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A Stroke of Genius (No, Not Mine), October 12th, 1997 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

the soapbox @ benturner.com
archived soapbox: October 12th, 1997
"A Stroke of Genius (No, Not Mine)" [permalink]
    keywords: web design, world wide web, internet, homesite
    soapbox #: 106
    written: October 12th, 1997
    words: 2229

"A Stroke of Genius (No, Not Mine)", an Essay

[links upgraded to reflect Allaire's site restructure and the release of HomeSite 3.0]

Remember a month or so back when I couldn't think of anything to write about? Well, maybe some people do...others know about it more than the rest, but let's not give away our little secret, yes? I think it's funny -- now I've got too much to write about and not enough scheduled updates to do it in.

"Well just write it anyway!" you exclaim, thwapping me over the head for my stubbornness. Sorry, I can't. I realize that these stints of enthusiasm and idea overflow are occasionally offset by droughts of creativity, so I'll have to pace myself. Probably better I do it that way, anyway, so I don't get burnt out.

Okay, so I had something all set up to write about this week, but today I downloaded the beta 4 version of HomeSite v.3.0 and I was just so impressed by it that I had to write about it.

I've been wanting to do this for awhile now, although I never got around to it because I was going to write it as a standalone review and not as a Soapbox entry. But dammit, HomeSite deserves my unadulterated opinion.

A bit of history: Nick Bradbury wrote HomeSite pretty much by himself after not being able to find a decent HTML editor. This was back in the days when HTML editors were still rather primitive and not very powerful. Right about when software development for Win95/WinNT was taking off. Back when HotDog was deemed the be-all, end-all of HTML editing (I never liked that buggy program, by the way). Nick is quite an adept coder, which is surprising, as most single-author programs tend to be very buggy and not very well tested.

But Nick did an excellent job with his program, HomeSite v.1.0, and already it had begun to gather supporters in the HTML newsgroup. After v.1.0, Nick created a shareware version, v.2.0, and this was when HomeSite shot through the roof. Reviews of it were glowing and its scores steamrolled the competition. With v.2.5, and now 3.0 beta, Nick is making serious money after partnering with the software company, Allaire.

Okay, so I've been using HomeSite since v.1.0 and I've gotten quite a lot of people to use it as their editor of choice. And they always say it's the best, without a single doubt.

So come version 3.0 beta, I was expecting mostly cosmetic improvements. But I was wrong. Here is what I like about HomeSite.

HomeSite's interface is one of the most flexible and customizable out there. You can sort the tabs on your custom toolbar to whatever you use: HomeSite comes with toolbars for HTML tags, stylesheet attributes, Java/Javascript functions and variables et all, and even allows you to define your own tabs.

HomeSite has something else, too, which few other editors have, a file directory on screen. You can close the file directory if you find it takes up space, but it works just like your file explorer, fit with directory trees, file listings (which you can filter into Web documents (.shtml, .txt, etc.), or into Web files (includes images too), or all files, or whatever. You can of course define which file extensions go into what category.

The file directory is part of a resource bar which you can reposition to the left, the right, above, or below the text editing pane. The resource bar also has tabs for projects (ways to group similar files so you can manipulate them all at once), code snippets (like macros, it inserts blocks of HTML source that you use often) and even a remote directory of your web server, so you can manage your files remotely without the use of an external FTP program.

I find the file directory one of HomeSite's key features, since it lets you move and rename and drag and drop files just like you would with explorer. You can also get IMAGE HEIGHT and WIDTH attributes for images, as well as their thumbnails. Dragging and dropping the files into the text editing pane as links is also a plus. When you do this, HomeSite automatically adds the HEIGHT and WIDTH attributes, as well as other info for the specific tag.

HomeSite also has a main toolbar which contains commonly used functions: validation tool (you do need to download the HTML validator separately), extended find and replace (I find this immensely useful because you can replace blocks of source with other blocks, in just that file, or in the directory, or in all subfolders as well as that directory, or in just that project), launch external browser (you can add any browser you want for testing pages), document weight (calculates the download time of the page plus images and all linked files), and the typical buttons like cut and paste and undo. It even lets you verify the links on your page by testing to see if they really exist!

Other toolbars are the palette and the editor toolbar. The palette lets you click on a specific color, which adds the value of that color into your document for FONT COLOR or BGCOLOR or whichever attribute you wish to use. You can select which palette you want to use, and you can even make custom palettes. Useful for people like me who use a lot of different and not-so-common colors.

The editor toolbar is a godsend. You can toggle whether to show hidden characters (like paragraph breaks), toggle line numbers which show to the left of each line if enabled, toggle fullscreen, and toggle show of palette.

Toggling fullscreen is wonderful. It's as useful as it is in MSIE 4.0. More room to work, when you don't have Win95/WinNT menus and title bars everywhere.

There is another button which converts text to HTML. I've longed for this. I had a cheesy program which did that for me, before the latest version of HomeSite, but it always got runtime errors when I did something the programmer thought I'd never do.

So that is the interface. You can of course decide which features you want shown. It took me awhile to figure out how to do this, but then I looked under VIEW. Hehe. Like I've said many times, you can customize the Hell out of this program, and I dig that, because I am a very finicky HTML writer. I do it all by hand, but having these extra features certainly helps.

And now we get to the text editor. This is amazing, too. Nick rewrote the editor at some point so that it's now blazing fast. There is no slowdown when you type, yet as you type, HomeSite colors tags as you specify in the OPTIONS. For instance, if you type a P tag, it turns blue upon completion, and you can enable a feature which will automatically add a /P tag after the cursor. Also, when you type a tag which has attributes, it will bring down a list of available attributes which you can double click to insert. So if I were to type <P and a space, a little menu would come up and show which attributes to add. Hell, I'll probably use this! Goddamn, all the time saved! After I notified Nick of my review and he commented on it, he told me about a neat customization feature (I'm learning new things about this program every time I use it) that allows you to define how the menu will appear. The benefit of this is that it is dynamic -- if you want to add an attribute to the FONT tag, you just edit the font.vtm file and make it work how you wish. I gave the code used to accomplish this a cursory glance -- it will obviously take some studying in order to be able to add new attributes with ease. But what other editors let you define menus like that?

You can set which tags show up as which colors under the OPTIONS. It's quite flexible, allowing you to set colors for paragraphs, anchors, scripts, comments, and so on and so forth.

Not available in the beta, but which should be in the final, are the table and frame wizards. The anchor, image, and font wizards are implemented right now. So basically you can enter in the attributes using a window/field entry system, with HomeSite outputting the results to your document. Useful for those who prefer it.

HomeSite shows the line number and column number, has a tab system for switching between multiple open files, and lets you bookmark often used files for easy opening (like the index.shtml page of your site).

There are plenty of other little things that absolutely have me raving about how good this damn product is. You'll see what little features you love most about the product when you find it's your favorite too.

Now, for my completely personal opinion on HomeSite... HomeSite is easy to install and I found it easy to import my settings from HomeSite 2.5 into the beta version. I even have the two in separate folders, but HomeSite 3.0 found where the other copy was and imported the projects, macros, and so on automatically.

HomeSite fits on my 640x480 screen quite comfortably, although I do use a really small text font. Not many programs make sure to support my resolution. This is somewhat offset by how confusing HomeSite may be to beginners because it assumes one has a very good grasp of HTML and doesn't need to be babied anymore. Once you become familiar with both HTML and HomeSite, though, you'll configure the program just the way you like it for maximum efficiency.

HomeSite costs $79 to register now, $89 for the CD and manual, and that's a real shame, since it used to cost a lot less. However, it is worth that amount more so than any other HTML editor out there and costs less than the most popular editors. I paid $25 for mine, but I registered as soon as HomeSite turned shareware. Back when it was still smalltime and cheap. Of course, it had a lot less features, too, so I guess I can understand the price increase.

I recognized this was a star product that would hit it big. I pushed it as much as possible. Very well-written and slick, just the way I like my software. Doesn't crash. You just can't argue that something like FrontPage is better than this program, especially considering HomeSite lets you control how your HTML source looks. No bloated tags.

So I guess why I need this product at all is because I have gone long beyond Notepad. Some people brag about using simple text editors like Notepad, but let's face it -- those are mainly people who are against WYSIWYG editors and people who don't have multi-megabyte sites. HomeSite lets me do what I want without any hindrance, letting me just type in my HTML, but it also has advanced features which help me maintain my huge site. It combines a lot of generic Web tools into one, into a very small, fast environment. I feel like I have full and palpable control over my whole site.

HomeSite just feels nice. That's a large part of the appeal. Some programs have a delay when you do something -- HomeSite rarely does. It is responsive...technophiles crave that.

You want an example of how I've used this program? Well, back when I was putting benturner.com together, I needed to insert a block of text into every one of my documents, so I just did a find and replace with the first file that I opened in my file directory, then I set it to make the same change to every file in every directory that had to do with my homepage. And then I uploaded the affected files and I was done. Very, very convenient.

Do I sound excited about this product? Well, I am. HomeSite 3.0 beta is amazing, and quite frankly, I can't think of any reason you'd want to use something like FrontPage or HotDog or Arachnophilia, except for maybe the price of the product. Everyone knew that would happen, though -- big company spoils good programmer. I must admit that Agile is a solid editor as well, very flexible and very responsive to suggestions made for it. But HomeSite just excels in so many areas that there's no comparison. And the programmers are receptive to feedback -- I just traded e-mails with Nick and he let me in on word that HomeSite would have a project upload feature in the next beta. Woohoo!

Go ahead, try HomeSite out. I don't think the 3.0 beta is available to the public, but I suggest that you watch for it to finalize so you can download the approximately 4MB it weighs.

I know you'll be impressed with what you see.


 
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