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
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
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:
On the downside:
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
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
Free technical support
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.
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
Instant Web Page is available from their Web site for $79.95.
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
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