In the world of web design, there are two types of web designers: those who feel comfortable coding a site by hand, and those who don't. Those who do have an innate advantage over the rest of us: somehow, they can visualize how the site they are working on will ultimately look, while the rest of us simply see many lines of text.
While there have been graphical web design tools available on the Windows and Mac markets for a while, most of these tools won't let you configure and customize your code to the degree that doing it from scratch will. In most cases, when you move from handwritten code to graphically-assisted HTML design tools, you sacrifice a lot of the control of your site in order to make everything faster and easier to manage.
HomePage Publisher is an impressive bridge between hand-coding and graphical web design tools. It gives you a very complete WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface (GIF, 20.4k) as you build your site, but it also gives you a lot of control over the specific settings of each tag. In fact, the degree of control is so high that it helps if you have some familiarity with HTML and the different tag settings before you start using the application.
If you have a moderate level of familiarity with the HTML 3.2 specification, and you're a visually-oriented person who prefers seeing what they're building as they build it, HomePage Publisher will be a fine addition to your web design toolbox.
As befits a WYSIWYG design application, on first glance (GIF, 32k) HomePage Publisher might look more like a simple word processing application than it would a web design tool. It's set up with the standard two-row button bars at the top of the page, containing all the common tools you'd expect in a word processing app. Along with a set of font and font control tools (you can choose between serif and sans serif typefaces), you also have single-click access to the bold, underline, and italic effects. Also on the toolbars are standard cut/copy/paste and undo/redo keys -- HomePage Publisher gives you unlimited undo capability, a feature so useful I can't possibly do it justice.
HomePage Publisher is not a word processor, however, it is a web design tool; along with these standard tools, the button bars include HTML-specific tags. With the click of a single button you can define a word or a line of text as a hyperlink, insert a GIF or JPEG image, or even insert a web plug-in or Java applet. These toolbars are also customizable to a limited degree: you can add buttons to them, swap buttons between bars, even change their default positions (so they appear on the bottom of the screen, floating outside the application, or docked to the right- or left-hand side).
HomePage Publisher's work area displays your page-in-progress very accurately. In previous versions of this application, there was a disparity between the size of "standard" text on HPP and on some PC-based browsers -- HPP defaulted to 10 points and Netscape, for example, defaulted to 12. In the latest update (2.0C) this has been made a configurable setting: you can now specify the default font size to be either 10 or 12 points.
HomePage Publisher can define almost any part of the HTML 3.2 specification -- even some that current OS/2 browsers can't display. For example, HPP allows you to define certain text as being displayed in certain typefaces (currently, only Times New Roman, Helvetica, and Arial typefaces are supported) even though Netscape/2 and WebExplorer will only display a default typeface for all of its text. The DTCWeb site that I maintain makes heavy use of this feature, though at the moment no one can really tell unless they're using a browser from another operating system.
If you are familiar with the HTML spec and how each tag can be defined, HPP can speed your ability to change the properties of a tag. Double-clicking the work area activates the Extended Settings dialog box, a region that appears just below the menu area and allows you to "fine tune" the settings of whatever tag you're working on at the time.
The Extended Settings area is very useful if you know what you're doing (and if you don't know what you're doing, the Extended Settings area is a great way to learn the finer points of HTML tags.) In fact, I would go so far as to say this is the single most powerful feature in the entire application. This area allows you, for example, to set the ALTernate text for a graphic very easily, or to change its dimensions (make it larger or smaller) as you see fit. The Extended Settings area automatically changes to reflect whatever element of the web page you're working on at the time. It's most valuable when working with tables, since not only the overall table but each row and even each cell can be configured separately from each other.
With the release of version 2, HomePage Publisher also gave you the ability to work with frames. HPP allows you to view both the <FRAMES> and <NOFRAMES> areas of your site without any fuss, so updating both areas is a relatively painless process. There are some kinks in this tool, however -- for example, I've found when I first create frames on a page I'm unable to actually add anything to the frames themselves until I create files for them containing basic HTML header and body tags. Some people who are more familiar with HTML code may find it more convenient to prepare your frames pages before actually working with them in HomePage Publisher, at least until it's been developed a little further.
While HomePage Publisher is intended to be a visual layout tool for web page design, it does allow you to view the source code (GIF, 9k), and with the most recent update (2.0C) it allows you to format that code as well. A settings box allows you to specify how you would like the code to appear (all lower case, mixed case, all upper case) and gives you a list of formatting options you can choose to either turn on or turn off. There are times when viewing source code is the most efficient way of getting something done (for example, inserting a Link Exchange banner) and these features can help you find your place a little more quickly.
It's impractical to list every feature HPP has. Suffice to say that it covers most of the HTML 3.2 specification, but none of the "cutting edge" HTML 4.0 specification (no layers, no cascading style sheets) at this point in time.
My machine isn't a good baseline for measuring application speed, but I've heard reports that it can be sluggish on anything lower than a Pentium on the PC food chain. There are a few other concerns, however, that you need to keep in mind when working on this program.
HomePage Publisher uses some aspects of OS/2's video display system that some drivers don't much like to interact with. I discovered this when displaying 16 million colors on my Matrox Millennium II card at 1280x1024. This specific color depth and resolution would cause my system to freeze up when some web pages were displayed in HPP. Strangely enough, this only occurred at that resolution/color depth, and only on Warp 4 machines. Switching to a 64k color depth got around the problem and I'm told that Matrox has been informed of the problem and is looking into it. (It is unclear as to whether or not IBM's GRADD drivers overcome this issue, because I've yet to successfully get the GRADD drivers to display 1280x1024 at 16 million colors).
Also, some video cards won't display backgrounds correctly, instead causing the toolbar and work area to take on a pink hue and to corrupt the mouse pointer. Because of this problem the ability to view backgrounds is disabled by default (if your video card is not affected by this problem, there are instructions in the help files on how to enable the feature). Again, my Matrox card had this problem, and I'm told Matrox is looking into this as well. The IBM GRADD drivers do solve this problem, so if you're willing to live with a beta display driver you might want to consider using them as a work-around solution.
There are a few other performance quirks when using this program. When you're typing on a blank page, and the text exceeds the space in the work area, the work area will not "scroll down" to let you see what you're doing. In fact, you'll need to save the page and reload it in order for scroll bars to appear at all.
The documentation and end-user support for this application is nothing short of impressive. HomePage Publisher has one of the most complete online help menus I've seen for any shareware application -- only Electronic Teller's is as thorough and as helpful.
This application is also actively supported by its author. He seems genuinely interested in receiving feedback (both positive and negative) from people who use the program, and has incorporated end-user feature requests into program updates. A new version update seems to come out every one to three months, fixing a bug here, adding a feature there, and giving the overall impression of a program that is always being refined and supported.
If you're a purist who believes the best way to design a web site is to do it by hand, you probably won't like the features HomePage Publisher provides -- but even you may be (grudgingly) impressed with the quality of the HTML code HPP produces. While a WYSIWYG editor will probably never be able to match the optimization that can be achieved by hand-coding the site, HomePage Publisher is pretty good at not leaving extraneous tags hanging about, and it gets better with every release.
HomePage Publisher is an excellent web page design tool, but the price tag is a little hefty -- US$90 is the price of many shrink-wrapped, over-the-counter web design tools, and it's surprising to see a shareware application with a price that high. HomePage Publisher can go head-to-head, feature-wise, with most of those applications, however, and I have found it worth the price. For those of you who are willing to go without frames support, a stripped-down version is available for $45; a more affordable solution for novices and hobbyists who just want to be able to see what they're doing as they build web sites for their own enjoyment.
If you're looking for a WYSIWIG design environment for your web work, and you'd like to use an application that is well-supported by its author, HomePage Publisher is an excellent choice. Strongly recommended.
HomePage Publisher 2.0, level C
Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Richmond, VA area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.
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