Mac Web programs begin covering Windows

by Alan Zisman (c) 1997. First published in Computer Player, November 1997

Adobe PageMill version 2.0 $99 US
requires Windows 95/NT, 486, 8 megs ram, 10 megs hard drive space
Adobe Systems Inc  145 King St West Suite 1000
Toronto, Ontario Canada   M5H 3X6
tel (416) 360-2317 fax (416) 360-2917

Symantec Visual Page $99 US
requires Windows 95/NT, 486/66, 8-12 megs ram, 3-18 megs hard drive space
Symantec Corporation, 10201 Torre Avenue
Cupertine, CA 95014
tel (408) 253-9600

There are urban myths? stories that get repeated over and over, gaining power with each repetition, although no one can actually attest to their truthfulness. The baby alligators, flushes down New York City toilets, and thriving in the sewers, for example.

Computer folklore has its own share of urban myths. Bill Gates purportedly saying: ?640 kilobytes of memory ought to be enough for anybody? for example. More recently, ?75% (or some other high number) of all Web pages have been designed on Macs?. Maybe it?s true?it?s certainly appeared enough times in the media. (I would like somebody to show me the research that the claim is based on, however).

Whether that claim is true or not, it?s certainly been the case that just as in the field of graphics and design, the coolest Web-design tools have tended to appear on the Mac platform first. But with the shrinkage of the Mac market, and fears for Apple?s very survival, software development companies seem to be feverishly working away to make sure that their formerly Mac-only products are now available to the PC/Windows market as well.

I?ve been spending time with two Web page design products, both ported over from the Mac environment, and both released in new Windows versions at about the same time: Adobe PageMill and Symantec Visual Page.

Web pages are written in HTML?HyperText Markup Language? text, with notations enclosed in angle-brackets about how the text should appear. As such, a skilled HTML author needs very little in the way of tools? a simple text editor like Windows Notepad or the Mac?s SimpleText could suffice. But the rest of us are happier with some help. As a result, the Web explosion has seen a parallel explosion in tools aiming to simplify the creation of Web pages. Some are glorified text editors, with toolbar icons or menu commands for common HTML formatting commands.

For many users, the Holy Grail of Web page design has been the seemingly unobtainable?a program like a desktop publishing program, but for Web pages. HTML is limited?it?s not easy to specify exact fonts and sizes, or exact placement of graphics, for example?not when you want your page to be able to display on all sorts of computers. Even viewing the same page on the same computer in two different browsers can lead to surprises.

In many ways, PageMill and Visual Page have a lot in common. Both were first released on the Mac, and are now available in Windows versions as well. Both attempt to give the Web page designer a desktop publishing-like experience. Both try to support the HTML 3.2 standard features and add-ins, such as Java applets and frames. Both even sell for the same ($99 US) price.

In fact, in some ways, choosing between them is more a question of taste and style than of objective specifications or power. Either lets you switch between an almost accurate, editable page view, an editable view of the HTML source code, a non-editable more accurate page view, or viewing your page in the Web browser of your choice. (PageMill lets you view in more than one browser?VisualPage makes you choose).

Either make it easy to create an attractive Web page, quickly and easily, but both require some fine tuning with the actual HTML code. For example, neither provided an easy way to create borderless frames. And neither includes tools to manage a larger, complicated Web site?tools which are included in Microsoft?s Front Page, but as a result, make that product larger and more complicated to get accustomed to. (The Mac version of Adobe PageMill works with a companion product, SiteMill for Web site management, but SiteMill is not yet available on the Windows side).

If forced to pick only one of these products, I would lean towards Symantec?s Visual Page by a slim margin. Its interface is more like all those familiar Windows products, with most features available from a toolbar icon, and more standard right-click support.  PageMill?s interface seems more quirky (though both products annoy me with dialogue boxes that lack the standard OK and Cancel buttons?) As well, some pages that I?d made, which displayed fine in both Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, simply refused to display in PageMill, while I could display and edit them in VisualPage. The PageMill package includes a limited version of Adobe PhotoShop LE; Adobe?s graphics customers may prefer to continue to work with that company?s products. Make up your own mind; try them both, free over the Web? or While you?re at it, check out for HomePage, a similar Mac/Windows product, soon to release version 3.0.

Professionals tend to scorn anything that makes Web page design easier? like power users who are more productive in DOS. But the rest of us will find that either of these products makes it easy to create attractive and feature-laden Web pages.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan