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Allaire's HomeSite 4.0
by Jon Leland
Originally published in Publish Magazine, April 1999

Rating: Four and 1/2 stars
Platform: Windows 95/98, NT 4.0
Verdict: An easy-to-use interface and an array of productivity shortcuts make this a leading tool for Windows-based HTML programmers and web page designers.
List price: $99 with manual; $89 for electronic; upgrades $29.
Contact: Allaire, 888-939-2545, 617-761-2100, or www.allaire.com.


Hacking HTML code and creativity may sound contradictory to some designers, but fine-tuning HTML code manually has distinct benefits for Web site developers. You can accelerate page downloads, make the code compatible across platforms, and integrate more easily with other software such as databases. When something goes wrong (and it will!), you have a better chance of identifying and fixing the problem if you understand the HTML foundation of a page.

Of course, you don't need a Web-authoring program to write or edit HTML--the humble Windows Notepad or Macintosh SimpleText suffices. But professional Web developers soon crave shortcuts, more robust features and greater control. On the Windows side, Allaire's HomeSite 4.0 is the place to turn. Its time-saving automation and other sophisticated features make it well worth the modest price tag.

One of HomeSite 4.0's most impressive features is its interface, a flexible but carefully assembled system of nested toolbars and window tabs that are easy to understand and use. The narrow left-hand window is the place for file and project management; Help; and the vastly improved Site View. The right-hand window is your main workspace, where you toggle between the HTML code; a preview that uses HomeSite's internal browser; and the new Design View. The Design View is Allaire's nod to those times when a WYSIWYG editor can save time for even the most grizzled of code warriors. It's a visual mode that lets you work with a selected set of page elements, such as tables, text blocks, and forms. However, it is not a fully-functioned as other WYSIWYG editors.

Tool bars are arranged across the top of the program's window. I was particularly pleased to see that HomeSite 4.0 makes the browser-safe color palette more prominent than in 3.0. The color palette is now accessible via a new icon and a pull-down menu on the main tools palette.

One weakness is the continued absence of a tool to automate image-map creation. I was also disappointed that HomeSite 4.0 can't create customizable lists of multiple fonts, although you can work around this shortage by writing your own set of customized tags. Multiple-font lists are important when you specify typefaces other than a browsers' default font. Because you can't count on a viewer having any one font (particularly when your site will be viewed by both Mac and Windows machines), it's smart to list a first, second, and third choice when specifying fonts.

On the other hand, HomeSite 4.0 has added a host of new features that are quite robust for a program best known as a text-editor. In addition to the Design View, there's a JavaScript wizard, a tag editor, and the Tag Tree, which helps you visualize a page's structure.

HomeSite 4.0 is also the first program I've seen that includes shortcuts (called a SMIL Pack) for the new Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL), which is used by RealPlayer G2 and is becoming an important standard for online presentations. HomeSite 4.0 also provides color-coded support for high-end languages like Perl and DHTML. The Style Editor for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is a great improvement over 3.0's more basic CSS Wizard. I also liked the new Code Sweeper feature, which can eliminate extraneous code introduced by other HTML authoring programs.

While this upgrade offers significant new features, HomeSite's main strength continues to be its shortcuts for hacking code quickly, complemented by its customizing capabilities. And HomeSite 4.0 provides all of these capabilities within a surprisingly accessible interface that keeps as many commands as possible readily available. If you're serious about developing Web sites on the Windows platform, HomeSite 4.0 is solid, professional, and designed to enhance your performance. It could easily become the tool you depend on most.

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Jon welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at jon@combridges.com

 

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