Macworld Expo put many HTML editor vendors on the floor within the same square mile, making it possible to compare their latest and greatest offerings. The editors that caught my eye and made the biggest splash were those offering free object placement. In currently shipping HTML editors like Adobe PageMill 2.0 and Claris Home Page 2.0, you can't place page elements with abandon on a page. For instance, if you insert a graphic in a new document, you must place that graphic at the upper left. You can center or right-align the image, but to place it lower on the page, you must first press Return multiple times, which may work out awkwardly if you later wish to add items above the graphic. With free placement, you can insert a graphic in a new document any place you wish.
Programs supporting free placement include the next version of GoLive Pro 1.1, which will be called GoLive CyberStudio and ship in March for a suggested retail price of $349. (The company that makes GoLive has changed its name from gonet to GoLive Systems.) The $495 NetObjects Fusion 1.0 by NetObjects also supports free placement.
Both programs employ tables to allow free placement down to (if I recall correctly) the pixel level. I'm not thrilled about this trend, though it strikes me as inevitable. I don't like it because the HTML code that these products generate (whether it's "correct" or not) is impossible for all but experts to understand. In the past, most HTML implementations have been simple enough that a wide user base could work with them. Now, we are moving into a realm where only experts will be able to modify code, making normal users as clueless as they were back in the days of trying to modify PostScript text and almost as powerless as we are now when a word processing document goes bad. Still, this is a price that many people are willing to pay, and these products both demo well and include advanced site management features. In particular, CyberStudio gets major kudos for continuing GoLive Pro 1.1's gorgeous interface, and Fusion strikes me as particularly emphasizing site management. Notably, Fusion can automatically generate navigation bars that update as you rearrange site items.
But There's More -- Web designers who love the idea of free placement, but whose proclivities tend toward multimedia, will definitely wish to check out Coda, an HTML editor written entirely in Java by RandomNoise. Slated to ship in the first quarter of this year, the $495 Coda creates Web pages consisting primarily of Java code, with free placement of page elements as well a variety of animations and widgets, all of which can be set up without knowing a lick of Java. In the demo I saw, the presenter created a button that switched an animation on and off. The animation consisted of an object moving smoothly between key frames on the page. Because the created page did not present its text through HTML, the presenter was also able to use somewhat sophisticated typography. Pages created in Coda are viewable only in Java-savvy browsers.
And Still More -- The HTML editor world continues to explode. Two products that I spent time with at the show were Visual Page and FrontPage. Symantec demoed the $99.95 Visual Page 1.0, which on the surface looks like a "me-too" version of Home Page, but without the maturity that Home Page is rapidly gaining. Microsoft's $149 FrontPage 1.0 for Macintosh should ship in the first quarter of this year, and I took the FrontPage class at Microsoft's Expo booth. The product helps you make Web pages and offers site management features. I was honestly expecting to like it, since I was impressed with Vermeer's demo of FrontPage a year ago, before Microsoft gained ownership. Given my expectations I was disappointed to find that FrontPage is a classic 1.0-style Microsoft product with an interface only a Microsoft Office junky could love. I was particularly distressed with the program's cumbersome table support, given the fact that Microsoft has had plenty of time to look at its competition.
I know there are other worthy programs out there that I haven't mentioned; still, I hope this article gave you a taste of what was available for sampling at the Expo.