A Review of Drumbeat - a product by Elemental Software

Tuesday Sep 1st 1998 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.

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.

Don-E Merson

Drumbeat is a software package from Elemental Software that claims power to make a website in about an hour without programming. While it is true that the pure object functionality allows the user to layout the website in a process similar to Visual Basic, there are more than a few issues that will leave the professional programmer perplexed. The software would be a great find for a person who wants to create a "pretty" site with cool features but it not quite ready to bridge the gap to the professional programmer.

Drumbeat's interface is superb and will be familiar to anyone familiar with Visual Basic. The same type of toolbar appears in Drumbeat and you can just click on a item and drag it onto your web page. The set of items includes the basic set of HTML items: images, text, forms, buttons, etc. The toolbar of "elements" can also be configured to include other types of premade items or add new user made items.

This design concept also extends to media items. The design was geared for a professional artist who wants to drop the "pictures where I want them to be." Drumbeat allows user to make templates to give the site the same look and feel. Plus, the user has a section where you can search through folders for specific media items and preview them. Media items can include pictures, sound, video and just about anything you can imagine.

As a matter of fact, Drumbeat has also including more features into a RAD web designer than any other of the market. They have pre DHTML components, Javascripts, Database items, multimedia and several other special items. However, I believe their best feature is their SmartPages. SmartPages allow the user to make special elements for a page's display depending on the Browser that the client is using. You can do this two ways, Server Side with ASP, or client side with Javascript. The user starts with a page and then right clicks the page to turn it into a SmartPage. A select box appears that gives the user four different options for the page: Internet Explorer 4.0, Any version 4.0, Navigator 3 or Generic. By selecting Internet Explorer 4, the user can pick any type of DHTML elements or function available to that Browser. Right clicking on a image with give you the types of "flashy" components available in IE 4. Pick Netscape 3 and you are restricted to just using that set of HTML code. This feature is really great because it allows you to customize for different browsers while still working with background compatibility. This feature alone would probably make it worth buying from a marketing standpoint. Upgrading your site from the dull generic site to a flashy site without comprise would be a great sell. However, this is where I started to experience problems.

I was not able to import most of my sites. It probably has to the complexity of the ASP pages that being used on my site. When I tried to import more generic sites, it seemed to work well. However, importing my site caused the application to crash consistently. I used the Drumbeat website to search for an answer to this issue and could not find it within their FAQS or online search. That wasn't the only shortcoming that I found.

Drumbeat has an SQL wizard that allows you to make an SQL statement with a wizard. It works well with most basic SQL statements and even allows you to make DataForms, similar to the functionality of Microsoft's Visual Interdev. However, more complex SQL statements were hard to make and you could not have a field named the same in different tables. For example, this statement could not be saved:

Select * from Users inner join Groups on users.usergroupid=groups.usergroupid

This was due to the fact, according to the error message, that the fields were named the same. The SQL wizard is a long way from the Query Designer in MVI. While these features were troublesome, they were not the worst feature.

The concerning issue with Drumbeat is that it never lets you look under the hood. If something doesn't go right, you are clueless to find out the true HTML using Drumbeat. You can fire up Notepad or another HTML editor to look at code, but it can be quite a nuisance. If you are used to writing the code components your self , then you might be similarly distrurbed.

However, Drumbeat is a full feature application that will let the novice make a pretty sophisticated web site. It has more features than any competitor, with only a few flawed components. While I can't vouch that you can make a web site in a hour, you can make a pretty good web site.

Editor's note:
Elemental Software, the maker of Drumbeat, is an advertiser on SWYNK.COM. This doesn't impact our review, but this notice is posted in the interests of full disclosure.

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