capsule review

Freeway 4 Pro

At a Glance
  • Softpress Systems Freeway 4 Pro

    Macworld Rating

Many designers want to see what their work will actually look like, not the abstract code used to generate it. Yet numerous WYSIWYG Web-design applications such as Macromedia Dreamweaver (   ; January 2006 ) and Adobe GoLive (   ; August 2005 ) rely on designers to have at least a basic knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to achieve the exact design they want. As a result, professional designers often have to think more like programmers or rely on canned templates.

Freeway 4 Pro from Softpress Systems takes a different approach. Targeted toward professional designers who don’t want to deal with code, Freeway Pro throws out the established modus operandi for Web-design applications, and instead builds upon an approach to layout you would find in print-focused programs, such as QuarkXPress (   ; March 2005 ) or Adobe InDesign (   ; August 2005 ). The result is an application that can help designers easily translate their creative ideas directly onto the screen.

If you’re not a professional designer, Softpress also offers Freeway 4 Express ($99 for the boxed version, $89 for the download). Express is targeted toward home users who want to quickly lay out their Web designs, but do not need some of the advanced features available in the pro version, such as CSS layout or the ability to add drop shadows and other special effects to graphics.

Think like a designer

If you’ve used other WYSIWYG Web-design applications, the first thing you’ll notice about Freeway 4 Pro is how it treats a Web site. Rather then displaying a site as a series of individual page files, Freeway Pro presents it as a single document with multiple pages in its Site Panel. This approach greatly simplifies the process of finding and editing individual pages. Plus, the Site Panel lets you quickly add pages to a site, apply a master page design to create the basic look, and customize the page as needed.

Freeway Pro lets you edit your entire Web site as if it were a single document.
(Click image to open full screenshot)

You can drag and drop elements exactly where you want them on the page, and even layer images and text; Freeway Pro will do all of the layout calculations for you, using either HTML tables or the Web-friendlier CSS layout. The program handles formatting control through a context-sensitive inspector palette that displays only the tools that relate to a selected object.

Of course, the Web doesn’t just display static content. It is an interactive medium, and Freeway Pro provides several common actions for things like creating button rollovers and opening new windows. You can also download additional actions from the Softpress Web site or third parties. As with the rest of Freeway Pro, you do not need to know the first thing about JavaScript in order to make these work.

Better code

As with version 3 (   ; September 2000 ), importing Web sites with existing CSS code is still a little problematic—pages end up losing their styles. However, Freeway 4 has taken great strides in improving its overall code implementation. Pages created in Freeway Pro passed XHTML Transitional and CSS validation tests with flying colors. Other improvements in Version 4 include a native OS X interface (no more Carbon) and better CSS implementation, including the use of pure CSS layout without resorting to HTML tables.

Like the previous versions, Freeway 4 doesn’t provide access to the underlying code, or the ability to tweak it. Experienced Web designers who are used to negotiating the vagaries of HTML won’t like the fact that they can’t look under the hood. But for graphic designers who never want to think about code, this is a positive benefit.

Great image handling

Although you can start out by importing files from Adobe Illustrator (   ; August 2005 ), Photoshop (   ; August 2005 ), or other graphics applications, you can just as easily start working directly in Freeway Pro. One of the program’s most impressive features is the way it handles images. While all Web-design applications allow you to define where images will appear on the page, Freeway Pro includes tools that let you rotate, skew, mirror, and even create freeform image shapes, thereby liberating your design from the typical rectangular boxes you find on many Web pages.

Freeway Pro also includes tools that let you easily create simple shapes, gradients, and many other visual effects for adding buttons and other controls.

One frustration many designers encounter with the Web is the lack of typeface choices. While Freeway Pro cannot fundamentally change the nature of typography on the Web, it does allow you to quickly create text within a graphic using any font you have installed, add visual effects, then turn it into a graphic for output.

Macworld’s buying advice

If you are accustomed to tinkering with HTML code in applications like Dreamweaver or GoLive, Freeway 4 Pro could take some getting used to. However, if you are coming from the print world—and you’ve been put off by the idea of learning code or frustrated by Web-design applications that do not work the way you’re used to—Freeway Pro will be exactly what you need to realize your vision in the online world.

[ Jason Cranford Teague is a senior user interface designer at AOL and the author of several Web-design and -development books, including DHTML and CSS Advanced (Peachpit, 2005). Jason regularly rants about technology and culture on his blog webbedENVIRONMENTS.]

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Allows easy management of Web sites
    • Ability to create text as graphics, including effects
    • No HTML experience required

    Cons

    • Sometimes difficult to import Web sites with existing style sheets
    • May be difficult for experienced Web designers to adjust to
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