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Improving on Pagemill

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GoLive is logical but the non-intuitiveness of the interface shows the need for more thoughtful treatment of Adobe's acqusition

After its disastrous Pagemill program, Adobe went looking for a decent program with which to enter the web authoring market. It finally bought GoLive's CyberStudio, now Adobe GoLive. But can it succeed where Pagemill failed?

Adobe's first attempt at grabbing itself a corner of the web authoring market saw it going out and looking for software to acquire. It came back with Pagemill which it bought from a small company called Ceneca and, beaming all over its face, assured us that we'd never have to look at code again.

Unluckily for Adobe, this just wasn't the case. Pagemill rapidly gained a bad reputation and was abandoned by developers as quickly as they'd taken it up. Relegated to the consumer level of things it could never be taken seriously again. But Adobe still needed an html editor that could be taken seriously. So for the second time it went out to acquire itself some software. This time it came back with GoLive's CyberStudio.

CyberStudio was a Mac-only html editor, which first appeared a year after Pagemill. GoLive's previous owner, GoNet, was successfully positioning it as a high-end tool, and was about to release CyberStudio 3.5, when Adobe decided to buy it. Without further ado it renamed it, rebranded it and put it on sale as Adobe GoLive 4, soon to take a central role in Adobe's publishing strategy. But not yet.

As soon as you open up GoLive 4 it becomes apparent that nothing significant has changed - any integration with Adobe's other products is a long way off - and there's little else to warrant the upgrade. In fact, the most significant, and useful, feature of the move to Adobe is that GoLive is, for the first time, available for Win32.

Day-to-day work in GoLive is handled through a variety of floating palettes. GoLive's interface feels slightly cluttered and busy. However, the division of duties between the two most important palettes is consistent and logical.

The main document window is tabbed, each tab allowing access to GoLive's various editing and previewing modes. Ordinary layout tasks are accomplished, unsurprisingly, in the Layout mode. In its tutorials and manuals Adobe chose to overemphasise the use of a proprietary Layout Grid tool for pixel- accurate positioning of elements. However, the source code it generates is enough to force any bandwidth-conscious designer to reconsider its use.

The construction of framesets is accomplished via another document window tab. However, the contents of a frame must be edited outside its frameset - and therefore out of context - a very annoying oversight.

The preview modes deserve a special mention for an excellent trick that allows the viewing of pages as they would be rendered on various platforms. Gasp in horror as the finely tuned nuances of your page are brutally scrambled by uncaring browsers.

The code that GoLive produces is clean and lean for basic formatting. It will leave any code you bring in alone and won't touch anything that you've hand edited in the html source mode. Some of its more complicated functions do, however produce a lot more code than is necessary.

Syntax can be checked against entries in the web Database, a fully configurable reference to every flavour of html imaginable, which allows customisation of the code GoLive generates. Support for JavaScript is provided by an excellent dedicated editor, which allows easy navigation of script functions and drag-and-drop placement of JavaScript objects and events.

Tables are easily generated, using the now familiar Palette and Inspector combination. Everything you'd expect from a professional tool is here. Designers who are used to using tables to position content will notice that Adobe emphasises the use of the Layout Grid for layout tasks and of tables for tabular data. This approach has more than one downside. Not only does the Layout Grid generate bloated code, it also distracts designers from one of html 4's most useful innovations, css-p layers. css-p, the part of html 4 which allows designers to position content precisely, should be sounding the death of tables for layout at the same time as reducing the file sizes and rendering time. Layers can be filled with any kind of html content. They can be stacked up in any order and placed overlaying each other, and they can be animated across the page using Actions which is Adobe's versatile toolset for building interactivity through canned JavaScripts.

All aspects of site management are fully catered for and include the provision of some nice tools. A link inspector shows all the links coming in and out of a document.

All in all, Adobe GoLive 4 is a very powerful, professional web tool, with some very covetable features. Its interface though, is annoying, picky and feels far from flexible. There are moments of stunning non-intuitiveness and the learning curve is fairly steep. It would have been nice if there was some of the refinement of the usual Adobe interface.

Users who know their html and JavaScript will find some of its tools compelling and should be able to work their way through the interface and on to interesting results. Users unfamiliar with the terms of web creation may find themselves a bit lost and saddled with inappropriate tools like the Layout Grid. Adobe GoLive needs careful refinement and thought, not just the repackaging of an existing product.

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