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February 26th, 1997

The Skinny

[The Bottom Line:] Perhaps the best thing that a WYSIWYG HTML editor can do for anyone is allow you to conceptualize: to rapidly try different designs and to simplify the creation of complex pages that include tables and frames. In this PageMill is a true champ. Despite the fact that you can edit the HTML directly now, I found that PageMill sometimes needs a backup application to clean up the HTML before it is put online. I guess I'm just a little peeved that it won't let me do things my way.

PROS
HTML up to date (most of HTML 3.2 implemented). Excellent page layout tool. Great and up to date frame and table tools. The Pasteboard allows you to keep everything in one place and ready to drop in to your pages.

CONS
You have to accept HTML done the PageMill way or clean up your pages in another editor.

Adobe PageMill 2.0
Processor: PowerPC & 68K
Memory Needs: 4MB
Hard Drive Space: 10MB
Publisher: Adobe Software
www.adobe.com

by: Brett Gross ([email protected])

It's interesting to note that I was just beginning the process of rewriting my personal web pages when the chance to review Adobe PageMill 2.0 came my way. I immediately accepted the assignment, quit BBEdit, and installed PageMill 2.0 over my old copy of 1.0 which was collecting dust on an external hard drive.

I really didn't know what to expect from PageMill 2.0. PageMill 1.0 disappointed me and mangled my custom HTML tags for NetCloak. I ended up relegating it to a teaching aid so that novices could make passable HTML without my supervision. But, if all reports are to be believed, 2.0 would deserve a chance so I was determined to give it one. I will, however, be constantly comparing it to BBEdit because for most of you (and for me) it's theHTML editor of choice.

Interface
When I launched PageMill I recognized a few familiar elements from the 1.0 release like the Pasteboard. The Pasteboard works just like an application-specific Scrapbook, but it looks more like the Note Pad. I immediately set about the task of adding my most frequently used clippings to the Pasteboard. You can drag & drop text and images from any drag & drop enabled application- like Navigator. You can place multiple clippings on any of the Pasteboard's 5 pages and rearrange them on the page. When you drag something off of the Pasteboard it is removed but option-dragging places a copy of the object in your HTML page. There is even a preference to give the pasteboard a little page turning sound effect which I turned on.

Also present are PageMill's Inspector and Color floating palettes. The Inspector allows you to change the page's colors and background image, add HTML forms, edit object information (image and applet size, image maps, etc.), and customize frame spaces. I found the frame section of the Inspector to be the most useful, this greatly aided in the creation of framed pages. Unlike in version 1.0, you can switch to raw HTML view and edit the actual coding of the page- HTML code even appears colored and is easy to pick out from the text of the page.

The Color palette has sixteen predefined color choices and each can be redefined to a different color if you do not like Adobe's choices. This makes choosing colors for text and table backgrounds easy and quick, but it adds to the palette clutter on 14" monitors.

Creating a link is easy enough, just highlight the hotspot (text or image) and enter the URL in the "Link To:" section at the bottom of the window. If you use the Place Object command, you can insert a link to a local or remote HTML file, image, sounds, PDFs and Java applets. The Place Object command is not quite as versatile as BBEdit's Anchor and Image extensions as it does not allow you to specify a link's target, or an image's alt and alignment tags, but these tags can be manipulated easily enough through the Inspector or Link section of the window. You can even set the target of links to open a new browser window or to target a specific frame.

When I went to the File menu, I was surprised by its hugeness. On a 14" display, it ran almost to the bottom of the screen. There are multiple Open and Insert commands as well as 7 (count' em seven) Save commands. The strange thing is that most of them make sense- and for those of you who love to save copies of your work without the hassle of reopening the original, those commands are there. One really neat feature was the Save A Copy As... command. The default name isn't "MyFile.html copy" as in most programs, but rather the HTML friendly "MyFile_Copy.html". I liked that and I'm sure anyone who uses it regularly will also.

OK, I'll admit that I'm not a "normal" computer user (even as far as us Mac users go...) but I really hate to have to use print documentation. I want it to be present- and it is in Adobe's usual excellent format, but I want it as a backup. I want online help, balloon help (hey- I love balloon help), and maybe even an AppleGuide. End of rant. I apologize to any who were offended.

Of course PageMill has the customary toolbars at the top of the window where you can add images, horizontal rules, tables, forms, and the such. Text formatting is also available here as well as through menus and the usual keyboard shortcuts. You can also switch from edit to browse mode and check the links on your site including external link handling through your favorite web browser. One thing you cannot do is save to or open from a remote FTP server- which may or may not be an issue to many.

Frames & Tables
Frame creation used to be a nightmare, but PageMill makes it a lot easier. For anyone who uses frames extensively, some kind of WYSIWYG HTML editor is a must and PageMill delivers quite nicely. You can dynamically resize individual frames either through the Inspector or manually by dragging their borders. It even supports margin and scrollbar settings.

Frames are nothing compared to a really complex table. Even after more than a year of practice, tables cause me difficulty. I can never quite get the cell widths right on the first try and for large tables there is often a row with everything shifted one cell to the left. Not so with PageMill. It allows you to dynamically resize table cells to fit your liking and even supports captioning. It was tough at first but once you get the hang of selecting a cell (as opposed to the text in the cell) you can apply background colors and VALIGN and ALIGN tags. By selecting neighboring cells you can join them into a larger cell inserting the COLSPAN and ROWSPAN attributes (this allows one cell to span multiple rows or columns). You can hit the tab key to hop from cell to cell, but I encountered a problem here: if you have a row spanning cell, it will make tabbing beyond that row impossible. It even supports tables within tables thus allowing for really complex page layouts that are truly WYSIWYG. For complex table creation tools, look no farther than PageMill 2.0.

A word of advice, use the Inspector to constrain the table cells to a specific width or it will continually resize on you as you type into them. I found that to get on my nerves quickly. Interestingly enough, though, that action mirrors those used by browsers to display tables when you neglect to set cell widths in your HTML.

The Editor
OK, so it does frames and tables exceptionally well, but how is it as an editor? Well, here it begins to fall off with numerous little annoyances. Its drag & drop does not allow you to scroll up in the window. This means if you have a paragraph at the bottom of a large page (like I did recently) and want to move it up to the top, you will have to cut and paste. Hardly a lethal flaw, but one that I noticed with annoyance. When you switch from WYSIWYG to HTML Source modes your cursor will appear at the top of the page, not where it was when you were editing. This left me continuously searching for where I just was in order to tweak little things here and there.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm really finicky, but I hate it when a program continuously beeps at me. PageMill take's the Microsoft view of the down cursor key. If you hit the down cursor key on the bottom line it will beep at you. It won't take you to the end of the line, just beep at you. The Find feature is fairly well done and at least as good as many word processors. It can't compare to BBEdit's Find but it would do quite fine for most day-to-day use. Besides adding a Find command, version 2.0 also has a spell checker. The spell checker works in either WYSIWYG or HTML Source modes, but it does not have HTML code in its dictionary  so it will flag every tag as misspelled in HTML Source mode! I would consider this a glaring omission.

You can choose how to do centered aligned text (with the <CENTER> <DIV> or <P ALIGN> tags) and you can choose insert a <BR> instead of <P> by holding down shift when you hit return. You do have to be careful when you edit in HTML Source mode because PageMill likes to surround your code with <P> tags when you switch back to WYSIWYG mode. But, as I noticed as I was writing the previous sentences, you can easily insert custom HTML characters like the &, ñ, the <, and the > while PageMill will not allow you to insert Macintosh specific characters that will not display in a browser.

If you want to have something other than the META GENERATOR tag in the head part of the file, then I recommend you use stationery. I would recommend this anyhow because it can often save a lot of time and is really convenient and PageMill handles stationery quite well. It even handles files created with a different editor fairly well and will, if you set it to, convert the old style <CENTER> tags into the more widely accepted <P ALIGN=CENTER> tag.

It has one feature that is as far as I know unique; the ability to calculate load time of a page. You can view load times at 9.6, 14.4, 28.8, 33.6, 68, and 128k per second. This is often more meaningful than just the raw size of the page's files. PageMill does not provide any site management features, but that is all available in SiteMill, version 2.0 (which should have PageMill 2.0) soon to be available.

I feel that there is definitely a place in every webmaster's toolkit for a WYSIWYG HTML editor and PageMill is definitely a contender in that arena. I haven't seen Claris' version 2 of HomePage yet, but I feel sure that the two applications should compare favorably. If you do a lot of complex tables or just like to be able to see exactly what your HTML will look like then PageMill is a good solution. I know that PageMill 2.0 will find its way into my web design toolbox.



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