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Freeway has always been the Web-authoring tool ‘for the rest of us’, catering for people who don’t know a hyperlink from a metatag. Yet its simplicity belies a heavy-hitting feature-set that makes it a direct competitor of those Web-authoring heavyweights, Macromedia Dreamweaver and Adobe GoLive.
Before pressing on, I’ve a confession to make: prior to reviewing Freeway 3.5, I’d never built a Web site from scratch. Well, now I’ve done it, and I have to say it was a snap. It took me just a couple of hours, and can be viewed at www.macworld.co.uk/sean/home.cfm. This is because Freeway is engineered so that DTP folk such as myself can hit the ground running. As with its previous incarnations, Freeway 3.5 draws heavily on the QuarkXPress user interface and methodology: it boasts image boxes, text boxes, master pages and a pasteboard, and a heap of its keyboard shortcuts correspond to those in XPress. This means that layout skills honed in XPress are easily transferable to Freeway.
This ease-of-use is explained by Freeway 3.5 being an HTML creator, rather than an HTML editor (such as BBEdit) or a creator/editor hybrid (like Macromedia Dreamweaver or Adobe GoLive). Freeway offers WYSIWYG functionality, meaning you need never dirty your hands with HTML.
Being new to Freeway, I thought it prudent to explore version 3.1, which is 3.5’s immediate predecessor, and can report that the functionality in 3.5 is little changed. Despite this, the changes in 3.5 remain seismic, because it’s been rewritten from under-the-ground up. For starters, it’s been Carbonized – meaning it now runs natively in Mac OS X, and so is faster and more stable. But it also boasts a new graphics engine. Versions prior to 3.5 used Apple’s GX Graphics extension – but no longer. Version 3.5 uses a built-in graphics engine – Openwave’s AGL (Alpha Mask Graphics Library). Having a built-in graphics engine, as opposed to one that’s bolted on, means 3.5 runs more efficiently. It also means it now supports graphics transparency, in both TIFFs and 24-bit PNG (Portable Network Graphics) files. PNGs enable partially transparent images to be displayed over any background colour or texture without the appearance of white halos. Because 3.5 supports transparency, you can composite images in Freeway with no need to switch to an external graphics editor.
Also new in Freeway 3.5 is support for ATSUI (Apple Type Services for Unicode Imaging). Computers deal in numbers, not letters, so store letters and other characters by assigning a number for each one. The Unicode standard provides a unique number for every character, no matter what the platform, program, or language. ATSUI is a set of services for rendering Unicode-encoded text, and is used by many parts of OS X. By supporting ATSUI, 3.5 gives full access to all OS X fonts, as well as access to alternative-character sets.
One thing that’s awful in 3.5 is its online-preview function, which has a nasty habit of overwriting Freeway files with browser HTML versions – resulting in hours of lost work. My workaround was to create a duplicate set of files before previewing. Online previewing is a bread-and-butter function of any Web package, and users have a right to expect it to work off-the-bat. Another quibble is that 3.5 crashed a number of times in Mac OS 9.0.4, usually while in the Actions palette. Softpress has posted a 3.5.1 patch on its Web site, which it says fixes all reported bugs, as well as boosting ftp (File Transfer Protocol) upload speeds.
When it comes to Web-authoring for novices, Freeway 3.5 remains the benchmark product. Anyone with a DTP/graphics background wishing to tackle Web authoring will be amazed at how speedily Freeway enables one to post a good-looking site rich in interactivity.
For Freeway 3.1 users, upgrading to 3.5 is a no-brainer, because it’s free. This is a generous move on Freeway’s behalf, because – being Carbonized and with a built-in graphics engine – 3.5 is essentially a new product.
Softpress is offering Dreamweaver and GoLive users a £99 cross-grade option. The pros of switching are that Freeway is much easier to use and gives far-more design flexibility – something I can vouch for, at least with regards to Dreamweaver. This I’ve used for tweaking Web pages for a couple of years, and remain baffled by its counter-intuitiveness and clunky layout functionality.
Another case for switching is that Freeway’s image-processing features means there’s little need to toggle between it and a graphics application. Images can be scaled, transparency maintained, text can be exported as a GIF, text and images can be overlaid, and images can be merged. This amounts to a significant productivity boon.
HTML crunchers may argue that, as an HTML generator rather than aneditor, it can never afford them the control of Dreamweaver or GoLive. Well, maybe it’s time for webmasters to revisit what it means to author and manage Web sites. That Freeway does the HTML donkey work for you is surely a positive thing – after all, DTP professionals don’t need to access XPress or InDesign’s underlying code in order to produce great-looking layouts.