The Web untangled

PC Magazine puts eight leading HTML authoring packages to the test in its Usability Labs. And the winner is ...
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You may be thinking about setting up your own home page on the Internet, or your boss has had a brainwave and decided that your company is going to have a Web site and you are going to be in charge of setting it up. Either way, you are about to experience the first pangs of fear as you set about your task.

The main language used in creating Web sites is Hypertext Mark-Up Language (HTML), but if you're not into learning code, there is a raft of HTML packages ready to do the work for you. To help you pick the right package for your needs, PC Magazine has reviewed eight HTML authoring packages in its June 1998 edition, each of which will allow you to create a Web page without touching a line of code. They are Macromedia's Dreamweaver 1.0, Microsoft's FrontPage 98, NetObjects Fusion 2.0.2, Home Page 3.0, HoTMetal Pro 4.0, Adobe PageMill 3.0, Symantec's Visual Page 1.1 and WebMaster Suite 1.0. The packages are also relatively inexpensive, with those mentioned above ranging from pounds 69 to pounds 299 (ex VAT).

These packages take a diverse range of approaches to reach the same end result, and because of that some are more successful than others. A knowledge of HTML appeared to hinder, rather than help, in several cases, as many of these software packages don't actually want you to use code but use the automated process instead.

Fusion, Front Page 98 and Home Page 3.0 all hid underlying Web site structure from developers, but at the expense of user control. HoTMetal Pro and WebMaster Suite provided a number of extra tools for creating site content, such as photo image editing software which proved useful, but these don't outweigh the need to have a well-designed product in the first place.

Overall, Adobe's PageMill 3.0 achieved the best compromise between allowing you to develop a basic Web site easily while still allowing you the flexibility to customise the HTML code yourself. Its versatility is its strength and earns it both a PC Magazine Editor's Choice Award and a Usability Seal of Approval.