Databases to the Tune of a Drumbeat

Hands On

For many companies, reacting to the fast growth of the Internet has been bogged down by the difficulty of getting data onto the Web. Tools like FrontPage have come a long way toward solving this problem, but no solution has brought relief to the tricks and traps of database programming on the Web.

Enter Drumbeat 2000 from Elemental Software. The product not only solves this problem but it does so in style. Drumbeat 2000 enables the creation of database driven sites that many novices would love to do. Improved from the previous Drumbeat 2.0 version, Drumbeat 2000 includes SQL and Access database integration along with a host of ODBC drivers. The 2000 version also includes the Personal Web Server and Internet Explorer 4.01 SP1, which is required for preview and local publishing.

Drumbeat 2000’s database integration provides for full field validation, dynamic HTML checking, and one of the best ODBC connection tools we’ve ever seen. Drumbeat 2000 is capable of publishing to Netscape FastTrack and Enterprise servers, Lotus Domino, O’Reilly WebSite Pro, and Apache using Chili!Soft’s Chili!ASP extensions for Unix.

The systems and network used to test Drumbeat 2000 was comprised of an existing Microsoft NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 4 installed, running on a dual processor Pentium 233MMX with 224 MB of memory and an 8.4 GB disk drive. This server sits on a switched 100 Mbps fiber optic Ethernet backbone, with users located on the other side of a Cisco 2514 router.

We experienced some glitches during the installation that were related to some of the Microsoft tools included with the product, but this had little to do with Drumbeat itself. We ultimately installed Drumbeat 2000 without all the Microsoft tools and used our own local Internet Information Server 3.0 Web server for publishing data.

The installation took 10 minutes, and was clear with concise instructions. Drumbeat is one of the few products we’ve ever installed that did this much for so little, and presented so few hassles.

The key for any application is how well it does the job it advertises. When you sweep the marketing aside, Drumbeat 2000 still has a lot of substance remaining. This product includes tools and features such as Active Server Page code generation, COM/DCOM compatibility, and good database connectivity without programming. It includes a feature called SmartWizards, a collection of menus used to guide and direct new connections and database driven applications creation.

To test the tool, we built a Web site that would analyze our SQL Server databases, which includes several tables used for accounting purposes. Without ever leaving Drumbeat’s application, we created ODBC connections, defined SQL queries and record sets and then created an HTML file for viewing the results of the query.

All of this development was done in less than 30 minutes from the time we began installing the product. The potential problems of programming databases and extending them to the Web can seem daunting, but Drumbeat clearly proves it is both possible and easy. We then published the files via FTP to the Web server much as conventional Unix Web servers do.

Using FTP differs from the typical FrontPage practice of directly editing server files, which some publishers find dangerous.

One limitation of Drumbeat is its reliance on Microsoft-based tools. We’d love to see Drumbeat offered on Linux or Sun Solaris, not just on Microsoft environments. Such extensions would throw Drumbeat into a new category of its own. The workstation requirement of a 200 MHz Pentium processor shouldn’t be an issue for modern desktops, but some older systems could struggle to run Drumbeat 2000 because it is a complex tool -- at least under the hood.

Some new Web masters who don’t yet know about the agony of database programming may find Drumbeat’s benefits less revolutionary. Drumbeat 2000 presents perhaps the best solution set for interactive database driven Web sites that we’ve seen to date. The tools are clear, complete and a pleasure to use. We struggled to find some deficiency to knock Drumbeat on, but our only criticism is what took Elemental Software so long. We give this product a thumbs up and heartily recommend it.

Drumbeat 2000
Elemental Software
Carlsbad, Calif.
(760) 931-7171

+ Easy to install
+ Powerful, speeds development
+ Requires little or no knowledge about database programming

- Relies heavily on Microsoft technologies
- Not available for non-Microsoft platforms

Price: $399, with limited introductory price of $249

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