Web Tool Will Please Designers

SAN FRANCISCO (07/27/2000) - The main strength of SoftPress Systems Ltd.'s Freeway has always been its close adherence to the QuarkXPress interface, making it easy for designers and desktop publishers to transfer their layout and design skills to the Web. With version 3.0, the program offers easier integration with other graphics programs, more and better JavaScript-based Actions, and improved site management. Although Freeway will delight designers, the fact that it still prevents easy access to the underlying HTML code will likely disappoint Web professionals.

Change Is Only Skin Deep

Freeway 3.0 hasn't changed dramatically from the previous version. A site created in Freeway is still based on master pages containing elements -- such as banners and navigation bars -- that are shared across the site's pages. As in XPress, you draw boxes that act as containers for text, graphics, and multimedia and can snap to guides or grids, letting you align page elements easily.

The HTML Rectangle tool lets you create boxes to hold normal body text, which you import either with the Import command or by dragging and dropping text from the Finder or another application. Other tools let you link and unlink long text flows between text boxes, and Inspector palettes give you fine control over page, text, and graphic elements.

Freeway remains the leading Web editor in terms of typographic control -- for example, you can still convert styled, editable text into a GIF or JPEG, which Freeway automatically antialiases against the page's background color. The program also supports Cascading Style Sheets, giving you great typographic control over HTML text. Unfortunately, Freeway still doesn't generate external style sheets for entire sites. In version 2.0, we found that omission inconvenient; in version 3.0, it's inexplicable.

The most touted new feature is speedier handling of large files. Freeway does feel more responsive than it did in the past, though it still took us about 20 seconds to open a 650-page site on a G4/400. (Because Freeway now keeps all of a site's elements in one document rather than in separate HTML and image files, it can manage those elements within its own file structure instead of reading the individual elements from disk.) Freeway's new Rollover Editor makes it a snap to create rollover JavaScript Actions, and the new internal JavaScript interpreter can create Actions for such tasks as building DHTML menus and automating features within Freeway.

Freeway now lets you place QuickTime movies, Flash animations, and images in PNG format; you can also import Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator files directly and use Photoshop scanner plug-ins to import images right into your pages.

Unfortunately, Freeway lacks a feature like Macromedia Dreamweaver's tracing image -- a surprising absence, given the program's design focus.

Freeway 3.0 offers improved site management by giving you a visual display of how your pages link together and by checking your links. But it still lacks file synchronization and a check-in, check-out feature like Dreamweaver's, making Freeway a poor choice for sites maintained by multiple developers.

Import Woes

Freeway 3.0 also falls short when it comes to importing existing Web sites.

Because the program doesn't interpret HTML properly, it often moves imported page elements from their original positions. For rollovers, Freeway imports only the main image; you must import the missing images and re-create the rollovers using Freeway's own tools. And the program doesn't apply imported Cascading Style Sheets, playing havoc with existing sites that use them. The manual warns that some modification is to be expected, but for larger sites, the effort required simply to get the imported site back to its original shape is prohibitive.

Freeway 3.0 produces decent-quality HTML code, but Freeway-generated pages, which claim in their DOCTYPE header tags that they're HTML 4.0 compliant, fail to pass the World Wide Web Consortium's validation test. Because of the hands-off way the program creates HTML, you can't use Freeway to create sites that fully comply with Web standards. Dreamweaver at least lets you tweak and fix noncompliant code in HTML mode; Freeway doesn't give you that option.

FREEWAY 3.0

PROS:Easy learning curve for QuarkXPress users; improved JavaScript Actions; easier integration of graphic and multimedia files into Web sites.

CONS:Poor importing of existing sites; produces noncompliant code; limited access to underlying HTML.

List Price:$299

COMPANY:800/853-6454, SoftPress Systems

Advice:If you're a QuarkXPress maven, if you consider yourself a designer first and foremost, and if you never want to deal with underlying HTML code, Freeway 3.0 is the Web editor for you. The program excels when it comes to designing new sites, but its importing problems make it the wrong tool for maintaining existing ones or for building sites with lots of dynamic content.

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