HotMetal Web development software adds power, not complexity

Looking for ways to simplify and speed World Wide Web site development? The latest release of SoftQuad Software Inc.'s Web development software, HotMetal Pro 6.0, will meet the needs of most any agency or department looking to get its Web presence up and running quickly, and to keep it looking sharp.

This new version adds several capabilities and features that greatly enhance a developer's productivity without compromising the product's simplicity.

The program still doesn't pack the flexible database capabilities of Allaire Corp.'s ColdFusion, and it's not as strong on graphics design as Adobe Systems Inc.'s Adobe GoLive or Macromedia Inc.'s Dreamweaver. But if you need to build and update basic Web sites, HotMetal Pro is a solid choice.

Much of the improvement in HotMetal Pro 6.0 focuses on making it easier to build professional-looking Web pages quickly. HotMetal Pro 6.0 expands a concept introduced in Version 5.0 — the asset library, a place to store frequently used Web building blocks.

Assets include such things as a calendar creator and a wizard to create buttons on your Web page - tasks that otherwise you would have to do manually each time. There's even a link to a SoftQuad Web site that contains other assets that you can download and use.

One of HotMetal Pro's features that endeared it to Web developers from the early versions is its ability to display a Web page and the associated HTML tags at the same time. This gives a developer much finer control over just how a page is coded. For many organizations this won't make a difference, but for ones that do, it could translate into greater productivity for the people building the site.

HotMetal Pro 6.0 also stands out in interoperability. SoftQuad makes it easy to import HTML files created outside HotMetal without making any changes. (Microsoft's FrontPage products prior to FrontPage 2000 were notorious for mangling the HTML of pages created with other HTML editors.)

HotMetal Pro 6.0 shines in programmability. The Macro Recorder makes it possible to create a macro, allowing you to automate a series of repetitive steps, such as creating arrays of labeled buttons for your Web page. You simply play back the recorded macro to accomplish your task.

A Component Object Model (COM) interface also is built into HotMetal Pro 6.0. This makes it easy for a programmer working in Visual Basic, for example, to build an application that calls on HotMetal Pro to perform any of its supported operations.

As any experienced Web developer can tell you, you never actually finish a site -the tweaking and refining can seem endless. Fortunately, HotMetal Pro's site management tools have also improved with this version. For example, the software will let you import a Web site structure from disk or from other sites on the Web.

Other site-management tools in HotMetal Pro include a global search-and-replace utility that will even work for HTML tags. This comes in handy if you need to change a few elements in hundreds of pages.

Transferring HTML files that you create to your Web server or other computers is a snap with the remote FTP Neighborhood feature, which is part of HotMetal Pro's Resource Manager. Once you have specified the name and account information for your server, you get drag-and-drop access to files through a Windows Explorer-like interface.

The SiteMaker tool, which is included in the HotMetal Pro 6.0 package, simplifies the task of building an entire Web site. It lets you choose from a predefined set of decors and layouts to create a template for your new site. Once the shell of the site is created, you then use HotMetal Pro to edit and modify the pages.

Performance of the program in general seems to be on par with the previous release. An area that received improvement is the database import functionality. The task of adding a database table into a Web page is much simpler in this version. Building Web pages that dynamically link to databases, however, requires scripting in SoftQuad's Miva language and a server that supports Miva, a limitation that prevents HotMetal from receiving a higher overall score.

HotMetal Pro 6.0 represents a solid update of an established Web publishing tool. A simple user interface and tutorial-based documentation makes inexperienced HTML authors productive in a short time. And many of the new features focus on making it easy for groups to collaboratively create a Web site.

— Ferrill, based at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is a principal engineer with Avionics Test &Analysis Corp. He can be reached at [email protected].


HotMetal Pro 6.0

Score: B

SoftQuad Inc.

(800) 387-2777

Price and Availability: Available on the open market for $129.

Remarks: HotMetal Pro 6.0 provides several new features that make it easier to use. The new Web site creation and management functionality enables even a novice Web developer to build a site quickly. Building dynamic, database-driven Web pages, however, requires you to learn HotMetal Pro's proprietary Miva scripting language.

BY Paul Ferrill
Jan. 26, 2000

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