Software Reviews

Hot Metal Pro 4.0 by SoftQuad

Reviewed by Laurence Fenn

After the demonstration in the May meeting from SoftQuad, I had the chance to review the full program. This has taken a while to do because of several factors, the main one being that PC developed a major problem resulting in a complete rebuild (but enough of that!). Hot Metal Pro is a web site designer which comes on one CD-ROM, and installation requires Windows 95/NT 4.0, 486/33 MHz PC, 16Mb RAM, 256 colours/Super VGA display 640x480 resolution and approximately 40Mb of hard disc space. After the option to install the Arcadia Infuse ScriptBuilder (which creates JavasScript functions) and the Visual Dynamic Keyboard (an on-screen keyboard for users with mobility impairments) you have the standard Typical, Compact or Custom setup. Choosing the latter gives you the full choice as follows:

Program Files32647k
Convertors - Standard3066k

This means a full installation will be 48578k (around 47Mb). After choosing a default web browser (you can add others afterwards), you must install the ODBC Microsoft drivers for the database functions and it also adds an Applet path to your CONFIG.SYS, so a final re-boot is needed.

The program is divided into six areas:

HoTMetal PRO Editor - the main program for designing the pages. Looking similar to Microsoft Word you can work in one of three views. HTML Source is the plain text style with all the coding for a web page shown (the same as if you clicked on view page source in your browser). Tags On shows the structure of the page with authoring assistants and 'tags' to give an easier to understand view, and WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) shows the page as close as to the final web page. All commands that you insert into your page are validated immediately, so when you make some text bold, it inserts a <B> before the text and a </B> afterwards. You can switch off the checking if you are making major changes to the page, and you can always click on the Check HTML button on the toolbar to validate your coding.

HoTMetal PRO Information Manager - This shows the complete structure of your web site, allowing you to change or move files and update links (which you can do in the editor as well). You can add new files to your site, publish your files (upload to your web server) and keep a track of your files (so you only add new files, for example). When a change is made to a file it re-reads the whole structure, which took a while with my 'virtual' 50Mb site on my hard disc. This is to make sure that all the links are correct, but it can show broken links as different colours anyway, as well as external links and your home page (usually an index.htm file where everything else links from). The publishing function makes it very easy to only upload the information you want, with a built in FTP program. You can repair any broken links using the Site Doctor, which can correct spelling mistakes or links to files you have moved.

HoTMetal PRO Visual Dynamic Keyboard - Developed with the Adaptive Technology Research Centre in Toronto this gives an alternative to using the keyboard and mouse.

Acadia Infuse ScriptBuilder - JavaScript is a complex addition to HTML, often used to change an image when the mouse pointer moves over a graphic, change the text on the bottom line of your browser, or add the current time and date to your web page. This program makes it easy to create custom JavaScript in a visual drag and drop environment.

Ulead PhotoImpact 3.0 SE - You need to be able to manage your graphics when designing a web page, and this special edition does this with four programs. PhotoImpact is a picture program, which can scan, create, edit or enhance your images. Album catalogues your files with an Explorer and Viewer utility. GIF Animator creates animated GIFs from images created in the graphics program and Web extensions helps you tweak your files for use on the web (such as creating seamless background images or optimising the colour palettes or transparency colours).

Internet Explorer - If you do not have a web browser installed on your system, you can install Microsoft's Internet Explorer from the CD.

There is also a collection of five Power Tools, which can be installed at any time:

ZBServer PRO - an integrated Internet/intranet server package with FTP, Web and Gopher services.

StarBase Versions 2.0 - a 30-day demonstration copy of version control software.

Aimtech Jamba - a Java authoring tool.

Vream VRCreator - VRML authoring tool to help created 3D environments for you web pages.

DTL Dataspot - automates database publishing into web sites.

This package comes with everything that you need to create a good web site, although you may want to use other programs for some elements (like the graphics). You can customise the installation to only add what you want, and whereas the library of graphics gives an excellent starting block, they should not be relied on, as graphics that you create yourself will give your site a more personal touch. The 280-page manual does not show you how to create a complete web site, or indeed teach you the basics of HTML coding; but the program itself makes it easier. I learnt how to code my web pages using Notepad, trial and error and previewing the saved file in my web browser. You can preview the page you are working on by selecting your web browser from a tool bar (as a temporary file or the saved file) which is useful as the WYSIWYG view is not a true web browser view. You can download any variations on the HTML standard, so that the checking feature of the program is not out of date, or you can add custom elements, but I did not have the chance to test that part. At around £90 it is one of the cheaper WYSIWYG web editors (except for the shareware ones if you don't register them) but it teaches you how to code pages correctly. This, along with the ability to keep up to date with the changes of the HTML standard, makes it an ideal suite of programs.

Alternatives: FrontPage (the Express version comes with Windows 98) £90.00, Dreamweaver by Macromedia £280.00, Web Express by MicroVision £45.00, PageMill by Adobe £60.00, CyberStudio 2 by GoLive £210, Netscape Communicator free download or on cover discs.