HotMetal Pro builds efficiency into site design

HotMetal Pro builds efficiency into site design

Speed may kill, but on the Internet it's slow Web site development that will turn your business into a casualty. SoftQuad's HotMetal Pro, Version 6.0, released in mid-October, is all about productivity without compromise. Completely graphics-oriented HTML editors are notorious for producing sloppy HTML code, which eventually must be corrected by hand. The further removed you get from the down-and-dirty HTML, the more room there is for error. HotMetal solves this by building efficiency right into Web site development, allowing developers to rapidly build Web pages with clean HTML code.

Although HotMetal touts itself as enhanced for novices, I wouldn't put it on the desktop of just anyone; it presupposes that a user wants to dig into real HTML. That's great for designers and Web editors, but it's not so great for administrators posting a few documents to the company intranet, unless they specifically want to get hands-on with HTML. That might not be such a bad idea, considering how Web-centric our world is becoming, though it may require an investment in HTML training.

HotMetal never loses touch with its HTML roots. Among its competitors, FrontPage's major selling point is ease of use and integration with every other Microsoft product on the planet. Other competing tools, such as Adobe GoLive and Macromedia Dreamweaver, are really Web-design tools. HotMetal exists in a space similar to editors such as HomeSite and Bbedit.

The difference is that HotMetal lets you flip between three different approaches to generating HTML: a wysiwyg graphic mode, a colour-coded text editing environment, and HotMetal's hybrid `Tags On' mode, which represents HTML tags with collapsible icons. I've come to love the Tags On view for its capability to collapse whole sections of a document, such as a table. Thus, you can clear up the clutter, while still working on the HTML tags.

In the latest version, SoftQuad has smoothed out HotMetal's remote access. Open a site with FTP and drag an HTML page into the workspace, and it opens the page for editing. When finished, the act of saving uploads the page to the server.

Nevertheless, HotMetal's remote access capabilities have some room for improvement. What you want is the capability to grab any directory and have it download all files automatically to a local drive, and HotMetal isn't quite there yet. However, you can extensively customise FTP setup, such as the number of simultaneous connections, the port you're accessing, network time-out, and whether you're accessing a site from behind a firewall.

The flashiest change in Version 6.0 is the Asset Manager, which holds a variety of HTML resources. With it, you can drag and drop a variety of pre-generated HTML components.

Canned scripts are a litmus test with HTML applications; they invariably reveal whether the designers are paying attention. HotMetal's assets are quite impressive, letting you complete a variety of tedious tasks quickly, such as generating table-based calendars. Asset Manager is also notable for its capability to generate dynamic buttons, drop cap graphics, colour palettes and Dynamic HTML utilities such as setting a cookie or escaping a frameset, meta tags and style sheets. You could code any of these things yourself, but that's time-consuming. Judicious shortcuts greatly speed the process.

You can also store scraps of text - as well as HTML snippets such as a complex table - in My Assets. With these personalised assets, you can quickly fabricate a page from pre-generated standard components.

HotMetal's synchronisation is very handy, enabling you to work with local and remote copies of a site. For example, if your work is spread across three different machines, you can synchronise all these versions and specify which version is the most current. You can also specify how to handle things such as orphan files or newly created files.

Also of note, HotMetal lets you open existing documents without having it correct the HTML. If you desire, it will automatically correct code and show you what it's doing. Or you can just open it in the HTML editor and do what you want with it.

Validation works well on the whole, although it's picky. If you don't write very clean HTML, the program will call you on it.

The product's site-management capabilities are slick. You can create projects or import all the files from an existing site. The graphical map of links is draggable, letting you hone in on the sections you're interested in. What's more, the collection of Find tools is quite a treasure. It lets you search exhaustively through a document and offers options for tracking down specific tags, meta tags, and URLs across selected documents, linked files, or an entire project.

About the only thing you'll notice missing from HotMetal are tools to work with Extensible Markup Language (XML), and that's because those tools are available in a companion SoftQuad product called XMetal. Possibly this is a cynical ploy to get you to buy more products from SoftQuad, but on the other hand, it makes a certain amount of sense to separate HTML from XML. Soon, XML support will be mandatory; for now, it's a separate process.

HotMetal is a tool your Web-savvy personnel will appreciate; it speeds up page development and in the process alleviates code errors, streamlining site development and, in the long run, reducing site costs. It does require some familiarity with HTML, however, so some basic training may be in order.the bottom lineHotMetal Pro, Version 6.0Summary: HotMetal straddles the space between bare-bones text editors and easy-to-use graphical applications. For those familiar with HTML, it's great for producing and editing clean Web pages, and it scores points for its focus on productivity.

Business Case: HotMetal helps you produce Web pages that aren't riddled with HTML errors, for more productive site development. It also offers tools to reduce repetitive coding tasks, boosting efficiency.


Improved FTP functions for a variety of networksOffers synchronisation of remote sitesCons:

Remote site access could use some improvementPlatforms: Windows 95/98; Windows NT 4.0.

Price: The full version can be purchased electronically over the Web for 99 pounds plus delivery.

SoftQuad Software

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