New way to the web

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Freeway 3.5 is the latest version of a piece of web-design software that cuts through many of the creative difficulties posed by the established web-page software - I've yet to meet a teacher who finds Front Page facile or Dreamweaver a doddle.

Making web pages and linking is a tricky business. And as all finished work has to conform to HTML standard to be shared on the internet, there is usually a gap between what your ambitions and what software allows.

Freeway takes a different approach to web publishing that's more akin to a desktop publishing system. For the first time in web publishing, you can have total control and freedom over page make-up and layout. You can draw boxes and shapes anywhere you like then fill them with text, graphics or media such as QuickTime movie clips.

A graphics editor is built in so you can pan and crop images on the page - you can even scan directly into Freeway. A wide variety of graphic file formats like Photoshop and Illustrator files are supported and the software converts them to JPEG or GIFF files as you export the finished work. It also decides which type of file is the most appropriate for you. There is even a freehand pen tool so you can draw complex hotspot areas over graphics, which will then respond to mouse clicks to launch a link or other event.

Just like desktop publishing, there is a master page option - anything included on one of these appears automatically on all subsequent pages. Pages can be saved in web-page (HTML) format or as a graphic file, so you can be sure every viewer will see the page as you have designed it regardless of their browser settings and monitor size. The advice in the comprehensive manual is to save all but the graphics-critical pages in HTML format as this keeps the file size down and increases the speed at which the page appears over the web.

An indicator of the program's useability is that students at the London College of Printing now request Freeway when given a choice of publishing tools - always a good sign. Final-year BA students have put up their first attempts on a website using Freeway at www.biggles.uk.comfirst.

The process of keeping track of your collection of pages as they grow to become a website is also tricky and Freeway helps by having a Link Map option. Icons represent the pages and arrows denote links between them and other external pages on the web. It's the perfect visual tool to provide an overview and solve problems. Publishing to a website is also fairly straightforward as file transfer software is built into Freeway.

If it allowed saving in Adobe's PDF format, Freeway would be the ideal all-round publishing tool for schools. At the price, pound;82.50 for a single user, pound;290 for a five-user licence - it's still a snip for those who want to get more creative in their web work.

www.softpress.com

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