EW3 - Editor Wars v.3 EDITOR WARS

Comparative HTML Editor Reviews, v.3


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  HotMetal Pro 6.0    

Category: WYSIWYG Editors
Manufacturer: SoftQuad Inc. , www.hotmetalpro.com
Download: 11 MB, 30-day trial version

  What it does.    



HotMetal Pro (HMP) is rather well-known for being one of the first WYSIWG HTML Editors for Windows. Until Version 3.0, this application was even available for Unix; since Version 4.0, it is limited to the Windows platform.

SoftQuad's editor used to be unique in that it offers a "Tags On View", which is a WYSIWYG view where HTML tags are displayed using graphical icons (FrontPage 2000 copies this feature). It also offers a pure WYSIWYG view, a HTML code view with Syntax Highlighting, as well as extensive Site Management and Link Checking facilities.

This editor is rather stringent in its interpretation of HTML: If you want to edit a file in WYSIWYG mode, you have to allow HotMetal Pro to rewrite the code following its internal rules. It supports several DTDs, from HTML 2.0 to HTML 4.0.

The new version includes WS_FTP Pro 6.02 as for site uploads, even though it has internal FTP mirroring abilities. In addition, it bundles an older version of PhotoImpact SE (3.02) and other Ulead graphics tools and the HotMetal Power Pack.



  The Light Side.    



HotMetal Pro 6.0 introduces collapsible tags in the Tags On View; a very useful feature. The cursor position in the HTML Code View is synchronized with its position in all other views; a feat which FrontPage 2000 fails to pull off (although Dreamweaver does it, too).

The Site View is beautiful and useful, designed in the form of a dynamic tree through which the user can browse using a hand cursor. The link checker is very useful; its results can be stored in a "pocket" for later review.

The Wizards and Assistants which help with the creation of new page elements are unobtrusive. The Color Picker is big, but not clunky, and offers a very neat interface to choose matching colors.

The Asset Manager holds both DHTML code and other elements. It is based on the MSDHTML control installed with Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 (read below on the downside of this function).

The interface looks very nice and is easily customizable. A Macro Recorder makes it easy to automate certain repetitive tasks.

Whenever HotMetal Pro 6.0 doesn't know a tag contained within an imported HTML file, it will prompt for further instructions. Using an assistant, it is fairly easy to add new tags to HMP's Tag Checker.

HMP imports several Word Processor file formats, including RTF and Microsoft Word. The HTML generated by HotMetal Pro 6.0 is clean and well-structured.



  The Dark Side.    



Since version 5.0, HotMetal has become infamous for the amount of bugfixes the developers had to deliver before the product ran on most machines. HMP 5 went through six patches within half a year, before making way for Release 6. To this date (December 1999), Release 6 has already been patched once, and still the application retains a lot of problems, i.e. bugs. For instance, both in WYSIWYG view and Tags On View the user cannot select the last word in a table or the last word in a HTML document with the cursor.

Other oddities are by design: You cannot enter any of the WYSIWYG views without HotMetal first parsing the HTML code, which can take a while. HMP insists in writing upper-case tags -- this, of course, goes against the proposed XHTML specification.

HotMetal Pro relies on Microsoft's browser Internet Explorer (MSIE) 5.x for some of its functionality, notably WYSIWYG Frame Editing and the Asset Manager. This dependency has two disadvantages: (1) Without MSIE 5.x installed on the machine, some features don't work; and (2) you have to deal with bugs in MSIE as well as the ones in HMP (which, incidentally, was a cause for many of the bugs which plagued HMP 5.0).

Working in WYSIWYG is somewhat clunky, since the cursor sometimes gets "stuck", especially when trying to highlight text using the cursor keys (to cut and paste page elements). The Site Manager displays a very nice graphical tree of the site structure, but it fails to display the names of subdirectories. This makes them a bit difficult to tell them apart initially.

Finally, there is the small and continuing problem with HotMetal's Document Type Definition (DTD). This application uses an DTD of its own, which wouldn't be an issue if this were a DTD recognized by the World Wide Web's Online Validator and other online validation services. Due to this DTD (which HMP uses to control its internal code validation mechanism), most online validators will display a huge number of "wrong" errors -- the code itself is okay, but the DTD is invalid. This may cause unneccessarily alarm to new users.






HotMetal Pro is an acquired taste. Some people swear by it and wouldn't trade it for any other editor in the world. Others become exasperated by its many idiosyncrasies (following every new release, the user forum is full with the complaints of newbies).

In the end, what hurts this editor the most is when it fails to provide an intuitive interface. Frustration turns to anger when, in WYSWYG mode, the cursor becomes "stuck" or an empty line stubbornly refuses to allow itself to be removed. A peek at the Tags On View usually helps, but this clutters the screen with little symbols of dubious value.

Also, Softquad's Quality Control department appears to be starving, even though one cannot be certain whether the bugs are caused by the reliance on Microsoft Internet Explorer or by poor programming.

Whether one will be happy with HMP 6.0 depends on one's tolerance. If one is willing to learn some strange new tricks, this is a good alternative to other WYSIWYG editors. And one can be certain that the code generated by this application is 100% standards compliant, which is a rare beast indeed.

The Trial Version of HotMetal 6 does not include all elements of the full program. See this link for details.

Available for Windows 95/98/NT; Cost: 129 US-Dollars (online)






HotMetal Pro would be the top WYSIWYG HTML editor, if it weren't for its handling and some baffling oddities in the way it creates HTML. At 130 US-Dollars, the price is reasonable.

Microsoft FrontPage 2000 offers better handling and the same kind of Tags On View (clearly stolen from the SoftQuad product). However, FrontPage is known to pepper the code with Microsoft's proprietary tags and some features only with its proprietary server extensions.

Macromedia Dreamweaver leaves imported code alone (unless it contains some egregious mistakes) and offers much better handling and control than HMP. On the other hand, Dreamweaver comes at twice the price and doesn't offer a Multiple Document Interface (MDI).



  Related Materials.    



Web Resources:
SoftQuad Home Page
HotMetal Pro Home Page

User Resources:
HotMetal Discussion Forum
MetalWorkers Guild




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