Publish on the Web without perishing

As the responsibility for preparing information for World Wide Web pages trickles
downward from technical staff to line staff, the nontechies are demanding better ways to
deal with Web documents. 

 This demand has unleashed an industry barrage of new Hypertext Markup Language
products. Meanwhile, word processors are quietly evolving to meet the user need on this
Internet frontier. 

 Leading word processors from Corel Corp., Lotus Development Corp. and Microsoft
Corp. have integrated HTML editing and conversion programs. Can these old-timers hold
their own against slick, dedicated authoring programs like HotMetal Pro, HotDog
Professional and FrontPage 97? 

 Not likely, I thought as I began this project. 

 To find out, I tested six Web authoring products-three word processors and three
HTML editors-head to head. Each had to produce a small but complex HTML document with
text, a graphical image, a table, a form, a frame set and an imported spreadsheet. 
 


"Not fair," more than one vendor complained when I described the test.
"Our product's strength is in a different area." 

 I responded, "Of course it's not fair, but the test is equally unfair to all
the products." 

 I believe HTML authoring tools should be powerful enough for advanced users yet easy
enough for those new to the Web. Interfaces and tools should be intuitive and solve
problems faced by webmasters. 

 Frankly, I was surprised by the results. I had thought of the word processors as
underdogs in this contest, and it's true that office suites won't drive HotMetal Pro out
of the market anytime soon. But the office suite approach to HTML production enjoys a huge
advantage over the more specialized products. 

 Many of the documents on the Web today originated in conventional word processors.
Nowadays, creating a Web page in a word processor is as easy as saving the document as a
text file. You simply specify HTML format. 

 The three word processors I tested not only translate into HTML format, they
automatically convert images to Graphic Image Format (.gif) or Joint Photographic Experts
Group (.jpg) format. These are the only formats supported by Web browsers. 

 Converting word processing files is easy with these word processors, and the results
look remarkably good for simple documents. Documents with complex tables may require some
editing. If most of your Web-bound documents start as conventional word processing files,
you may find the HTML editing tools in your current software good enough. 

 It's another matter entirely to convert complex documents containing frames and
tables. Microsoft Office 97, Corel WordPerfect Suite 7 and Lotus Word Pro 97 have
integrated HTML editors.  


All give you easy interfaces for inserting hyperlinks, forms and tables. But I found
they were slower, less feature-rich and less flexible than dedicated HTML editors. 

 Microsoft Word easily handled text formatting, image import and resizing. Simple
table construction was easy, but an imported spreadsheet file needed a lot of work to make
it presentable. The Frame tool was useful, though I probably would resort to a text editor
for designing basic frames. 

 Corel's suite includes Internet server and client software in addition to HTML
tools. This review considers only the HTML features. Corel WordPerfect has somewhat better
Internet/intranet utilities than Microsoft Word, and because the Corel suite costs
one-third to one-half as much as its competitors, I gave it a Reviewer's Choice
designation. 

 Lotus Word Pro holds bragging rights to the best work group features. Lotus
SmartSuite's Team Computing functions can set document access rights and consolidate
revisions of HTML documents. I found its import filters quite powerful. Word Pro could
open Micro-soft Excel spreadsheets directly in the HTML editor, but the resulting table
required as much editing as with the other programs. 

 There are some drawbacks to word processor-generated HTML documents. Advanced
features such as frame and script wizards are either awkward or omitted entirely. But the
office suite tools might be the perfect answer for organizations with many employees who
produce documents that eventually end up online. All three suites copy pages over to Web
servers via the File Transfer Protocol.   


The three dedicated HTML authoring environments I tested require the author to select
text and then apply markup tags with assorted buttons, drop-down menus and short-cut keys.
These standalone editors are faster and more flexible than conventional word
processors. 

 The differences among the dedicated editors are greater than among the word
processors. Some dedicated editors have a WYSIWYG design environment, others require the
designer to develop Web pages in pure text. But even the most basic text HTML editors do
support one-click Web browser previewing. 

 HotDog Professional from Sausage Software Ltd. of Doncaster, Australia, comes in 16-
and 32-bit versions for Windows 3.x and Windows 95. Long a favorite among webmasters, it
had begun to show feature bloat, an often-fatal disease resulting from competitive
pressure to load on bells and whistles. 

 Then Sausage Software cleaned up the Windows 95 release of HotDog Professional by
dropping the ridiculous dog-bone toolbar and the undockable floating toolbars, while
adding functions that Web designers will use. 

 HotDog Professional easily produced my test document, but it couldn't import the
sample spreadsheet. Though essentially a text editor, HotDog has limited WYSIWYG features.
Its Page Builder tool lets you create Web documents visually using so-called
components-call it object-oriented HTML editing. The Rover is a kludged HTML WYSIWYG
viewer that some people might like. 

 HotDog's strong suit really is image manipulation. The Dynamic Image dialog lets you
label graphic images for use as buttons or image captions. A built-in converter changes
images from .gif to .jpg and vice versa. Another tool animates .gif files. The Text Effect
tool can animate text six different ways. 

 If a page loads too slowly, the Bandwidth Buster can reduce overall document
size. 

 I found it easy to work with the frame, table and script tools in HotDog
Professional, although they sometimes were counter-intuitive. An occasional trip to the
comprehensive but fragmented help file clarified things. 

 HotMetal Pro, from SoftQuad Corp. of Toronto, is a power tool that will impress
intermediate to advanced webmasters. It's flexible, powerful and has a steep learning
curve compared with the other products. The comprehensive features might intimidate new
HTML authors, but they'll become productive after a few days of persistent
experiments. 

 HotMetal Pro presents most functions in four rows of buttons for quick access. Frame
and table design features are superior. The MetalWorks image management and editing tool
comes in handy for touching up Web art. 

 HotMetal Pro is a hybrid of text-based editors and WYSIWG editors. So you can design
in a graphical environment or edit HTML directly. 

 For all its power, HotMetal Pro lacks some common features. You can't import text or
word processing files into an open HotMetal Pro document. Authors must cut material from
an open application and paste it in. 

 The conversion utility didn't work when I tried to convert Microsoft Word and
rich-text-format documents. It didn't work even with a file e-mailed to me by SoftQuad.
And you don't get the site management, remote publishing or project control tools found in
comparably priced packages.   


HotMetal Pro's strict validation procedure results in HTML error-free documents. But it
can be difficult to import older HTML material unless the documents are perfectly legal.
Most aren't, so pick another product if you work with old HTML documents. 

 Microsoft's FrontPage 97 with Bonus Pack is a complete Web publishing system
suitable for designing, developing and managing small- to medium-sized sites. The editor
is very intuitive even for a new author and as close to true WYSIWYG as you can get. The
package includes the same spell-checker, thesaurus and conversion utilities found in
Word. 

 The Bonus Pack by itself is worth the cost of FrontPage. It includes Image Composer,
an easy and innovative program for creating Web art, .gif Animator for animated graphics
and 700 pieces of royalty-free art. 

 FrontPage's script tools and frame-making wizards are so complex-that is to say,
poorly designed-that I prefer a text editor for working with these advanced features.
Table design presented no problem, but editing the imported Microsoft Excel file was
time-consuming and frustrating. 

 There comes a time with any WYSIWYG editor when the author must edit HTML directly.
FrontPage's HTML command supposedly supports direct editing but often will overwrite
modifications after parsing a document for syntax compliance. To put it mildly, this
undocumented feature can be irritating. 

 Despite such failings FrontPage is closest to meeting my ideal of ease with
power. 

 If your agency has nontechnical staff with good word processing skills, leverage
that expertise with an HTML-ready office suite. You'll get professional-looking documents
at minimal training expense. Before investing in any suite, evaluate the word processor
and its suite companions for Web value. 

 But if your Web site will feature advanced pages with tables, scripts or frames,
stick with dedicated editors. A bonus: They run on less-expensive platforms. 

 The day of HTML processors hasn't yet arrived, but it's closer than I once
thought. 


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