Softpress Freeway Pro 5 review

Sophisticated WYSIWYG web design for the QuarkXPress generation

TechRadar Verdict

Robust and impressive upgrade to one of the best WYSIWYG web design tools currently available


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    Improved performance

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    Lots of excellent new Actions

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    Accessibility Report tool


  • -

    Only a single level of undo

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    Actions restricted to one item at a time

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    Some lacklustre Graphics Actions

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Freeway Pro is a web design program that doesn't edit HTML code. Much like a desktop publishing program, your website is displayed and edited as a single document.

Once you're done, Freeway Pro converts your document into HTML and uploads everything to the appropriate server.

The great advantage to this approach is that you can fully exploit your page-layout skills without the need to learn any HTML or JavaScript.

HTML knowledge not necessary

While earlier versions of Freeway Pro offered a range of output options including HTML 3.2, HTML 4.01 and XHTML, the results weren't always standards compliant.

But Freeway Pro 5 does appear to produce web pages that consistently pass the W3C Markup Validation Service. You also have the option of producing code that is more compatible with Internet Explorer versions 6 and 7.

But because Freeway Pro doesn't edit HTML directly, it isn't an attractive tool for web designers who need to manage existing sites or work cooperatively with others.

Adding features to your website

Central to the way Freeway Pro works are Actions - commands that add features and effects to web pages.

Often, these Actions take the hard work out of crafting the code that needs to be attached to the page once it's exported. To set up a rollover, for example, you open the Actions window, configure the relevant settings and off you go.

But other Actions work at the design end of things, as is the case with the very useful Navigation and Graphic Action sets. Actions that create navigation menus and bars will be familiar to long-time Freeway Pro users, but version 5 sees CSS-based menus added to the mix.

These are much faster than JavaScript-based menus, and have the advantage of working on browsers that don't support JavaScript or have had JavaScript turned off.

Attaching graphics

The Graphics Actions are a mixed bag in terms of usefulness. At their best, Actions make it easy to alter images without the need to edit them in a graphics program.

Because the original artwork is left untouched, you're free to play around with the image as much as you want. Being able to adjust the gamma, mirror or flip images, and apply fade effects are all obvious timesavers.

But compared with the photorealistic effects available in other applications, some of the graphical Actions in Freeway Pro are looking a bit rusty.

The Photo Frame Action, for example, merely adds a bevel effect to an image, which isn't nearly as exciting as the 3D frames offered by the likes of Pages and PowerPoint.

Offsetting this criticism somewhat are the new effects that can be added to text and graphic boxes without the need to use Actions. Various glows and shadows can be used to enliven text and graphic items.

Sliced images can also be used to apply more complex background effects. Freeway Pro has always been able to turn plain text into editable graphical text for things like banners and logos, but Freeway Pro now adds some nifty text manipulation effects as well, including cracked and wobbly text.

New Google features

New to Freeway Pro version 5 are Actions that support Google features such as Adsense, Maps and Analytics.

Adding a Google Map to your website is really no more difficult than placing the appropriate container on a page and then getting a free site key from Google. Other Actions let you create Blogger templates as easily as any other Freeway document.

When you're done, the Generate Template Action turns it all into code that you can paste into your Blogger setup page. Yet another set of Actions simplifies the process of creating an online store, though you're limited to using the Mal's E-Commerce service.

The Scriptaculous Action set is also new to Freeway Pro version 5. It comprises a set of Actions that provide dynamic JavaScript effects of various kinds. You can use them to create a slideshow, for example, with a series of images fading in and out of view.

Being able to create this sort of thing painlessly really shows Freeway Pro at its best.

Welcome improvements

Freeway Pro sports some very welcome interface improvements that make it a much nicer application to use than ever before.

You can import images directly from your iPhoto library, and the spellchecker and find-and-replace tools seem to be much faster than before.

Even better is the Save Archive command: this stores a copy of a Freeway Pro document along with a folder that contains all the original artwork and supplementary files such as movies and downloads.

Open the Freeway Pro document in the archive and all the items originally connected to files scattered across your hard drive are now linked to the duplicate files in the archive folder. This makes it dramatically easier to maintain and organise your websites.

A more stable package

Other useful new features include an Accessibility Report that provides a first-pass test of website accessibility and the ability to apply background images to individual items.

But while Freeway Pro has advanced in many important regards, at least a couple of annoyances remain: the lack of multiple levels of undo, and the inability to apply Actions or formatting features to more than one item at a time.

Freeway Pro 5 appears to be much more stable and somewhat faster than its previous incarnation. The only serious bug encountered was when attempting to copy a Master page from one document to another - this caused Freeway Pro to crash under the strain.

Softpress says it's aware of this bug and has promised that it will be fixed in the next update.

Intuitive software

Overall, Freeway Pro 5 is an impressive update to an already solid product.

Hardcore website designers who like to handcraft their HTML tend to look down on WYSIWYG web design tools, regardless of their merits, but they're not the market Softpress is going after.

Freeway Pro should be popular among Mac users who simply want an intuitive, standards-compliant tool for quickly creating stylish websites. It remains one of the best applications in its class.

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