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Author: Daniel Pfeifer
Title: HTML Editors for the Beginner and Intermediate User
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
June 1998

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Source: HTML Editors for the Beginner and Intermediate User
Daniel Pfeifer

vol. 1, no. 1, June 1998
Article Type: Software Review

HTML Editors for the Beginner and Intermediate User

Daniel J. Pfeifer

Applications Reviews

The Journal welcomes suggestions for application packages to be reviewed, or submissions of such applications and programs. Please contact Daniel Pfeifer for further information.

Reviews of Applications and Programs

"Save as HTML" is a familiar (and welcome) addition to the latest versions of software like WordPerfect or Excel. This feature makes publishing material to the World Wide Web amazingly simple. Although many new users take the "Save As" miracle for granted, they soon find that the function does not meet all their needs. Actually, the program has not changed, but the user has grown more demanding. Eventually, everyone who wants to publish on the web has to find an HTML editor. Luckily, many good WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors are available, and many of the beginner/intermediate level are free. Advanced users also have a nice selection of HTML editors, but many of these have a price tag attached to them.

For most beginner and intermediate level users, one of two editors will probably suffice. Depending on the browser of choice, the editor of choice could very naturally be Netscape Composer or Microsoft FrontPage Express. Although it may seem redundant or tiring to go through another Microsoft and Netscape run-down, there are two very good reasons. The first practical benefit is that users familiar with the browser will find the accompanying editor more comfortable. After all, experience is the key to the intuitive nature of the computer world. Second, both of these fully functional products come included with (and require) the full versions of the FREE products, Netscape Communicator and Internet Explorer 4.

Both editors handle simple tasks with ease. For text formatting needs including editing a syllabus or a reading list, the user will find familiar features. After a brief scan of the toolbar he or she should recognize some of the buttons from his or her word processor.


Some pages may require linking and layout features like word wrapping around pictures or positioning blocks of text. Placing an image on the page is a one-step process in Netscape Composer. A form opens with three tabs that allow the user to select the image, to choose text wrapping, to make the image a link, to center, left or right justify the image on the page, etc. This one-stop shop is not available in FrontPage Express. The user chooses the image in one form and places it on the page. Once the image is on the page, the user can edit the properties through another form that even includes a tab for video. The text justification and linking functions are available on the toolbar applying to images like text. Although FrontPage Express has more built-in advanced functions, they are distributed throughout the file menu, toolbar, and forms making them relatively inaccessible. Netscape has less functionality, but it is much easier to take advantage of the available options. Linking in Composer is easier as well. For users who generally construct their website on a local drive, linking in Netscape is as easy as selecting a file. Oddly enough, FrontPage Express requires the user manually type in links instead of selecting from a file list.


Tables are an essential function for all intermediate HTML users. Both editors handle table creation and editing well. Netscape continues to use the one-stop form with tabs for table, row, and cell editing/formatting functions. Although FrontPage Express does not use the one-stop shop here either, the table-edit function is superb. Just like in a Word table, the user can select an entire column or row, and then make global changes. This makes setting column and row widths available in FrontPage Express, whereas in Composer, the user has to edit each cell width individually.

For the more advanced user, both editors allow the user to the edit the "HTML source." Composer automatically opens a text editor specified by the user. Notepad or WordPad are fine. In FrontPage Express, an internal text editor opens. Both editors use an internal text editor to insert scripts (JavaScript or VBScript) which are essentially raw code.

For the user who wants to add interactive components, like a feedback form, FrontPage Express offers buttons that insert form objects onto the page ö text fields, checkboxes, radio buttons, etc. Express also has menu commands for inserting video and sound. Composer does not have these advanced features. Netscape users will have to open an external text editor or the internal tag editor to type HTML commands for the various form objects and for adding sound and video. However, both FrontPage and Composer users beware ö there is no multimedia standard. The HTML commands for playing sound and video are different in Communicator and Internet Explorer. For campuses using Internet Explorer, FrontPage Express will allow the intermediate user to create multimedia content painlessly. Although Composer does not afford all the Microsoft extras like forms, sounds, and video, it does offer one very important practical function for users of every level, a spell checker.

Microsoft FrontPage Express and Netscape Composer are both very functional editors that will meet the needs of beginner and intermediate users. Users in charge of a departmental web site may want to consider the full version of FrontPage for its site management features. The software manages the files on a website freeing the webmaster to focus on content.

For users who want to add additional interactivity and animation to their website, two products are highly recommended, Macromedia's Dreamweaver and Astound's Dynamite. One has to be a fairly advanced user and have some fairly high-tech demands to warrant these products. If the user enjoys editing the HTML source, a product like Homesite is very helpful. Buttons insert HTML commands automatically so the user only has to fill in the blanks with his or her data. In addition, HTML tags are color coded for more ease of use.

In conclusion, most users will find the functions they need for free in either Netscape Composer or Microsoft FrontPage Express. Both offer easy text formatting and page layout features, although Netscape offers a more compact way of doing things. As the users needs become more high-tech, FrontPage Express contains more features. In truth, this Netscape Composer user actually switches to FrontPage Express to do forms and other more advanced tasks.

For more information, visit the links below.