Spinning the Web Part 4: CyberStudio
If you read earlier sections of this series (which began in TidBITS-384), you know the ins and outs of text-oriented Web publishing tools as well as low-end visual tools that work much like simple word processors. Both types work well for certain tasks, but neither type is the cat’s pajamas for Web publishing. Today we’ll look at CyberStudio 1.1 from GoLive Systems, a hot new release that draws its strengths from the text and the visual camps, plus adds high-end features.
Puppy Love — Here at TidBITS, we sometimes use the phrase "demos well." That means a product sounds wonderful and looks great initially, but may have flaws that reveal themselves once we try it at home. With its elegant, attractive interface and multiplicity of key features, CyberStudio decidedly demos well.
CyberStudio also makes a great first impression. The ReadMe file says where, exactly, all parts of CyberStudio will end up when installed. The printed manual is attractive and professional, unlike most cobbled-together manuals found in this hurry-up-and-ship era. The section that covers CyberStudio’s color palettes (RGB, Apple, CMYK, 216-Web-safe, and more) is printed in color on glossy paper, and the shipping package includes a card noting major incompatibilities. (Irv at CyberStudio tech support said some people run RAM Doubler without problems, but others must turn it off to use CyberStudio. Running CyberStudio with Adobe Type Reunion results in CyberStudio pop-up menus appearing with many garbage characters.)
Launching CyberStudio brings up a tabbed document window with the Layout tab active. In the lower right corner, there’s a pop-up menu for matching the window size to a few common browser widths. Other tabs switch the window to other views. Above the document window sits a closable basic toolbar. A tabbed palette (called Palette) holds icons representing items you might want to add to a page or site, such as a table or META tag. There’s also an Inspector palette, which is used to customize items dragged in from the Palette.
Two problems with the interface may trouble you. CyberStudio has a profusion of windows and palettes, and I found that my two-monitor setup was none too large. The program would function more fluidly with palette and window management options. Second, CyberStudio takes drag & drop to an extreme that makes for extra dragging, something RSI-prone people will want to avoid. For example, items on the Palette cannot be clicked for insertion at the insertion point or added by way of a keyboard shortcut; they must be physically dragged onto the page.
Viewing the HTML — There’s nothing like real-world projects to reveal flaws in any product, and importing a page from the upcoming redesign of the TidBITS Web site brought out a big one: we’ve designed our site with paired paragraph tags; that is, each paragraph begins with a <P> tag and ends with a </P>. CyberStudio only uses the start <P> tag and modifies imported HTML documents accordingly, and thus slightly changes the vertical spacing in some instances.
CyberStudio’s Source tab most directly imitates the HTML views in software we looked at last week; it uses syntax coloring to distinguish tags from text, and the font and style is somewhat customizable. Previous visual editors that we’ve looked at require users to type almost every tag from scratch in HTML view. CyberStudio doesn’t suffer from this limitation; anything it has a command for in the Layout tab also works in the Source tab. For example, to insert a Submit button in Source view, you just drag in the Submit Button item from the Palette. CyberStudio responds by inserting the appropriate HTML. Unfortunately, the Source display cannot wrap text, so long paragraphs expand well past the right edge of the window.
If working in the Source tab isn’t structured enough, you can also work in the Outline tab, which displays HTML in a collapsible outline, with tags displayed as tiles containing pop-up menus. These menus enable you to add attributes (like the size of a table border), which then also display in the tiles. The Outline tab works with a customizable database, and you can add tags to the database, plus customize attributes.
To Pixel or Not To Pixel — At first glance, the Layout tab works much like the Edit views in the lower-end visual tools. You can type text and insert media elements like graphics and movies, but you can’t drag items around freely. This makes for human-readable HTML, a concern I noted in the first article of this series. However, if pixel-perfect placement overwhelms concerns about comprehensible HTML, you can drag in a layout grid from the Palette. The grid can be all or only part of a page, and items can be dragged about freely on the grid, much as they would in a desktop publishing program. By giving users a choice about using or not using a desktop publishing metaphor, CyberStudio accommodates a wide range of users and tasks.
Although the grid provides pixel-perfect placement, it doesn’t replace tables for some pages – if you need a 5 by 5 table with specific cell dimensions, a table will be faster, since the grid doesn’t easily give location information as you position objects (I would like the grid to work with a ruler or a status bar showing location coordinates). You can get around this to some degree by placing layout grids inside table cells – you use the table to set a skeleton of known dimension and then do visually oriented layouts within the skeleton.
Given the grid’s inability to show exactly where items are placed, it’s disappointing that CyberStudio doesn’t top some of its low-end competitors when it comes to regular table making. On the plus side, you can Option-drag cell borders to resize the table, and the tabling commands are not buried in a modal dialog box, so formatting goes reasonably quickly. On the minus side, for the most part, cells must be formatted individually, as must the text within each cell. For intense table work, Symantec Visual Page is a better product.
CyberStudio’s Frame tab is easy to use, and there’s even a whole tab on the Palette for dragging in different frameset configurations. Visual Page and Adobe PageMill stand up well to CyberStudio in the framing arena; they both display frames within the frameset, a feature that CyberStudio lacks. That is, in CyberStudio (much as in Claris Home Page), you can see the skeleton of a frameset, but cannot see pages that should show in the frames. You can try a frameset by switching out to the browser preview, which has a default browser option or can switch to any browser installed on your computer.
Live Media — You can include any plug-in file on a page created in CyberStudio, and you can preview it live if you place its plug-in application in CyberStudio’s Plug-ins folder (though the release notes discourage use of the Shockwave plug-in). In this respect, CyberStudio resembles PageMill 2.0, and in a previous article in this series I overlooked this fact. CyberStudio can also play Java applets.
Gobs of Features — I haven’t nearly covered every CyberStudio feature. Two others of particular note are support for AppleScript (complete with printed documentation) and for WorldScript. One feature that’s lacking is a spelling checker. In a feature checklist war, CyberStudio generally dominates the products I’ve highlighted in this series. However, CyberStudio isn’t really in the same sandbox with these products. It doesn’t work on 68K Macs and costs a few hundred dollars more. Plus, it has extensive visual site management features that move it into the arena of site-oriented software like Adobe SiteMill (which now ships with PageMill), NetObjects Fusion, and Microsoft FrontPage. Text-oriented site-focused tools also exist, most notably Userland Frontier. I’ll look at all this software, plus the site management portion of CyberStudio starting in the next installment of this series.
More on the Cost — CyberStudio Pro has a suggested retail price of $349, and the street price appears to be just under $300. (Academic pricing is set at $149.) Those who purchase between 17-Jun-97 and 30-Jul-97 will receive a coupon for a $100 cross-grade rebate, available to owners of Adobe PageMill or SiteMill, NetObjects Fusion, Symantec Visual Page, Claris Home Page, and Microsoft Front Page. If you registered a copy of golive Pro 1.x, you can also take advantage of a $20 "loyalty" rebate.
Overall, despite the weaknesses I’ve noted, CyberStudio does a fabulous job of combining many oft-requested features in a pleasant working environment. You can give it a test run by downloading a 3.7 MB 30-day trial version from the GoLive Web site.
CyberStudio requires a PowerPC-based Macintosh running System 7.5.5 or later and 8 MB free application RAM, with 12 MB or 16 MB recommended, depending on which GoLive documentation you happen to be reading.
GoLive Systems — 800/554-6638 — 415/463-1580 — <[email protected]>