HTML editing tools tend to divide into two camps: the easy-to-use visual editor, aimed at the novice, and the advanced Web editor, which looks more like a traditional development environment. SoftQuad's Version 5.0 of HotMetal Pro, belonging to the latter category, is a tool worthy of the most advanced user. With this version, HotMetal graduates to a truly wysiwyg editing environment, with strong page previewing capabilities and extensive drag-and-drop features.
The most striking change in Version 5.0 is that SoftQuad has integrated all of the tool's various interfaces under one roof. And although HotMetal Pro offers the standard wysiwyg and raw HTML views, it also offers a unique hybrid interface that visually represents each HTML tag on page while displaying the general effect of those tags on text and images. I've never been crazy about HotMetal's hybrid interface, but I can't complain about its HTML or wysiwyg view.
HotMetal Pro's visual mode is a fully integrated part of the package, rather than a previewing add-on. Elements can be dragged and dropped in the wysiwyg mode, and when the source HTML is changed, the visual representation is automatically updated.
HotMetal Pro prefers Microsoft Internet Explorer, which is included along with Netscape Communicator. During installation, the application politely reminded me that it uses some Explorer features and then let me choose whether to install it. However, Explorer should be installed to take advantage of such features as Resource Manager.
The abundance of HotMetal's menus and toolbars is almost too much of a good thing - it's easy to become overwhelmed by palettes. But some handy features are available to help manage the clutter, notably the capability to dock toolbars and to toggle to a full-screen mode.
When building links, HotMetal Pro also includes the option to specify a "Hot List" of oft-used links, an excellent way to minimise carpal tunnel syndrome.
Another eye-catching feature is HotMetal's Resource Manager, a first-rate tool for tracking files. Based on Active Desktop, HotMetal lets you move around your hard drive or CD, pre- viewing images and viewing file and folder hierarchies. Though Resource Manager is excellent for managing Web resources, I did notice that the thumbnail could not handle more than about two dozen images in one folder.
Creating a Web site project file from a previously built collection of pages is straightforward, as long as the files are on your local hard drive. I would have liked an automatic FTP download from the Web, but once you have your files, HotMetal builds a Web project file to track links, files, and relationships. There are several options for mapping the relationship between files; the Page Links view is my favourite.
Some of HotMetal Pro's real strengths have not changed in this release. The Macro feature, which lets you build scripts of repetitive tasks, is a life-saver given the repetitive nature of HTML design. The Check Accessibility feature is remarkably useful. Intended to help iron out the wrinkles of Web pages viewed by the visually impaired, it is quite handy for general error checking. For example, it will look at all the images on your page, checking for ALT text.
HotMetal also has a nifty wizard to painlessly convert an ODBC-compliant database to an HTML table. Although it's not dynamic access to a database, it is quite handy.
Overall, HotMetal is a top-notch editor for developing Web sites and HTML pages. The interface has been greatly streamlined, and managing a hairball collection of Web resources - the bane of all webmasters - is virtually painless.
The Bottom Line
HotMetal Pro, Version 5.0
This HTML-editing tool has an improved interface and rich management functionality that make it a worthy upgrade.
Pros: Excellent Resource Manager; integrated interface; true wysiwyg editing; support for latest HTML tags; scriptable macros.
Cons: A daunting collection of menus, toolbars, etc; could use more tools for scripting; thumbnail previews could handle larger numbers of files.
Platforms: Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT.
Price: Available on application from SoftQuad's Web site.