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Software Review of:
Instant Web Page

 

box

Susan Ives is a former president of Alamo PC and teaches the Web design class.

From the April, 2002 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Tim Hoke, the software review coordinator, kept nudging this box toward me. I nudged back. He’s a harder nudger than I am. “Tim,” I said,” I already have too many Web page editors. I don’t need another.”

“It looks easy,” Tim said. “It says so right on the box. Easy to use. Instant. Simple. I know your students would be interested in something like this.”

Tim is a minister. He wouldn’t lie. I took it.

I have a lot of high-end software, packaged in a sober and sophisticated way that signals its businesslike purpose. This box felt cheap. The Web sites pictured on the packaging were cheesy. And the box was light, really light. As soon as I opened it I knew why. No manual. Not a good sign, especially for a program being marketed to beginners. I trotted over to the company’s Web site to see what it cost. $79.95. For eighty bucks I want a manual. 

To put this into perspective, the program I use most, HomeSite, sells for $99. HomeSite comes free with Macromedia DreamWeaver 4.0, which retails for $299. I have that, too. Front Page 2002 sells for $169. I got it bundled with Office XP Professional. Adobe GoLive 6.0 is pre-ordering at $399. I’m still mulling over that one. These are the programs that you would use in a business environment. These are the programs that have manuals, both bundled with the software and after-market. These are the programs for which you can take classes and be reasonably assured that there is someone on the planet who can provide help and advice. You can get a real job using this software.

At the other end, Netscape Composer is free when you download the Communicator Suite. Front Page Express, the light version, is free. Both Microsoft and Corel office suites have built-in Web page editing tools that do a decent job. CoffeeCup, an editor that appears to have many of the same features as this program, sells for $49.95, and offers a free lite version.

I don’t want to sound like a software snob, and I won’t belabor the cost issue. However, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of Web Page / Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) editors on the market and would-be Webmasters are overwhelmed by the choices. Here’s what I tell my students. If you’re just starting out, play around with the free stuff for a while. Stick with one or two programs so that you get comfortable with their quirks. Don’t even think about spending money until you get a feel for how you like to work. The desktops of America are littered with disappointing Web page programs.

My complaint, then, against this program is that it’s neither fish nor fowl. It’s not robust or mainstream enough to be a viable choice for “veteran” designers, as the package claims and its cost and lack of a manual make it a dubious option for novices.

There are about a dozen templates for creating a Web page. You use their templates as a model and swap out their sample content with your own. There are also several templates for creating “framed” pages.

Some of the graphics capabilities especially impressed me. One thing I’ve noticed in may of the sites I critique is that novice Webmasters grasp the idea of thumbnails: display a tiny copy of a large graphic so that it loads quickly and link it to a full-sized version for those who want to see it in all its glory. Where many mess up is that they upload the full-sized, kilobyte hogging version and make it appear smaller by using HTML Code. Say, for example, you have 20 photos, about 640x480 pixels in size that you want to put in a one-page photo gallery as thumbnails. A visitor clicks on the photo and is taken to a new page with the full size picture. Slimmed down to their lowest acceptable JPEG quality, each of these full size photos is about 30KB. Multiply that by 20 and you have 600KB. That would take forever to load!

If you want to display them at thumbnail size, let’s say about 150x113, you have two options. First, you can create a smaller duplicate of each of those images. The tiny ones go into the gallery, the original larger ones each rate a separate page. Each of these newly created thumbnails is about 5KB, making the entire page about 100KB. The other option is to use HTML code to make the photos look smaller on the page. The code would be <IMG SRC=”photo1.JPG  WIDTH=153 HEIGHT=113”>. You’re still using the big photo, just displaying it smaller.  Pages created by either method will look exactly alike on the screen, but the HTML shrinking method saves you zero kilobytes and will still take forever to load. You’re still dealing with twenty 30KB photos!

Now that I’ve finished ranting, Instant Web Page has a thumbnail creator. It creates a duplicate of the original image, re-naming it “image_small.jpg”. Not only does it create the thumbnail but it also makes a separate Web page to display the original full-size photo. Easy, and cool. Another neat graphics feature is the program’s ability to create a rollover, or as they call them “swap images,” which displays a different graphic when you position a mouse over the image. 

It also provided a few free Java scripts for things like inserting a clock, scrolling text, word wheel text, nervous text and swirling text. These might be fun to play with on occasion, but I suspect that the prominence they are given on the toolbar could encourage neophyte designers to overuse them. I also noted some Java script error alerts with some of the code. The nervous text, which makes letters appear to dance, cha-cha’d right off the top of the page, making it unreadable. 

Some other positive features:

  • With one button you can switch to code mode and see the raw HTML code.
  • A document weight calculator that tallies the total kilobytes in a page, text and graphics, and estimates download time
  • The ability to view the page in an internal browser, or other browsers of your choice
  • Seven themes and a utility that allows you to change the text on the buttons and bars
  • Customizable toolbars
  • A built in FTP client to upload files to a server
  • East to use utilities for creating framed pages and complex tables
  • Wizards to walk you through complex procedures
  • A spell checker
  • A form creation wizard that helps you create forms and have them sent to your e-mail address
  • Unlimited undo
  • Free technical support
On the downside:
  • The graphics created by the themes are intolerably large. The little stop-go-shilly-shally buttons, for example, weigh in at 25 KB apiece; the banner is 105KB. I ran one of the buttons through Adobe GoLive (which comes with PhotoShop) and was able to get the same quality for 500 bytes! For the convenience of customizable buttons, you get a file size 50 times larger than it has to be. This simple Web page would take a half-minute to download with a 56K modem, and that’s before I added any content. 
  • When I saved the amended template graphics, they disappeared. The dreaded missing graphic icon showed up in my browser. This is another common glitch that new Webmasters face: keeping track of the location of their graphics. This program makes it hard to do that.
  • The template graphics were transparent in their original state but when I amended the text they were saved in a .jpg format and developed ugly gray boxes. After much poking around, I found a utility that set the transparency, but one would think that when performing what should be a routine procedure this would be done automatically.
  • A much-touted feature is a wizard that converts databases for display on a Web page. It doesn’t work, and the instructions are nonexistent. When I tried to convert a database, only one file from a large database would display. All the help file advises is to use the database wizard. 
  • The templates give you a starting place but are easy to mess up. For example, one of the templates is for a three-column layout with text on the right and two columns containing graphics and text on the left. When I replaced their graphics placeholder with a full-sized photo of my own, the entire layout was skewed into a state of intolerable ugliness. Yes, I was able to fix it, but I know what I’m doing.
  • My biggest complaints: no manual, no manual, no manual. There is a 54-page tutorial in Adobe Acrobat format. It just covers the basics and you have to print it to use it effectively. For $80 they could have printed it for you. The help file has huge gaps. I already mentioned the database converter that just advises you to use the wizard. There are also features that allow you to use cascading style sheets (CSS) , Dynamic HTML (SHMTL) Visual Basic (VB) scripts and Java scripts, but there are no definitions of these components. The instructions just say use this wizard to insert your own. If you are competent enough to write your own VB scripts, the odds that you’ll be using this program are close to nil. 


My recommendation? 
If a shrink-wrapped package falls out of the sky and lands on your heard drive, don’t send it back. It has some nice features. If they drop the price to $9.95, buy it. Otherwise, there are better solutions for novices and veterans.

Instant Web Page is available from their Web site for $79.95. 

Upperspace Corp. 
600 SE 49th Street
Pryor, OK 74361
(800) 233-3223 ; (918) 825-4844. 
The program comes on a CD  (and that’s all you get) and requires any version of Windows, version 9x or above, a Pentium processor and 16MB of RAM. Upperspace specializes in affordable CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs.


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