Two packages ease HTML conversion
- By Patrick Marshall
- Mar 07, 1999
The World Wide Web is a communications frontier for many agencies, and with it come new challenges. For government Webmasters, moving volumes of documents from office workstations where they reside to the publicly available Web can be like scaling a summit.
Newer word processing programs - including the market-leading Word from Microsoft Corp. - are able to output
Hypertext Markup Language files directly. But if you have many existing files in word processor format, the idea of opening them individually and converting them to HTML is not a welcome one.
Last year, we looked at three solutions that convert batches of files to HTML for posting on the Web [see www.fcw.com/pubs/gbb/1998/0202/gbb-htmltools-2-2-1998.html]. The strongest of those products, InfoAccess Inc.'s Transit Central, offers tight control over conversion formats, image placement and automatic generation of tables of contents and keyword lists.
Even more impressive, Transit Central offers automatic unattended updating of files. That makes the program suitable for departments or agencies that regularly move large numbers of files to the Web.
In this head-to-head review using the same test plan, we look at new versions of two products that are targeted at agencies with more modest needs for HTML conversion. Lotus Development Corp.'s FastSite 2.0 and Trellix Corp.'s Trellix 2.0 don't offer Web site management tools or automatic file updates such as those offered by Transit Central. Nor do they provide extensive controls over formatting. But each program does offer a low-cost way to move documents quickly to your Web site.
Don't let the low scores for both products fool you because those scores reflect a comparison with more comprehensive programs, such as Transit Central. Both Trellix and FastSite represent well-designed solutions for somewhat different tasks.
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FastSite is little more than a bare-bones interface for a batch HTML conversion engine. It's easy to use and, though limited in scope and capabilities, does its job well.
When you first boot up FastSite, you'll see a very simple interface. A panel to the left shows any existing "sites," or collections of Web documents. You can group these documents under subheadings using drag-and-drop techniques. The main window offers the program options for building, editing and publishing sites to the Web.
To build a site, you simply move through a series of dialog boxes. The first asks you to name the site, specify a directory and choose whether to process Lotus SmartSuite or Microsoft Office files or other types of file formats. If you bring in SmartSuite or Office files, FastSite doesn't actually convert the pages to HTML. Instead, the program opens the parent program and uses it to generate the HTML code. That results in documents that more accurately match the original formatting. If you don't choose the SmartSuite/
Office option, FastSite offers a standard HTML conversion utility that can handle 25 file formats.
Next, you're prompted to select from 34 templates for background and navigation buttons. The templates are generally attractive, but they don't offer any control over page and character formatting. Nor does the program allow you to specify placement of images. And the templates can't be changed.
Other things you won't find among FastSite's toolset are tables of contents, keyword lists or the kind of slick navigation maps provided by Trellix.
When you call up a FastSite site in your Web browser, you'll notice that the navigation buttons provided by the program are limited to a navigation frame at the top of the display. Converted pages are displayed directly below. These pages cannot be customized to include buttons or even hyperlinks. (You can, however, create hyperlinks on the initial home page of each site or section.)
Once you've created a site, you can use FastSite's editing tools to add files to that site or to choose a different template.
Using the Web publishing tools, you can start the actual process of file conversion, preview the HTML pages in your browser and post the newly created pages to a Web server.
FastSite 2.0, which is included in Lotus' SmartSuite Millennium office suite, also is available as a separate product. If you want to take it for a test drive, you can download a 30-day trial version from www.lotus.com/fastsite.
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Trellix is one of those rare applications that makes you want to do work that otherwise would be tedious.
Trellix doesn't just convert documents to HTML. The program lets you create and organize HTML pages into an attractively designed experience for visitors to your Web site.
Trellix generates pages with two panels: an upper panel that displays a map for navigating pages in the document and a lower panel that displays the document pages themselves.
The lower panel can be divided into a page section and a sidebar section that includes navigation buttons.
You can navigate between documents either by using the navigation buttons or by clicking on items in the navigation map.
The map portion of the screen can be moved to the side, dragged anywhere in the window or even floated out of the main display into its own window. You can add images to the map as well as labels, rectangles and ovals.
And you can rearrange the map elements to achieve a more attractive presentation using simple drag-and-drop techniques. For example, you might choose a tree-like arrangement or a time line arrangement.
You also can pop open an outline window that shows a simple hierarchical tree of the document.
Trellix comes with a modest selection of seven document templates, but you can create new templates. And because the program offers detailed control over virtually all screen elements, the possibilities are wide open.
Version 2.0 of Trellix offers several important new features.
At the top of the list is support for converting and creating tables on Trellix pages. And information contained in those tables can be linked to external files or Web sites.
Trellix also offers improved tools for importing Word documents. The program does an excellent job of accurately rendering documents, and the user can specify how to break pages using custom styles, fonts or page breaks. Trellix worked fine with Word 95 and 97 files but didn't work at all with our Word 2000 files, so some updating will be necessary when the next version of Word ships.
The single most important limitation of Trellix is that it provides no support for converting documents from other applications, so if you're not using the right version of Word, you'll have to copy and paste from other Microsoft Windows applications.
On the plus side, Trellix does offer support for Object Linking and Embedding. That means that when you paste into Trellix from OLE-compliant applications, the source data can be accessed in the original application with a simple double-click of the mouse.
Also new is a welcome "You are here" label that has been added to the map navigator to automatically display the relative location of the page you're currently viewing.
Finally, Version 2.0 offers improved linking. In addition to inserting links into the text of documents, you now can insert links into navigation maps. And those links can be to other documents or anchors on a page as well as to external files or Web pages.
Trellix documents can be viewed via a Web browser, or you can include the Trellix Viewer with files. The viewer occupies 8M of disk space once installed on the user's system.
There's even a feature called Trelligram that lets you create self-extracting files containing documents and images for distribution.
Trellix doesn't include Web site management tools or utilities for automatic, unattended file conversion. Instead, it focuses on one-time creation of navigable Web documents, and it does that very well.
Lotus Development Corp.FastSite 2.0Available on the GSA schedule.Score: 4.50
Trellix Corp.Trellix 2.0Available on the open market.Score: 4.40
AT A GLANCE
HTML Conversion Tools
Pricing: Prices range from $99 to $249 for single copies.
What's Selling: HTML conversion tools help users quickly create HTML content from existing data.
What to Specify: Be sure the package you buy supports the file formats you want to convert.
How we tested HTML conversion software
We decided not to perform formal speed tests on these HTML conversion tools. This was done for two reasons. First, the programs were not capable of dealing with the same sets of legacy file formats, so it was impossible to assemble a single meaningful set of test files. Second, because HTML conversion is generally a chore performed by a Webmaster or systems administrator rather than by end users, small differences in processing times are not critical.
In similar fashion, because end users are not involved, the ease of installation did not rate sufficiently high to warrant treatment in a separate category.
HTML conversion received the heaviest weighting. In order to receive a score of satisfactory, the program must allow the user to perform batch conversion of multiple files to HTML format. To receive a score of good, the program also must be able to convert embedded images and tables. We tested each program with a set of files of different formats, including older WordPerfect for DOS formats. The files contained a variety of graphic images, tables and charts. The programs that more accurately translated these files to HTML earned extra points.
Programs that can generate tables of contents, indexes and navigational buttons and that demonstrate high ease of use also earned extra points.
Format support is critical to people with legacy documents that need to move to the World Wide Web. To receive a score of satisfactory, the program must offer a conversion path for the most popular Microsoft Word and Corel Corp. WordPerfect word processors for Windows and DOS. The programs that provide direct support for additional file formats received higher scores.
All that is required to earn a score of satisfactory in this category is that the program provide some means for updating the set of HTML files that result from conversion. Programs that automate the process, that support incremental updates and/or that make the process notably easy to perform received higher scores. Built-in search and editing tools also earned extra points.
At a minimum, documentation had to tell us how to install the program and make use of the program's features. Comprehensive, well-organized and well-written manuals received higher scores. We lowered the score if the manual was poorly organized, lacked a table of contents and index, did not include information or contained factual errors in the text.
We based technical support scores on the quality of service we received during multiple anonymous support calls. Busy signals, voice-mail-only service and excessive resolution times all resulted in lower scores.
To receive a score of satisfactory, the company must provide technical support via the telephone. We awarded bonus points for unconditional money-back guarantees, extended support hours, bulletin board support—such as CompuServe—and a toll-free number. We subtracted points for no technical support or a limited support period.
Given that corporate purchases of these products are generally small in number, we did not assign a great deal of weight to this category. Pricing for single-user packages was scored in the following categories:
$0 to $249: Excellent
$250 to $399: Very Good
$400 to $549: Good
The program's score may have been modified to account for the price of extensions or server utilities.