Sometimes it seems like there are only two ways of building a Web site. You can either go via Apple’s .Mac, and get your holiday snaps up in double-quick time, or you can take the Macromedia Dreamweaver/Adobe GoLive route, where you either hire an expensive Web developer, go to night school, or spend long nights doing the tutorials in the manual. There’s definitely room for a middle ground, and that is where Freeway Express 3.5 fits in.
Freeway Express is the cheap-&-cheerful entry-level version of Freeway Pro. It’s designed for people that want more than what’s on offer from .Mac, but don’t want to devote their time to high-end and complex applications such as Dreamweaver and GoLive. It isn’t that Freeway Pro isn’t a high-end application – it just doesn’t have the market-share that the other two applications hold.
Freeway Express is designed for those with enough technical knowledge to know there is more to life than .Mac. But Web sites are complex things, so you should be ready to get you hands dirty with some technical bits and bobs.
The interface is similar to that of QuarkXPress, which will be a boon for some. I think the XPress interface is clunky and old fashioned – in fact, Freeway is a definite improvement on the OS 9 horror that is XPress. But love it or hate it, the page-layout style works well in this context.
If you’re starting from scratch, Freeway offers you a number of templates to use. There aren’t that many of them, but after years of experimentation, Web sites seem to have settled into a relatively few different layout styles. So whether you want tabs across the top, or down the left hand side, or any other common layout style, Freeway will start you off. The application also borrows the master page idea from XPress.
It took a little while to find my way around Freeway, but then the last time I designed a Web site was around 1995… in TeachText. After a couple of hours, including a few excursions into the Quick Start Guide, things started to come together. By the end of the day, I felt pretty confident, and able to get my head around what was going on in the background.
Rollovers, are a breeze: simply add the action, and set what you want to happen in the Actions window. The Master Pages layout mean that you can change the whole site by adjusting just one page.
One thing you should understand is that Web sites are inherently complicated. Freeway makes things as simple as they can possibly be, but you’ll still need some understanding of how sites work. Once you get to grips with the basics, it’s easy to add features and functionality to Freeway Express. There is the obvious upgrade to Freeway Pro 3.5, which will give you access to more high-end features.
But there’s also a new way to add features to Freeway: FAST Packs (Freeway Advanced Site Tools). These sets of actions (there are two so far) add new actions to your graphics or navigation capabilities. The first two are out now, and there are more planned. One thing to point out is that Freeway doesn’t give you the chance to edit code directly. Hardcore coders probably won’t like this, but from my point of view, it’s a good thing. I have built a Web site in code only, and I can do without ever seeing code again.
If you’re looking for something inexpensive to build Web sites, then Freeway Express offers unbeatable value. If you come from a desktop-publishing background, that would help – but it’s by no means essential. The £49 price-tag will let you try Web design to see if it’s for you, and if you like it you can add features later.