Advertising often promises more than it delivers, so we weren't surprised to see Macromedia push UltraDev from version 1.0 to 4.0 with minimal enhancement. Macromedia claims that the version jump will keep its main Web building product line--Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and UltraDev--on a similar development track. The theory makes sense, and UltraDev 4.0 does offer a ton of great new features, but most are merely Dreamweaver's new tools in a different package. Only UltraDev's new extensibility additions and Live Objects are unique. Advertising often promises more than it delivers, so we weren't surprised to see Macromedia push UltraDev from version 1.0 to 4.0 with minimal enhancement. Macromedia claims that the version jump will keep its main Web building product line--Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and UltraDev--on a similar development track. The theory makes sense, and UltraDev 4.0 does offer a ton of great new features, but most are merely Dreamweaver's new tools in a different package. Only UltraDev's new extensibility additions and Live Objects are unique.
On Dreamweaver's coattails
A couple of other features are nice for visual Web page development but aren't as relevant to building dynamic pages. UltraDev's Fireworks integration, which lets you jump between applications smoothly, makes graphic editing easier. Plus, the Flash Buttons object lets you quickly insert animated buttons, although it hasn't been integrated with the UltraDev Server Behaviors for navigating between records. (It's not difficult, however, to manually assign a Behavior to a Flash button.) UltraDev's Server Behaviors themselves are standard scripts that you can add to a page; they do things such as building database record navigation or determining how many records each page displays.
Dreamweaver UltraDev's extensible interface is a big plus. In fact, UltraDev 4.0 includes a tool for building and editing new Server Behaviors, either manually or by copying them from a page. Once they're saved, you can use them in any other page. The tool is basic but useful, and its simple interface makes it easy to add necessary elements.
Live Objects, another new UltraDev-specific feature, is essentially a friendlier form of Server Behaviors. This tool allows you to create a master list page with a linked Detail page and to create Add and Modify pages for database records. We criticized UltraDev 1.0 for poorly integrating the Server Behaviors into the Dreamweaver interface. That problem hasn't been fixed, but Live Objects fits the interface much better--you can access them either via the Insert menu or from the Objects toolbar. Macromedia says it will deliver more Live Objects over the Internet as they become available.
Because some Live Objects mimic Server Behaviors, it seems that Macromedia could dump the latter in favor of the former. The Server Behaviors interface doesn't measure up to the standards set by other Macromedia products, while the Live Objects are much more nicely integrated with other elements that can be added to your Web pages in the UltraDev environment. Another interface unique to UltraDev, the Data Bindings panel, is also less than elegant, and it would be nice to see Macromedia integrate it with the site management panel.
Go ahead and upgrade
The new Dreamweaver features, plus the extensibility added to UltraDev, make the whole package very powerful. If you build in an environment with database-driven Web sites, and you're fairly comfortable with some of the less visual aspects of Web building, you will find UltraDev indispensable. It still writes only ASP, JSP, and CFML, so it doesn't yet address other major server-side languages, but it shouldn't be long before PHP and Perl modules are written. We think some of the interface panels could be improved, but the functionality is solid.