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6/96 Reviews: Web Authoring Tools

Complete listing of June 1996 reviews

What's Hot!

Head to Head:

Four Web Editors to Set Your Sites On

WebEdit 1.4c

Spider 1.1,

HotDog Pro 2.0

Web Publisher 1.1

By Cynthia Morgan, Reviews Editor, Software; Tom LaSusa, Associate CD Editor; Paul E. Schindler Jr., CD Editor; and Paul Silverman, Webmaster

(Editor's Note: The WinMag Box Score: rates products on installation, usability, supporting materials, functionality, performance and utility. Our overall ratings follow this scale: 5,Outstanding or breakthrough product, best of its kind; 4, Exceeds expectations, superior to most competing products; 3, Works well, meets all our expectations, no major problems; 2, Has serious difficulties or limitations; 1, Has critical flaws. A list of recommended products follows the Reviews section.)

Scratch the surface of any graphical Web page, and you'll find lines of code every bit as incomprehensible as the geekiest programming language. It's difficult to escape HTML, the heart of every Web site, but today's authoring tools are making it increasingly palatable for novices.

We checked out four new Web editors: WebEdit 1.4c, Spider 1.1, HotDog Pro 2.0 and Web Publisher 1.1. Your first introduction to them will probably come from trying the free evaluation copy downloadable from each company's Web site. These are full, working copies, and they're among the best software bargains around since they allow you to try each package for a limited time before you buy-something we strongly recommend.

All programs installed smoothly and let us create a rudimentary Web page within minutes. Most require that you have a Web browser installed, although Spider comes with its own version of NCSA's Mosaic browser (you can, of course, substitute your own).

Split personalities

Two of the programs, WebEdit and HotDog Pro, offer a split-screen mode where you can work in the editor and interactively preview the results in a non-editing window. The shape of the preview isn't right for creating a screen-sized page, but it's still a nice way to quickly catch silly mistakes. HotDog Pro's previews tended to be more accurate than WebEdit's.

Spider also splits the screen, but its WYSIWYG side is fully editable, with a second window of tag lists in plain English. In fact, it's difficult to find Spider's HTML code-the command to display it is buried in menus-which may frustrate experienced coders. Despite its up-front editing feature, novices using Spider alongside one of the many good HTML tutorials available on the Internet will likely be bewildered by missing terminology. Worse, its hiding of code for simpler HTML makes the times you really need to code about as much fun as going from a warm bed to a cold shower.

WebEdit's chief selling points include its well-categorized menus of HTML code groups, including sections for tables and forms that make it easy not just to add these elements but to edit them, too. But the program lacks several Windows 95 niceties, such as browse buttons in file menus and customizable button bars like those in HotDog Pro. Like HotDog, WebEdit lets you add your own custom tags, or combinations of existing tags, to menus-a real time-saver.

The Web's dynamic nature guarantees that links change, files vanish and a Webmaster's life is one maintenance headache after another, but the right HTML editor can help ease the pain. WebEdit's simple global search-and-replace, which is reminiscent of Microsoft Word's, can be a great help when a frequently called URL changes. Spider's element-sensitive search-and-replace within a single file lets you search only, say, HEADING1 elements. HotDog Pro's multi-file, multi-element search-and-replace is even more powerful, since you can simultaneously replace several phrases in several files. The one drawback is that it's an all-or-nothing replace, which can be pretty scary if you haven't been backing up your files regularly.

Spider's greatest strength is page maintenance; it offers several page and file organizers. HotDog Pro, from the programmers' school of maintenance, adds debugger-like tools. Clicking a button lets you jump to specific lines, for example, and you can convert absolute links to relative ones, and vice versa, with a single mouse click. There's also a somewhat complex Project Manager that tracks groups of Web page files. Although WebEdit has great maintenance potential, it balks at opening pages larger than 32KB, a serious limitation that should be relieved by the release of a new 32-bit version of the program later this year.

Commercial Web sites are particularly apt to draw their content from existing documents. All four editors offer some degree of document conversion, but turning almost any electronic file into good-looking HTML is Web Publisher's meat and potatoes. This program quickly and intelligently guesses the meaning of typographical conventions, even if the original author never heard of <BLOCKQUOTE>. The software can create inter-file links, based on the order of the files you set up, at the top and bottom of each file. And it can set up intra-file links to speed navigation within a file, adding them during the conversion process or in HTML created with other tools.

Lost - and found

Getting lost is a major problem with hypertext documents, yet most authors scrimp on the normally difficult task of building navigational links. Web Publisher goes a long way toward solving the problem, since it can create tables of contents for one or more files. When we set up pages for the online and CD-ROM versions of WINDOWS Magazine in Web Publisher, we can create intra-file, inter-file and master table-of-contents links for 500KB of HTML (usually about 25 files) in less than two minutes. It takes another hour to reformat the master TOC, a surprisingly simple task given its scope.

Online help gives Web authoring-tool developers a chance to show off their own page-creation skills, and the programs we examined include superb electronic documentation. They back it up with additional tutorials and templates at their own Web sites, but often at the expense of the paper variety. HotDog Pro's online help offers everything from extensive HTML tutorials to explanations of the finer points of "Netiquette,"- but its manual simply recapitulates a small part of that. Spider's manual, a paltry 16-page "getting started"- guide, is nearly useless, while the program offers reasonable electronic help plus even better stuff on its Web site. WebEdit, too, saves the best of its help for its Web pages, linking to some of the best tutorials on the Internet. The product's tool tips are especially clever: The program not only displays the tool's name, but often hints at why it's there. Besides its excellent online documentation, Web Publisher's technical support is particularly valuable.

Web Publisher and WebEdit offer a simple page-creation wizard with a few images, links and some text, although not as extensive as what you'll find in, say, Netscape Navigator Gold. (currently in late beta; see review in this issue) All offer a minimal HTML template to get you started. Spider's collection of templates, while a bit difficult to reach, is especially nice. HotDog Pro doesn't include sample templates, but it lets you build and save your own.

As we know from sad experience, it's no fun to create beautiful Web pages only to discover that their marquees can't be viewed in Netscape, or that your carefully organized frames appear as blank areas in Explorer. And while you can use non-HTML 2.0 extensions in these editors, you may not be able to preview the results.

A good editor will help verify nonstandard code before it goes live on your Web site, since the World Wide Web has a bad habit of finding errors.

Spider automatically verifies HTML code as it opens a document, or during the editing process. It may take an experienced HTML coder to figure out what error codes mean, however, and the program will mark as errors those tags it doesn't specifically support. Since HTML is practically as dynamic as the Web itself, you may waste a bunch of time tracking down nonexistent problems. Hot Dog's context checker, while less extensive than Spider's, is potentially more useful; HotDog's makers, Anawave Software/Sausage Software, will release a series of downloadable add-ons for code verification in the coming months.

HotDog also color-codes HTML 2.0, the forthcoming HTML 3.0, Internet Explorer and Netscape tags, and lets you create your own unique tags to boot. It would be nice, however, if HotDog included another tag color for less-capable browsers such as America Online's early versions.

All of these Web editors offer good, basic page creation as well as some special strengths; deciding which package works best for you depends in large part on the content of your Web site. Spider's insistence on hiding nasty HTML code doesn't always make it easier to use, but its excellent code-checking and organizational tools make it a good choice for page maintenance, especially for large Web sites when more than one Webmeister regularly adds-and subtracts-content. WebEdit's careful explanations, clever tools and home page wizard make it an excellent choice for beginners, but it is hamstrung by its current 32KB file limit.

Web Publisher's conversion ability alone makes it a Recommended tool for those who need to rapidly convert existing documents to HTML format. The most expensive tool reviewed, it will be overkill for many new Web authors. But it's unequaled in its ability to whip massive amounts of text and graphics into indexed pages.

HotDog Pro gets our Recommended nod for its power and all-around ease of use. An excellent package for novices and professionals alike, it pulls together just about every tool you'll need for effective Web page creation.

Info File
WebEdit 1.4c
Pros: Good for novices
Cons: 32KB file limit
Platforms: Windows 95,3.1x, NT
Disk space: 5MB
Nesbitt Software/Knowledge Works
619-220-8026, fax 619-220-8324
WinMag Box Score 2.5

Spider 1.1
$79 (street)
Pros: Page-maintenance tools
Cons: Learning curve; nonstandard editor
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x (Win32s), NT
Disk space: 8MB
RAM: 4MB(8MB recommended)
InContext Corp.
800-263-0127, 416-922-0087
WinMag Box Score 3.0

HotDog Pro 2.0
Pros: Editing tools; online help
Cons: Document conversion; graphics library
Platforms:Windows 95,3.1x, NT
Disk space: 7MB
Anawave Software/Sausage Software
800-711-6030, 714-250-7259
WinMag Box Score 4.5

Web Publisher 1.1
Pros: Truly automatic; navigational aids
Cons: Some functions hard to find
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x
Disk space: 3.5MB
RAM: 500KB
SkiSoft Publishing Corp.
800-662-3622, 617-863-1876
WinMag Box Score 4.0
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