Review: Freeway Pro 5

Softpress is releasing its newest version of Freeway Pro, version 5. As always, Freeway Pro is aimed at everybody who wants to design a web site — everybody, regardless of the level of knowledge of HTML, CSS and Javascript. Freeway 5 Pro is also a good environment to experiment if you’re a designer — even a web designer — who wants to concentrate on design and less on technology.Freeway 5 Pro has support for accessibility analysis, full CSS layouts, Scriptaculous Javascript Actions, full form editing, background effects and images, and more. It allows for easy set up of Blogger pages, and its CSS capabilities are robust. Freeway 5 Pro is not Dreamweaver; it doesn’t aim at that market. It’s better then Dreamweaver in creating powerful sites without any knowledge at all of the underlying technologies, but if you can’t get it exactly right, you’ll have to resort to hand-coding outside Freeway.

I would say Freeway 5 Pro os aimed at beginning web designers and more experienced web designers, but not the experts who are capable of programming AJAX and other niceties into their web sites. The experienced designer can use Freeway 5 Pro for prototyping purposes, though. My opinion is that prototyping in Freeway is very effective as it has such low knowledge requirements that it almost hurts.

For example, take the Scriptaculous Actions in Freeway 5 Pro. These contain Combo FX, Attention FX, and Sound FX. These Actions allow you to apply effects such as Blind Up and Down, Slide Up and Down, Fade In and Fade Out, Pulsate, Shake and Highlight to items on a page. The Sound FX Action allows you to make an item in Freeway trigger or stop a sound, which is useful for providing feedback on links or buttons, or using custom graphics for audio files.

Freeway 5 Pro is Excellent for Creating Web Sites FastEven if you know how to use these effects outside Freeway, it’s probably faster to do it inside Freeway as it literally involves no more than a couple of clicks. I could say the same of CSS design. I can create a CSS-styled web page in a couple of hours, but even in Dreamweaver I know it’s going to cost me “a couple of hours” at least because I’m not an expert. In my own web coding toolbox, there are Coda (courtesy Panic Software — excellent source coding environment, and better than TextMate, which I also use but not to its fullest as I can’t program) and CSSEdit (the best CSS editor out there).

I use Dreamweaver when I’m lazy and I don’t want to think what the exact code for some lesser used element was. But when I want to have clean code with CSS elements already in place and Javascript eye-candy all set up for me, I use Freeway. To me, the things that speak in favour of Freeway — and now even more in the new version — are not just the ease-of-use and the concept that makes web page design strongly resemble layout design. Rather, I’m enchanted by the large number of included Actions, which now also include shopping cart functionality, Google, Analytics, Maps and AdSense capabilities, and for example even something silly like the Country list that you can simply drop in a form.

The graphics capabilities of Freeway 5 Pro have been improved and enhanced to a point where I see little reason to use other programs, especially with the built-in access to iPhoto catalogues. The CSS capabilities are impressive because you can draw the elements and not worry about the code.

Freeway 5 Pro also has its limitations, and you may find these annoying or not, depending on what you want to use the program for. If you have an existing web site and want to import the code, Freeway 5 Pro may be of help or not; it will depend on your code. I found Freeway 5 Pro to have problems with web pages that refer to external CSS files. The design is then simply not shown, although all the page elements are there.

This makes Freeway 5 Pro still somewhat limited in use. If it would have import capabilities that honour external CSS referencing, I wouldn’t scare away from calling Freeway 5 Pro a viable replacement for Dreamweaver, but without this capability, it’s a good prototyping instrument and a web site generator for people who are not deeply involved into web design and development.

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