Freeway 2.0

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The original release of SoftPress Systems' Freeway showed promise (see Reviews, February 1998), but it lacked many common features found in competing professional-level products, such as GoLive CyberStudio and Macromedia Dreamweaver. Freeway 1.0's main strength was its close adherence to the QuarkXPress interface, making it easy for desktop publishers to transfer their layout and design skills to the Web. Freeway 2.0 maintains that easy familiarity but adds new features that cover most of the bases the first version missed.

As in the previous version, you start by creating master pages containing elements shared across your site's pages, such as banners and navigation bars. As with QuarkXPress, you draw boxes that act as containers for text, graphics, and multimedia; the boxes can snap to guides or grids for easy alignment of page elements. An HTML Rectangle tool lets you create boxes to hold body text, which you import by either opening the text file with the Import command or dragging and dropping text into the Freeway document from the Finder or another application. Other tools let you link and unlink text flows from one text box to another, and Inspector palettes give you detailed control over page, text, and graphic elements.

One big concern of designers is control over typography, and Freeway 2.0 does an excellent job of making sure the type you see is the same type your site's visitor sees. As in the previous version, you can convert styled, editable text into a GIF or JPEG that's automatically antialiased against the page's background color. New to the program is support for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which give you real typographic control over HTML text. A unique compatibility mode produces pages that use HTML 3.2 markup tags as much as possible, reserving CSS tags for those styles that absolutely require it; the result is pages that work better in older browsers. (Freeway creates internal style sheets for individual pages, but not external style sheets for whole sites.)

Considering that the last version of Freeway didn't even support tables, Freeway 2.0 has gone a long way down the road toward supporting the latest Web standards. Table support has arrived, and it's quite good; you can even select and format the contents of noncontiguous cells. The program now supports frames, and you can convert existing pages into frame sets. Fixing an annoying omission in the first version, Freeway now lets you use text, not just graphics, as anchors, and you can wrap HTML text around in-line items such as images and tables.

As with the previous release, you can position objects precisely using invisible tables, but you now also have the option of using CSS layers. You can only move layers in a straight line; if you need greater control over page elements (using timelines and keyframes), you're better off with Dreamweaver or CyberStudio.

Freeway 2.0 implements JavaScript through Actions, libraries of code routines you select from a menu. The program comes with 15 Actions, including button rollovers, layer movement, and browser redirection. Unique to Freeway are Slave Actions, which activate multiple Actions from a single trigger. For example, you can have a single rollover change several images. The manual includes a tutorial for writing your own Actions, and you can download more Actions from the SoftPress Web site.

The Freeway 2.0 CD-ROM offers spelling dictionaries for English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and other languages, along with the 4.0 versions of Netscape Navigator, Netscape Communicator, and Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Because SoftPress has added HTML import to Freeway's repertoire, you can now import single pages or entire folders as sites. Unfortunately, the import facility isn't as accurate as it needs to be; when we imported a site originally created in CyberStudio (one that looked fine in browsers), several pages required significant touch-up to correct poor text alignment and spacing.

If you like the smell of raw HTML in the morning, Freeway may disappoint you–it lacks an HTML mode where you can see and tweak the code. You can add some extra tags manually to the head or body sections via a dialog box, but that's no substitute for a real HTML editor. To be fair, SoftPress aims specifically at those designers who don't want to delve into the code behind the pages any more than they would want to tweak the PostScript output from a desktop publishing program.

If all you want to do is create Web pages and never deal with code, Freeway 2.0 is a worthy choice–especially if you're familiar with QuarkXPress. And if you bought a previous version of Freeway, the upgrade is free. Now that it supports tables, frames, JavaScript, and CSS, Freeway rivals CyberStudio and Dreamweaver in visual layout capabilities, though it can't match its competitors' HTML editing modes and superior site-management tools. After a slow start, Freeway is up to speed.


3.5 mice
PROS: Easy transition to the Web for QuarkXPress users; good support for CSS and JavaScript. CONS: Inaccurate import of existing sites; no access to underlying HTML. COMPANY: SoftPress Systems (415/331-4820, ). LIST PRICE: $299.

May 1999 page: 46

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