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To Home Page and Back Again

Just when I thought it was safe to review Claris Home Page 3.0, Claris’s software for creating Web sites, Claris disbanded, giving much of its software to Apple but taking FileMaker and Home Page along for a ride in a new company called FileMaker, Inc. (For more details, see "Claris to Restructure as FileMaker, Inc." in TidBITS-415.). Home Page 3.0 stands out for its FileMaker integration and its overall interface and features, particularly for Web authoring where you don’t require high-end features like cascading style sheets, site management, or serious JavaScript assistance.



I run Home Page on two computers: a Power Computing Power 100 with a 100 MHz PowerPC 601 and 40 MB of RAM, and a Performa 6360 with a 160 MHz PowerPC 603 and 56 MB of RAM. Speed and responsiveness are never problematic on either machine.

As a Home Page 1.0 user, I suffered from many of the program’s foibles: version 1.0 wouldn’t display background graphics, even in preview mode; tables sometimes displayed strangely in Netscape Navigator; and frame support was missing, though at the time, I didn’t care. The one thing that worked well was overall table support.

Tables enable you to place items on a Web page anywhere you like within the grid structure created by the table’s cells. Without tables (and now, high-end, stylesheet-based positioning) your HTML layout options are fairly limited. When Home Page 1.0 came out, I loved using tables, especially because I didn’t know a lick of HTML – I was just a babe in the Web woods wanting to use that 2 MB of space that my ISP gave me. [Like many people who explored HTML during the heady youth of the Web, Michael is now a professional webmaster. -Tonya]

The Competition — Little did I know the monster that my Web authoring hobby would become. Since my first brush with Home Page, I’ve tried many WYSIWYG HTML editors and found flaws in all. For this review, though, I was particularly concerned with how Home Page 3.0 would stack up to its most direct competitors, Adobe PageMill and Symantec Visual Page. I wondered if Home Page could replace PageMill and Visual Page in my heart and alias list.

Adobe PageMill 2.0 has a great overall feature set, but its table-cell selection routine is extremely awkward. Because PageMill was the first visual editor available, it is still the standard by which basic Web authoring software is measured. Symantec’s Visual Page has been my overall favorite, especially with the recent 1.1.1 upgrade, though I wish it had beefier site management features. It combines Home Page’s nice interface with PageMill’s well-rounded features and adds font specification capabilities.



[For in-depth reviews of these and other Web authoring programs, check out my "Spinning the Web" series from mid-1997. -Tonya]


Orientation — I was surprised to find that both the Mac OS and the Windows versions of Home Page came on one CD-ROM. The surprises continued when I discovered that version 3.0 wanted to consume over 62 MB of disk space. It turned out that the application takes about 5 MB of space – the rest is optional clip art and templates, as well as help-related files.

Although I don’t care much personally for the templates and clip art, those who are new to page layout may find them valuable. The clip art is above average in quality and the templates provide a broad range of starting points, including calendars, kids’ pages, and business sites.

My final surprise was the lack of a printed manual. Instead, I found 9 MB of online help and 17 MB worth of assistants – more help than would have fit on early hard disks. So much for curling up on the couch with the manual. Luckily, the online material is clear, well done, and printable.

To start a new Web page, you launch Home Page or use the New command as well as templates and assistants as required. You can also define a site folder and use an assistant to build a complete site. The assistant saves time by helping you specify defaults like backgrounds, link colors, and titles, and it enables you to create navigational tools automatically.

Noteworthy Features — Where Home Page particularly stands out is in its interface, which has an elegant, Mac-like look and feel. It should be familiar if you’ve used other Claris software. For instance, creating tables in Home Page is easy, and tables can be resized by dragging, a feature that PageMill and Visual Page also offer. Unlike PageMill, though, selecting table cells is simple in Home Page. Home Page also has the smoothest process for joining cells to create merged rows or columns.

I appreciate Home Page’s capability to size its window to mimic common monitor resolutions: 640 by 480, 800 by 600, 1,024 by 768, or default (505 pixels wide). Finally, I like Home Page’s capability to apply fonts and even multiple font faces to selected text, a feature shared with Visual Page but not PageMill. However, Home Page stops short of Visual Page’s font groups, a feature that stores a complex font tag (such as <font face=Geneva, Arial>) as a convenient menu command.

Playing Tag — HTML in Home Page 3.0’s Edit HTML mode is better color-coded and indented, making the HTML easier to understand. When you select an item in Edit Page mode it remains selected when you switch to Edit HTML mode – a godsend when editing complex pages. However, I’d like to be able to open and close Edit HTML mode without Home Page modifying my carefully coded HTML. Importing HTML created elsewhere is still a nightmare – if Home Page could cleanly import HTML, it would stand a better chance of attracting those who prefer to code by hand at least some of the time. Macromedia’s Dreamweaver, with its "round-trip HTML" feature does a much better job at maintaining your HTML; CyberStudio from GoLive Systems also does reasonably well.

FileMaker Support — Home Page 3.0 brings the capability to build pages that interact with FileMaker databases. Traditionally, Web pages include information from databases by way of scripts or CGIs; Home Page enables you to author Web pages that include CDML (Claris Dynamic Markup Language) tags, which FileMaker Pro 4’s Web Companion interprets and replaces with information from FileMaker Pro databases.

Using CDML, you can build Web pages that search, display, and create records in FileMaker databases. Other functions support date, time, cookies, and more. You can insert CDML tags via drag & drop and then modify them by hand.

To use CDML effectively, you must have a good grasp of FileMaker and its features, but you won’t need to learn more complex programming languages, such as Perl. If you plan to publish databases using FileMaker Pro 4.0’s Web features, CDML support is an important advantage over PageMill and Visual Page.

Rough Spots — Home Page has a short list of glaring problems. High among them is the way it modifies imported HTML, although some of the graphical tools don’t measure up to the excellence of the table tool. For instance, Home Page’s framing feature has a rigid, inefficient feel to it. Finally, as a minor quibble, I don’t understand why Home Page automatically assigns a one-pixel border to linked images – almost no one does that these days.

Conclusion — Does Home Page 3.0 replace PageMill or Visual Page as my top picks for basic visual Web authoring? My answer is a polite no. Home Page is easy to learn and use, and offers an overall clean interface. Since it’s available for Mac OS, Windows 95, and Windows NT, you can trade pages cross-platform. The capability to author pages using data from FileMaker elevates Home Page to a new playing field, and it should become the logical tool for integrating a FileMaker database into a Web application if you’re serving databases using FileMaker’s built-in tools.

However, the FileMaker integration still needs some work to match the rest of Home Page’s ease of use and simplicity. Some people will find the combination of features, ease-of-use, and FileMaker support compelling, although I still prefer PageMill and Visual Page for their overall design and ease of use. No one has created the perfect WYSIWYG Web authoring program – and when someone does, the rules will change.

The $99 Home Page 3.0 calls for at least a 68020-based Macintosh, System 7.1, 12 MB available RAM, and 5 MB free disk space, though you’ll need at least 12 MB of disk space to perform a minimal installation. You can download a trial version of Home Page; MacBinary (10 MB) and BinHex (13 MB) versions are available.

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[Michael Jardeen works as head designer and webmaster for MedLynx.]



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