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-- by Warren Ernst
PageMill 2.0 lets you build a Web page as easily and intuitively as you create a Word document, and you don't need to learn a single HTML tag. The PageMill beta we reviewed was missing a few of the effects and commands offered by code-based editors like HoTMetaL PRO, trading advanced features like an image editor for a WYSIWYG workspace that totally masks your Web site's HTML structure.
Unfortunately, PageMill also lacks the convenient site-management capabilities furnished by its competitors. Given that most sites now involve dozens to thousands of interconnected pages, graphics and applets, PageMill's lack of management utilities-such as link checking, batch conversion, and global search and replace-prevents it from securing a place on our WinList. (Adobe is considering a Windows version of SiteMill, which, if produced, may address some of these issues.)
PageMill does a stellar job of providing a WYSIWYG view of your page; what you see in the PageMill window closely resembles the page your Web browser displays. You design a Web page in the same fashion you would piece together a desktop publishing document. As you customize text, insert graphics and create frames, the screen immediately reflects your edits. During the process, PageMill generates HTML code in the background.
If you like, you can access a page's HTML code through PageMill's Inspector feature. Inspector's editing tools use plain-English descriptions of tag properties, but they take a more indirect approach to manipulating HTML than a tag editor like HoTMetaL PRO employs. Thus, Webmasters who eat and sleep HTML are likely to find Inspector's roundabout methods frustrating. But PageMill's WYSIWYG approach will make creating complex Web pages dramatically easier for those users who aren't familiar with HTML.
Most WYSIWYG HTML editors support only a limited set of effects and commands. PageMill fares better than many others in this regard, offering a fairly broad range of page-creation tools in addition to the standard set of text-customization, indent and bullet buttons. Sophisticated features allow you to click and drag to resize tables or reposition form elements (like radio buttons and text-entry fields). If you'd like to add HTML commands and special effects not included with PageMill, you can manually insert them into the code using Inspector. When you do, PageMill gracefully acknowledges those tags it doesn't recognize with a simple icon-unlike other programs that secretly erase any code they don't understand.
PageMill masterfully handles one of the most complicated HTML elements-tables. You use simple drag-and-drop commands to nest tables within tables and change cell padding, spacing, border thickness, alignment and coloring. Even the frequently tricky task of merging and splitting individual cells within tables works smoothly and intuitively.
While PageMill makes it simple to design pages, manage tables and frames, and place objects, this beta version is relatively crude when it comes to creating hypertext links. You must assign a link to text or an image without the assistance of a URL builder, which identifies valid URL protocols. The program also lacks a local file-selection dialog box for clicking your way through all the local files that make up a complicated site. PageMill encourages you to drag and drop existing hypertext links from your Web browser to simplify link-building, which is innovative but rarely useful.
Other minor flaws tarnish the program's sterling page-layout approach to Web page design. You can't select a specific font for your text, and the program offers no templates to get you started, nor does it provide tools to maintain consistency from page to page (such as headers or footers). In this respect, HoTMetaL is far superior, providing site-management tools, abundant sample images and templates, and ready-to-run CGI scripts. In addition, PageMill has no image-file editor. Online help is modest, consisting of a set of linked HTML files you view within PageMill itself-minimally adequate but no real substitute for a more comprehensive context-sensitive Windows help system.
Choosing between PageMill and HoTMetaL PRO boils down to defining which capabilities you're looking for, what sort of tag control you need and how many pages you must manage. If you don't want to learn HTML but do want to take advantage of nearly all of its effects, select PageMill. However, we come down in favor of HoTMetaL PRO, which retains its position on the WinList because it combines good drag-and-drop page-creation facilities with the management capabilities most sites need today.