When Adobe PageMill 1.0 shipped almost a year ago, it attempted to draw a curtain over the complexities of HTML, the markup language used to create Web pages. However, behind the tantalizing smoke and mirrors, the hard truth bespoke the fact that PageMill didn't create the sort of HTML that most people wanted, and it couldn't begin to support all the new tags and techniques that people were employing on the Web. Much has changed since PageMill 1.0 shipped, and it now has a host of direct competitors, including AOLpress 1.2.2j and Netscape's Navigator Gold 3.0, both of which shipped about ten days ago. Adobe is struggling remain competitive with PageMill 2.0, which should ship real soon now.
Press On, Press Off -- AOLpress is the updated version of GNNpress 1.1, and the grandchild of NaviPress. Anyone can download and use AOLpress free; technical support is only available to AOL or PrimeHost members. GNNpress will continue as its own product, and a new version should ship soon, based on AOLpress 1.2.2j. AOLpress works reasonably well and mainly suffers from being a Windows port that ignores many Macintosh interface standards.
All that Glitters -- Navigator Gold is Netscape's Navigator Web browser plus a WYSIWYG HTML editor. Netscape claims to intend the editor portion primarily for intranet users who don't wish to make elaborate Web pages, and the feature set certainly supports this claim. The only feature that stands out is the ability to save files directly to a server via FTP, a feature that the shipping version executes admirably for me.
Complications and Complaints -- All these WYSIWYG programs suffer from the fact that they cannot keep up with the flood of innovation hitting the Web. In the last year, the Web has seen the advent of client-side image maps, animated GIFs, ubiquitous tables, increasingly sophisticated background images, plug-ins, frames, and more. High-end Web designers will tweak their tags until the cows come home, trying to make their pages look right, despite HTML's intent as a structural language.
These WYSIWYG programs face an enormous challenge in keeping visually-oriented designers happy, and I am far from convinced that these programs do the job well, nor am I convinced that the Web is ready for the visually-oriented sites that these programs foster.
Part of why these programs foster sites made of eye candy is that these programs fail to address the needs of writers who wish to compose text in a WYSIWYG HTML editor. Web authoring tools must take advantage of lessons we've already learned in the word processing world: Styles and outlines used while composing a written work should translate directly to appropriate HTML tags. HTML editors should have glossaries, autotype, and multiple undos, as well as Find/Replace features that massage text with sophistication and speed. I know every writer has a personal list of must-have features, but so far, none of these WYSIWYG HTML editors have attempted to accommodate any writer's wish list, much less a mix of commonly requested features.
Out for a Trot -- Not everyone is following the WYSIWYG path forged by Adobe. In particular, Akimbo just shipped Globetrotter, an intriguing program. Say you write and publish a school's monthly newsletter. The school has a Web site, and you want to print and send home the newsletter with the kids, as well as post it on the Web. Globetrotter can address both needs through one document. Working in Globetrotter has a strong resemblance to working in Akimbo's FullWrite word processing program. You get writing features, plus page layout capabilities typical of a reasonably savvy word processor. Using these tools, you can ably create a school newsletter and print it out.
The $99 Globetrotter also has options for publishing Web sites, and it bases the starts and ends of pages in the site on section or page breaks in a document, depending on how you set it up. It can also create a table of contents and navigation bar to the site. You can take that same document that you printed, tweak the Web publishing options as much or as little as you know how, and then create a Web site simply by choosing a command from the File menu.
Although my impression is that Globetrotter will work best for sites that don't require deeply nested levels of linked pages, Globetrotter does support high-end Web-related options, such as extensive image map options and Java support. Globetrotter's form-creation feature even comes with a few Perl-based CGIs, designed to work on a wide variety of Web servers (you'll need to run MacPerl on a Macintosh server). Globetrotter can spit out HTML and related supporting files like GIFs and map files, but it cannot read in HTML. As an HTML-savvy person, I've found Globetrotter hard to adapt to, since the program truly means for me to make my document without worrying about the tags, unlike, say, Home Page, where, while you create a document, you create formats that have a distinct one-to-one relationship to HTML tags. We'll run a proper Globetrotter review in a future TidBITS issue; in the meantime, it will be interesting to see how people use the program.
Akimbo Systems -- 800/375-6515 -- 510/843-6888 -- 617-776-5512 (fax)
Netscape Communications -- 415/937-2555 -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Optima System -- <email@example.com>
PrimeHost/AOLpress Info -- 888/265-1111 -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>