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GoLive 5 sees major improvements from site prototyping and intelligent image handling through to dynamic data and extensibility – but Dreamweaver still retains its edge.

With advanced packages such as the latest Photoshop, Adobe is the leading software developer when it comes to traditional graphic design - but it was caught napping by the advent of the Internet. For a long time the company’s only Web offering was the underpowered PageMill which allowed Macromedia to fill the gap with its Dreamweaver package. Adobe saw the light just in time and bought up the well-regarded GoLive CyberStudio. Last year’s launch of the renamed GoLive 4 was little more than a PC update of the existing Mac-only version, but the major changes in this latest release show just how determined Adobe is to put right its mistake and to seize the high ground in Web design.

This is immediately apparent in GoLive’s revamped interface which has been given an Adobe-style makeover. Many of these changes are welcome such as the more consistent menus, customisable keyboard shortcuts and comprehensive context menus, but other improvements are more debatable. In particular where version 4 made do with just six floating palettes, there are now seventeen! The power made available is impressive but so is the potential for confusion especially as some palettes, such as the Objects and Colour palettes, offer up to nine tabs while the Site window now offers ten! At least palettes can now be grouped together and docked to each other, but even so your working environment can soon become unworkable. Adobe’s bizarre solution to this is the Reset Palettes command which deliberately piles all palettes on top of each other in the middle of the screen! The sooner the GoLive interface is given a Photoshop 6-style rationalization the better.

With its profusion of complex palettes, the GoLive interface is in dire need of rationalization.

In terms of power, GoLive 5 adds new functionality from initial set-up through to final posting. In the past site planning was largely left to pen and paper but now GoLive offers serious site building and storyboarding tools. Using the new Design window and menu with the context-sensitive toolbar you can quickly build up the organisation of sections of your site by adding new child, parent and sibling links to any given anchor page. You can then reposition pages to make the hierarchy clearer or physically rearrange the pages by dragging and dropping. You can also open up multiple panes to see a panorama view of the whole site or a spotlight view of the links to a given page.

Storyboarding in this way is an excellent method of conceptualising your design, and as the pages aren’t "live" but rather stored in a separate designs folder, you can experiment with multiple layouts. You can even annotate your layouts as part of an overall submission and approval process. Best of all when you’ve settled on a design you can simply submit it for staging which instantly adds all pages to the main site. If you regret the decision you can even automatically recall submitted pages.

GoLive lets you plan and build your site before going live – but links must still be handled manually.

The power is undoubtedly impressive, right down to the ability to control the bend of connector lines! On the other hand the more advanced features, such as the use of named groups and collections of pages, can be confusing. More disappointing is the fact that GoLive doesn’t let you use the site design to create automatic navigation links and rollovers in the way that NetObjects Fusion does. Initially this looks possible with the New Pages command which lets you specify automatic links to parent, child or sibling pages. Unfortunately these links aren’t actual but rather "pending" – in other words you will be reminded to add them but you’ll still have to do this manually.

After site planning, the next Web authoring stage is page design. GoLive has recognised the common practice of using bitmap editors, such as Photoshop, to create layout blueprints on which the HTML page is built. Using the new Tracing Image palette you can import images in a wide range of bitmap formats and set a desired level of opacity. A nice refinement in the GoLive implementation is the palette’s Crop tool. Using this you can mark off areas of the tracing image and "promote" them to become a part of the overall page design as floating boxes. In the process of saving each image area, GoLive opens its own version of Photoshop’s excellent Save for Web dialog, to allow you to preview and set optimisation settings.

This is only the beginning of GoLive’s new image handling. A new tab on the Objects Palette lets you choose from a whole range of SmartObjects. Using the main Photoshop and Illustrator SmartObjects you can create a link to images in each of these applications’ native PSD and AI file formats and GoLive will again open the Save for Web dialog so that you can choose an optimised JPEG or GIF version for inclusion in the posted page. The beauty is that this link is kept live so that if you resize an image on your page, GoLive will automatically open the original and recalculate the new optimised version with no intervention from you. Even better, by double-clicking, you can open the image back into its original application for re-editing. To quickly change the text on a rollover button, for example, this is an absolute godsend.

GoLive’s new SmartObjects allows for auto optimisation and late editing within Photoshop and Illustrator.

Auto-optimization and late-stage editing are huge improvements on trying to simultaneously manage native and Web versions of your images, but there’s one huge drawback – each SmartObject must be linked to a separate image which is hardly practical when you’re wanting to change the look of all your navigation buttons. Initially it looks like GoLive offers the solution to this with its Import Photoshop as HTML command. This works by importing each layer in a PSD to its own floating HTML box which is great for setting up DHTML animations. The links aren’t live, however, so you can’t easily update the layers as you can with SmartObjects.

In any case support for Photoshop is welcome but, without features such as rollovers, it still lags some way behind Adobe’s dedicated Web applications LiveMotion and ImageReady. What’s really needed is for GoLive to offer SmartObjects for LiveMotion and ImageReady which would let you update either the current SVG or GIF-based button or rollover - or every example across the whole page. The advantages of such seamless interworking would be huge but for the moment the LiveMotion SmartObject only lets you edit single standalone SWF files and, bizarrely, there isn’t a SmartObject for ImageReady at all!

When it comes to designing individual pages, GoLive still primarily bases its layout control on its use of text box and image placeholders that you drag onto a layout grid. The big advantage that this offers is completely freeform layout for designers which GoLive converts into pixel-precise HTML tables behind the scenes. Alternatively these days you can use CSS-based floating boxes, but until browser support is universal this probably isn’t advisable and, accordingly, GoLive now lets you convert floating box designs to layout grid equivalents.

The main drawback to GoLive’s conversion of layout grids to tables is that it’s easy for the code involved to bloat – especially as avoiding a bug in Netscape involves heavy use of the <SPACER> tag. One way to cut down on code is to ensure that text boxes and images are aligned which you can now do with the new Align palette. You can also use the new Transform palette to precisely control objects’ size and position. In fact most of this power was already available via GoLive’s context-sensitive toolbar, but one palette at least is entirely new - the History palette finally provides GoLive with multiple levels of undo.

GoLive’s use of the Layout Grid is great for non-coders and those for whom the visual impact of the page is more crucial than its download time, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t offer good direct table handling too. The power on offer here has been improved with a new Table palette offering two new tabs. The first of these lets you select rows, columns and cells on a proxy version of the current table, while the second lets you store and apply table formatting as styles. Some features, such as the ability to sort by rows or columns, are impressive but generally the table handling still isn’t either as interactive or as easily controlled as it should be. GoLive still seems to see tables as an occasional add-on rather than the fundamental basis of clean HTML layout.

Table handling has improved but is still too laborious.

Where GoLive certainly does score is in its support for advanced media. New object components are provided for a whole host of file formats such as Flash, SVG, WebObjects and Real Networks G2. All you have to do is drag the object onto the page and link it to the desired file and GoLive will take care of all the necessary <EMBED> and <OBJECT> coding. If you want to fine tune any parameters this is easily done in the Inspector palette.

Most objects are well catered for but there’s one format that GoLive favours above all others – Apple’s QuickTime streaming media format. This doesn’t only have its own object in the Object Palette it has its own tab. Using this and the dedicated Movie menu and Timeline Window, GoLive can act as a dedicated QuickTime editor. Open an existing MOV video file, for example, and you can add and synchronize sound and Flash-based overlays before saving your finished project back to MOV with the Export Streaming Movie command. GoLive includes some impressive examples of what can be achieved but, while Adobe’s backing might make the difference, at the moment QuickTime support under Windows is far from universal – a point Adobe fails to make clear.

The support for editing QuickTime streaming movies is particularly impressive.

Another area of strength for GoLive is its in-built support for dynamic data through its Dynamic Link module. When this has been activated under the Preferences command, a new Dynamic Link palette becomes available in which you can set up a link to an ODBC-compliant data source and then bind placeholders on the page to database fields. With a bit of work you can even set up the ability to update data sources and pages remotely through browser access. The Dynamic Link is undoubtedly impressive for a free add-on, but it’s currently limited to ASP-capable hosts and serious e-commerce sites will probably prefer to pay for a total dedicated solution.

Support for advanced media and dynamic data is important, but by far the most important capability for a Web authoring package is its HTML control. In the past GoLive’s HTML editing was left to two alternative views in the Page window – HTML Source and HTML Outline. Both of these provide powerful editing environments with advanced features such as code checking against browser profiles, colour coding with URL and media file highlighting and so on. Compared to Dreamweaver, however, with its roundtrip HTML, simultaneous page and code editing and its quick tag selection and editing, the control was underpowered and awkward.

Adobe clearly felt likewise as they’ve shamelessly copied the market leader. GoLive’s new "360code" is a clear copy of Dreamweaver’s round-tripping and guarantees that the program won’t mess up your carefully hand-crafted ASP, ColdFusion, JavaScript, XML or externally edited code. For simultaneous visual and code editing GoLive has also added a new Source Code palette which you can arrange next to the Page Window’s wysiwyg Layout View. Finally using the new MarkUp Tree palette you can see where the current tag fits into the nested HTML hierarchy and select it or any other surrounding tag.

With its 360Code, Source Editor and Markup Tree, GoLive offers more to the coder as well as to the designer.

Between them these represent a quantum leap in terms of HTML coding which was previously GoLive’s biggest weakness. Unfortunately there are still some quirks. Take the Markup Tree palette. To begin with, Dreamweaver’s Tag Selector manages to fit the same functionality into the Page Window’s status bar. More importantly the GoLive’s palette’s behaviour is strange. For example it looks like you should be able to instantly select the link that the cursor is in and quickly copy it within the Source Code palette - bizarrely though everything is selected apart from the crucial surrounding <A> tags!

Dreamweaver retains its coding edge then but there is one area of HTML functionality in which GoLive does move ahead. In the past its Find and Replace was limited, but now the feature is fully HTML-aware. Using the new Element tab in particular opens up the ability to search for particular tags or tag attributes with GoLive intelligently prompting you with all available options. With the Actions option you can then set whether the tag, its attributes or its content is changed. As parameters can be saved and reused this means that you can automate common searches such as for IMG tags without ALT attributes.

In fact you don’t have to build up the most common search tasks as GoLive provides them directly from its dedicated Site Reports Tab. This provides five tabs of its own - file info, errors, site objects, links, misc – each with its own choice of file searches such as for images without text alternatives, pages including object Flash files, pages that will take over 10 seconds to download and so on. A nice touch is that results can be viewed in file, navigational or hierarchy views, but this is offset by the bizarre decision to make all options cumulative which means that you have to check every tab to make sure your parameters are correct.

Once you’ve checked your site reports, you’re ready to post them to your host server. GoLive has an in-built FTP uploader and is able to automatically synchronise local and remote sites. It also now adds support for the WebDAV (Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning) standard protocol. If you have a WebDAV-enabled Server this means that you can lock and unlock files which is crucial in multi-user environments to make sure that two people aren’t working on the same file simultaneously.

GoLive includes various new site management features including a WebDAV browser.

Nowadays such collaborative working is becoming the norm for large sites. For these advanced, multi-author sites it’s also becoming common to tailor not just templates and library items but the program itself. GoLive now includes a Javascript-based SDK (software development kit) complete with interpreter and debugger to enable just this. The idea is to encourage third-party developers to produce advanced functionality while letting workgroups take control of features such as custom palettes. The SDK is certainly a step in the right direction but it’s by no means as simple as Dreamweaver’s in-built macro recording and extensibility and the potential development community will also be far smaller.

This is typical of GoLive overall. The changes in interface, site design, image handling, table support, dynamic data, HTML coding, site management and extensibility all work together to improve the entire Web production workflow - but somehow they still fall short. Dreamweaver’s position is safe for a while yet then but there’s no doubt that GoLive has narrowed the gap considerably. And there’s also no doubt about Adobe’s commitment. If it continues in the same vein, GoLive 6 could well present a serious challenge to Dreamweaver’s dominance.

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System Requirements :  Pentium 200Mhz or higher, 64MB of RAM, 60MB of disk space, Windows 98, 2000 or NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3 (ie not Windows 95), CD-ROM, SVGA

Tom Arah

August 2000

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