Adobe GoLive 6

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With improvements across the board from site planning to workgroup management, GoLive's feature-list is unbeatable - but it still needs streamlining.

Adobe dominates the world of design for print, but was slow off the mark when it came to the Web allowing Macromedia to seize the initiative and much of the market. Recently Adobe has begun to fight back and central to its new Web strategy is its dedicated authoring package GoLive - but can it really take the fight to Dreamweaver?

If it can't, it certainly won't be for lack of trying - GoLive is practically bursting at the seams with advanced power. Version 6 boasts another six new floating palettes, taking the total to 23 and many of these are tabbed! Thankfully Adobe recognizes that this is a lot to get to grips with and now allows you to save and restore workspace setups. Even better is the ability to "stash" palettes which lets you minimize each palette down to its title bar along any side of the screen. To access the stashed palette you simply click on its title and it opens like a drawer, click again and it tidies itself away. Stashing and other features such as better contextual menus, the occasional wizard and a basic Hints palette all make the GoLive interface more friendly - but there's still a huge learning curve to climb.

The huge power on offer begins with site design. GoLive offers a dedicated Diagram menu and another tabbed palette in which you can work out your site design based on existing and planned pages. The resulting diagram can be used as the basis for creating the site's actual pages, but it's disappointing that it's not possible to create automatic navigation bars based on the site hierarchy as you can in FrontPage. In many ways GoLive's focus seems to be more on the drawing process itself rather than on site creation as shown by the new range of ready-made drag-on symbols, the ability to set up master pages and to output your diagram to either PDF or SVG complete with annotations.

Site planning begins with a site diagram.

When the overall site design is ready it's time to design the actual pages. GoLive made its name with its use of Layout Grids that offered print designers the kind of freeform flexibility they were used to while it worked behind the scenes to generate the necessary HTML table. The problem with this approach is that it often leads to bloated code, though you can now at least replace Netscape's SPACER tag with a transparent GIF. It's actually much better to ensure that your code is as lean as possible by working directly with the HTML-based table. GoLive 6 makes this easier with the ability to cut and paste directly from Word and Excel, better contextual menus and a new "zoom" capability on the Table palette for navigating through nested tables.

In terms of formatting, GoLive has lifted a couple of tricks from Dreamweaver. With the HTML Styles palette you can now create or capture multiple HTML formatting options as named styles that you can then quickly and consistently apply throughout the site. More advanced cascading style sheet (CSS) formatting control is available through a combination of the CSS palette, the revamped CSS editor which now lets you directly create new Element, Class and ID styles, and the Inspector palette where you manage the resulting style's appearance. It's not as advanced or helpful as Dreamweaver's dedicated CSS editor, TopStyle, but having such formatting power integrated is impressive, if still unnecessarily awkward.

HTML and CSS text formatting have been enhanced.

One area where GoLive has always led the pack is in terms of its multimedia control and again this has been strengthened. GoLive is the only authoring package able to act as a dedicated streaming media editor through its advanced QuickTime capability. This has now been upgraded to the latest QuickTime 5 but rivals RealMedia and Windows Media haven't been completely forgotten. In terms of open standards, DHTML authoring has also been strengthened and GoLive now offers an in-built SMIL editor that can be used for creating audio-visual presentations for viewing via the RealPlayer or QuickTime players. 

In terms of graphics, GoLive has long pioneered the use of SmartObjects in which an advanced native source file is used as the basis for creating a simple GIF or JPEG with the Save for Web dialog. This has the advantage that graphics can be resized and re-edited while remaining fully optimized for Web delivery. In the past this was limited to Adobe's own graphic file formats but now there's a generic SmartObject which can be used with BMPs, PNGs and so on. Adobe has kept the edge for its own formats though - with Photoshop and Illustrator SmartObjects you can now resize a sliced image, such as an entire navigation bar, and GoLive will automatically update all slices and the HTML table.

SmartObjects have another important trick up their sleeve - variable support. GoLive now recognizes variables embedded into Illustrator SVG and LiveMotion files as well as the topmost text layer in a Photoshop PSD. This has two major advantages: you can update the graphic directly from within GoLive and you can use a single source file to create multiple targets.

Adobe SmartObjects now offer control over variables.

The use of variables has potential across the Web publishing board. At a simple level the Convert Text to Banner command lets you select any HTML text and automatically turn it into an eye-catching graphic based on any existing PSD, AI or SVG. More advanced users will be able to control SVG charts directly from within GoLive and even change a LiveMotion object's appearance or animation style. With server software, variables can even be linked to dynamic data sources to produce customized graphics on the fly.

In the past, GoLive's main weakness has always been its comparatively poor HTML hand coding, but this has been comprehensively tackled. My two favourite enhancements in GoLive 6 are both direct lifts from Dreamweaver. To begin with GoLive now offers a split view that shows both layout and code simultaneously. The former Markup Tree palette has also been integrated into the status bar so that you can click on any of the current tags to select it or - an improvement on Dreamweaver - just the text within it.

Another big step forward is GoLive 6's syntax checker. You can now target your page at a particular browser version or at a particular DTD (document type definition) such as "HTML 4 Strict" and then using the new Highlighting palette you can set any violations to be highlighted. With features like this and its dedicated hierarchical Outline view, GoLive takes the coding fight to Dreamweaver - but there's very little tag-based support such as that offered by Dreamweaver's Reference palette or HomeSite's help.

Coding has been improved with a split view and syntax checker.

GoLive 6 also recognizes that the Web is changing and that HTML coding is no longer the only game in town. You can now create sites for Wireless viewing by targeting your page for XHTML, CHTML and WML and, when you do so, GoLive's context-sensitive menus and toolbars only let you access legitimate tags (though you still have to manually configure the Objects palette). For Nokia's XHTML-Basic authoring there's even an in-built emulator so you can preview how your pages will actually appear on the phone screen. Beyond the wireless world, GoLive also lets you create Generic XML pages from scratch or you can repurpose XMPL pages imported from InDesign.

GoLive can now target wireless devices.

Another area where vanilla HTML is no longer enough is dynamic publishing where server software is used to generate customized Web pages on the fly. For Macromedia users this means upgrading to UltraDev but with GoLive dynamic publishing is integrated and now includes PHP and JSP support as well as the existing ASP. That's not all. If you don't have server software GoLive 6 includes all the basics that you need. It has also struck up links with e-commerce specialists to make it simple to set up a hosted shop site. You can even benefit from GoLive's data-driven processing for static sites by using the new PageGenerator to create traditional HTML pages ready for uploading.

Of course these days most advanced sites are produced by workgroups rather than individuals and this adds a whole level of complexity and even danger to the whole management process. GoLive tackles this by bundling in its Web Workgroup Server which offers server-based centralized asset management. Based on the WebDAV protocol, site files (including SmartObjects) can be checked in and out so that different versions can't be worked on at the same time.

The Web Workgroup Server provides site and asset management.

Even better, when a file is checked in, a copy of the existing version is automatically stored so that, if necessary, the administrator can always roll back to a working version. Snapshots of the entire site can also be saved to provide a further fallback position. Web Workgroup Server doesn't include the advanced features of Macromedia's SiteSpring but then it is free.

Perhaps the biggest change to GoLive's workgroup working is another straight lift from Dreamweaver - the introduction of templates. Using the Template Regions palette you can mark up sections of a page - objects, paragraphs or inline - to be editable. When a new page is based on this template you can be sure that only the content in the areas you've marked can be changed. You can also update the master template, say by resizing a SmartObject, and all linked pages update too. This is a feature that is essential for ensuring site consistency and stability, and for boosting workflow productivity.

Overall it's clear that GoLive 6 is a major release that moves forward on all fronts at once. The latest version addresses its most obvious areas of weaknesses compared to Dreamweaver - templates, text formatting and coding - while adding to its own strengths in terms of site planning, dynamic design, integration with other applications, moving beyond HTML, data-driven publishing and site management.

GoLive 6 can certainly claim to be the most powerful standalone Web authoring application - but is it the best? That's less clear. To begin with while GoLive offers the most integrated power, Macromedia users can use the bundled HomeSite and TopStyle to add to their coding capabilities and upgrade to UltraDev and SiteSpring to gain top-of-the-range dynamic publishing and workgroup-based site management. And, if your business depends on it, you're generally better off turning to a dedicated solution than an all-rounder.

The difference goes deeper than this. GoLive's kitchen-sink tendency inevitably adds to its complexity and, more importantly, can easily eat into productivity. Signature GoLive features like its SmartObjects and multimedia capabilities can help make a site stand out from the crowd but they can also bloat the production workflow - and the all-important end code. If you know that you want to produce a design-intensive all-singing-all-dancing site then GoLive is the application for you, but currently the best Web design still sticks to the less-is-more principle.

Adobe might have turned GoLive into the most powerful Web authoring application available but, for the moment, most users will still do better by sticking to the streamlined approach and end results offered by Dreamweaver/UltraDev.

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System Requirements :  Pentium III or higher, 128MB of RAM, 90MB of disk space, Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP (not NT), CD-ROM, SVGA display (workgroup features require 150MB and Windows 2000 or XP).

Tom Arah

March 2002

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