Sothink DHTML Menu v6.3

Reviewed by: Robert Boardman, November 2005
Published by: Sothink Software
Requires: Windows 98/Me/2000 or XP
MSRP: US$39.95, €35.95

According to the developer's site this product will build unlimited level DHTML Drop Down Menus with fully customizable text, image, font, link, tip, background color or image, icon, arrow, border, transparency and special effects. It makes menus which are compatible with most browser types including Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla, Opera, Firefox, Camino and Safari on Windows, Mac OS and Linux platforms. It can set the exact position of the menu in a page by distinguishing the contents of menu items. It can easily cross-frame menus for frame-based web sites. It can even dynamically generate drop down menus from a database by using ASP, PHP, Cold Fusion or other server side code.

The DHTML Menu developer's set has tutorials available to help the new user through some typical situations. The Intermediate level tutorials are designed to help the user work with DHTML Menu Builder and either Dreamweaver or Front Page. There are also tutorials about setting the links between various parts of a site, making menus and links that are suitable for frame-based sites and using DHTML with JSP, ASP, Cold Fusion, and PHP. The program can generate menus in English, French, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. It seems to be quite a versatile product.

The program is very easy to install or upgrade. During the test period I upgraded from v6.2 to v6.3 in less than two minutes. It takes up about 6MB on a hard drive. Despite being able to create menus compatible with a wide variety of browsers on all major operating system, the DHTML Menu program itself is only available for the Windows operating system.

The basic method of operation is a little bit idiosyncratic, but takes only a few minutes practice to get familiar with. Most Internet user are familiar with using drop down menus, but probably not with what's behind their operation. Drop down menus use JavaScript to operate. They usually have some Cascading Style Sheet features to make them attractive as well as make them work. DHTML Menu hides the building of the JavaScript and the Style Sheets from site designers and lets them concentrate on design. It does this in a number of well thought out and easy to use ways. It should be said that DHMTL Menu is not an application for people who have never made web sites before. It requires someone with some experience with site building to use it reasonably well. Many of the terms and actions in DHTML Menu made perfect sense to me only because I have experience with HTML. The program does not require you to know any JavaScript or CSS.

When started, DHTML Menu expects you to select a template to use for the menus. The program comes with an extensive collection to help you get started. Existing templates can be altered and then saved as new templates so you can build your own library of preferred styles. Once you are finished building the menus you need, you are then expected to drop the menus into an existing site or web page. At that point, DHTML Menu works its magic and builds the internal code and the external files needed for the menus to operate (including the HTML code needed for the HTML page you are designing). DHTML Menu builds a series of JavaScript files and puts them in the same folder as the page or site. When the page or site is uploaded to your web server or hosting company, these JavaScript files must also be uploaded to the same relative location as they were on the developer's hard drive.

It is these JavaScript files that are the source of my only frustration with DHTML Menu. One of the reasons I wanted to review this program was to learn more about building drop down menus. Unfortunately, I could not learn anything by looking at the DHTML Menu JavaScript files except that Sothink has protected their product reasonably well. The JavaScript files seem to be keywords followed by arrays of values that must mean something to the other bits of code but nothing to me.

DHTML Menu does its job well. It is easy to use, has a standard, straight forward interface, and integrates well with commercial and freeware HTML editors as well as with a variety of scripting languages and back ends. If you are an intermediate level (or better) web site designer who uses different styles of drop down menus regularly, DHTML Menu will save you development time and effort for a very reasonable price.





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