developers all over the world to enhance the functionality of the core program are really helpful.

Now for the bad news. UltraDev’s great features, like automated insert, update and delete SQL statements for manipulating database records, as well as the aforementioned user authentication, and Repeat Region features to page through a recordset are great, and really save time. So, if you're making the move on an existing site, it's a bit of a toughie...but one can still display a recordset with Repeat Regions, and it works beautifully. And painlessly. You just lose some of the features that UltraDev offers.

Also, UltraDev is great for doing database-driven sites, but for larger, more complex sites requiring object manipulation and other functions of ASP, Visual InterDev is generally better. Tight integration with the other apps in Visual Studio, Microsoft BackOffice and Internet Information Server are just better for distributed applications development like COM/DCOM. Visual InterDev’s database management tool is also good, but better if you're using an enterprise database server, like Microsoft SQL Server, not a standalone database application such as Access. And UltraDev is the opposite - better for smaller databases...larger, more complex ones might be a task within itself.  But, with the recent merger of Macromedia with Allaire Corporation, more and more push should be behind ColdFusion as the select enterprise-level database application and database server.


The UltraDev 4 user interface


Visual InterDev 6's integrated development environment

Also, the nature of the job itself sheds light on which product is better. Being in the online news business, RAD is key for me...we have to turn out something really effective, really special, really fast, really often. For mundane and repetitive tasks such as creating database connections and putting info up quick, it is imperative that we have tools which let us manage a large amount of data - and displaying it - in a timely manner.

So in conclusion, for quick database site creation (or for beginners), UltraDev has the advantage.  For larger projects requiring manipulation of other specific ASP objects outside of database integration, Visual InterDev is far better.  It’s up to you to make the decision on what your level of development is and what will work best in your development environment – solo or collaborative? Self-hosting or shared?  ASP or another format?  Public or distributed in an isolated environment?

Just keep in mind the differences you'll run into upon deployment of your solution.

Happy coding!

It’s up to you to make the decision on what your level of development is and what will work best in your development environment – solo or collaborative? Self-hosting or shared? ASP or another format?
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