When it comes to Web development, you don’t want to fall behind the technology curve, and you want the best tool available for the job. We recently asked our members to name their favorite Web development tool in a TechRepublic Quick Poll. According to the results, one-third of our members liked Macromedia Dreamweaver above all else. You also had an affinity for Microsoft Visual Studio, which received 19 percent of the vote. In this article, I’ll peer into my crystal ball and take a closer look at those two tools and attempt to predict what’s in the future for each. But first, we’ve got some “Other” business to resolve.

Exploring the “Other”
Puzzlingly, the most popular answer to our poll question was “Other,” which earned 34 percent of the votes:

The ever popular “Other”?

We don’t like mysteries here at TechRepublic, and the predominance of “Other” responses to our poll seemed strange to us. Is there a Web development tool out there that a lot of our members are using that wasn’t in that poll, or is there a conceptual problem with the term “Web development tool”? By that, we meant tools that developers use to build Web-based applications, not Web-authoring tools such as FrontPage. Tell us what you think by posting to the discussion: Did we miss something, or was there just a lot of confusion?

Visual Studio: Cloudy future, steep requirements
With Microsoft Visual Studio‘s Visual Interdev tool, you get a first-class application development studio. For better or worse, Microsoft’s development tools focus on making things as easy as possible for the developer, and Interdev is no exception. It is certainly capable of turning out impressive Web applications.

The downside to Visual Studio is twofold. First, to make the most of an application created with it, a developer typically must be running a set of Microsoft applications on the back end. Whether it’s SQL Server, Internet Information Server, or Transaction Server, Microsoft products all tend to play nicer with each other than with similar products from other vendors. I’m not indicting Microsoft for this; it’s in any company’s best interest to do business this way. I’m simply stating a commonly held assumption by many in our industry, a situation that some find troublesome.

Second, there is the matter of Microsoft’s .NET initiative. It could either be a huge success or a colossal flop—it’s too early to tell. Whatever its reception may be, .NET promises to greatly change Web development on Planet Microsoft and ensures a whole round of software updates for those who plan to implement it. In our current economic climate, that might be a hard sell to make to a client. The short answer to all this is: Now may not be the best time to be tied to Microsoft.

Macromedia: Web powerhouse to be?
Macromedia Dreamweaver has long been a favorite authoring tool among Web designers, especially when coupled with the company’s Fireworks graphics program. Dreamweaver is probably the closest thing you’ll find to a true WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) HTML generator.

Recently, Macromedia began positioning Dreamweaver at the front end of their UltraDev application development system. This makes Dreamweaver one of those products that bridges the gap between Web page authoring tool and application development tool. It is capable of generating pages in Active Server Pages (ASP), Java Server Pages (JSP), PHP, and Cold Fusion Markup Language (CFML) formats, which should make Dreamweaver UltraDev very popular as well.

When Macromedia acquired Allaire, makers of the ColdFusion Web application server, the company began bundling Dreamweaver, UltraDev, and ColdFusion into a Web development suite. Gartner analyst Rochele Shaw says that the acquisition of Allaire and the absorption of its product line promises to move Macromedia “to the position of a leader in the Web application development tools market, in addition to its leading place in the Web authoring market.” So keep an eye on Macromedia’s ColdFusion UltraDev Studio, boys and girls.

Each product has its pros and cons, but Dreamweaver seems to have a slightly stronger market position. If .NET is a success, that could change, but I foresee that Macromedia has the edge for now.