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Scott's Column
Web Tool Comparison, Part 1

November 1, 2005
By Scott Lewis

This month I will finally get around to telling you some of what I have learned while testing FrontPage vs. Dreamweaver vs. Nvu.

Gaming

With Jedi Knight long behind me I am ready to start playing some more games. I have been a little reluctant to get back into Splinter Cell because of the NEED for a walkthrough. So I have started playing Demos of recent games.

Doom 3

When I upgraded my computer to an AMD64 3000+ with a GeForce 6600GT video card my intention was to play Doom 3. I was waiting for the game to come down to $20 before I buy it. This seems to be my sweet spot for a game. Twenty clams isn't too much to spend in case I don't like the game. I have been burned in the past buying games for $40-50 and playing them once or twice and being disappointed.

When I saw the demo of Doom 3 I downloaded it. I started playing the demo and realized a couple of things. 1) It is true what I heard. The game is nothing new. However, the graphics are so good that you should turn off the lights, turn up the volume and be prepared to be scared. O.K. Scared in the tradition of a hacker/slasher movie. Wes Craven would like it. 2) The game is tedious. It took a long time to walk around just getting to the bottom of nowhere. Then all hell breaks lose and you come right back... killing all the mutants and other bad guys along the way. It reminded me of Halo, which also got monotonous.

I left the game for a few weeks. I was very busy and didn't think I would get much gaming time. Then I decided to start up and play the Demo with a little more determination. I finished it in that one session. If I had the same determination the first time I played it I could have finished the Demo in about two hours.

If you like this type of game then you should definitely buy it (maybe go up to $30). But I am looking for something that is less dark and dreary. I have been spoiled by FarCry. I hope they make another one of those. I liked the larger variety of scenery in FarCry, and the AI was better than every other first person shooters I have played, although it could still use improvement.

Age of Empres III

I started playing the demo for Age of Empires III. I bought Age I & II. I was slightly disappointed in Age II. It seemed too hard. It was mainly for a lack of time to get good with the game. I wanted to see the 3D environments in Age III, but I expected it to be too involved for the amount of gaming time I can spare. Well, I was right, it is far too involved. I don't understand how the "home city" works. I also there was too much micro management necessary.

I don't know if I will be able to play this game with any proficiency. I really likes Warcraft II, my big introduction to real time strategy games. Age I was a lot of fun to play against the computer, but I never got good enough online to match my abilities with Warcraft II and Starcraft.

I may try playing this more, but I think it will be over my head.

Web Tool Comparison

Below I will start my comparison of FrontPage, Dreamweaver and Nvu. Each is both a GUI web page editor and a site manager. I will take you through my learning curve with each one. Granted, I have been using FrontPage for some time, so it may be difficult to show the learning curve. I will do my best to be fair and impartial.

Setup

When I talk about setup I am not talking about installing the development tools and getting them running. I am talking about doing the absolute least to get a web page up on a remote server for viewing to the public. Basically your classic "Hello World" web page that does nothing but put a simple phrase on a page. However, that page will be a global page anyone can see.

Without a doubt Dreamweaver was the easiest to setup. And this was surprising to me because I have been using FrontPage for years. However, the problems I had with FrontPage should not really influence this comparison. Why? Quite simply, because I was using my own home server that is configured to run a FrontPage web site already. What that means is that I have the FrontPage server extensions on my site. We'll get to that in a minute.

To get Dreamweaver started I just created a new Dreamweaver site. Dreamweaver was very good about asking me where I wanted to store the site locally, and where it was going to be published. To allow Dreamweaver to publish to my server through the Internet (like a regular person would) I had to open up the FTP port on my firewall. No big deal there. I told Dreamweaver the FTP address and it published without a hitch.

I did spend a little time configuring my web server to make sure that I could have Dreamweaver there without it interfering with my existing FrontPage site. I needed to create a "virtual directory" to hold the site. This "Virtual Directory" becomes the home for the Dreamweaver site without touching my existing site (what you are reading now).

Next up was Nvu, which kept giving me fits. It was weird. I could access my pages if I started by going to the FTP address that I plugged into Nvu, but I could not access the pages from Internet Explorer as an HTTP web page. Eventually I figured out that I forgot to setup that virtual directory for Nvu. I did this for Dreamweaver, but forgot this step when setting up Nvu. Since this was a server configuration issue it should not count against Nvu. However, Nvu did not ask for information as easily and completely as Dreamweaver. Also, Nvu is supposed to be a "site manager," but I mostly noticed it seems to be a page manager. At this early stage I can't see how Nvu is going to be able to manage an entire site. I'll reserve final judgment when I build more than a single page placeholder.

Finally I setup a new FrontPage website and tried to publish it to a virtual directory on my server. I was dealing with error after error about FrontPage not being able to publish to a virtual directory, and I should contact my administrator (Me). I tried a number of things but nothing seemed to work. Eventually I tried to start over, but this didn't work either. I tried removing some things but that didn't help either. I accidentally stumbled onto something that would allow me to configure all the extensions. I don't really know what happened but the site published from FrontPage. When I checked its folder it was not touched. A little looking around showed me that FrontPage was able to create a "Sub Web" on my main site.

Apparently, there is something special about FrontPage and sub websites, and that made it different to configure than either Dreamweaver or Nvu. However, I cannot fault FrontPage as a client tool for this. I could have told FrontPage to publish to the FTP address and it would have done so without incident. Keep this in mind if you are configuring servers to support multiple FrontPage websites. My one grip with FrontPage is that it doesn't ask you to setup the remote part of your site until you publish it. I really liked Dreamweaver's way of explaining what you were doing to setup your site for local and remote storage. A slight advantage goes to Dreamweaver in this regard.

One additional note about setting up Dreamweaver. When I went to my laptop to edit the "site" there was no way to just open the "site." In Dreamweaver a site is defined as "a collection of files and folders that corresponds to a website on a server." Perfect, this is what FrontPage considers a site too, though maybe not in those exact words. (NOTE: When I talk about a web site, locally or anything else, I too mean a collection of pages and folders... just like Dreamweaver's definition.) FrontPage differs from Dreamweaver in a way, though. FrontPage keeps all of the information about its "site" in the folder itself using files of its own while Dreamweaver does not put any other files except the ones you create in its site (so far). The downside for Dreamweaver is that I had to create a "new site" on my laptop and enter all the local and remote information again. With FrontPage I just say "Open Web" and it will see the folder as a FrontPage web site. There is no equivalent "Open Site" in Dreamweaver. Not a big deal, but if you, like me, edit your site locally from more than one machine it will take a little longer to setup Dreamweaver than FrontPage. Wow, this is practically a tie. I still give Dreamweaver the advantage because its wizard to start a new site has all the definitions so well stated and all together. Very nice... even if I have to do it twice.

By the way, how do I edit the same site locally on more than computer. Simple, I put the local files on a shared folder on my network. Each computer maps that location as a drive and I am editing from either my desktop or my laptop... just not at the same time.

So far Dreamweaver has a very slight lead over FrontPage while Nvu is bringing up the rear.

Paint Shop Pro

I am a little behind on my versions of Paint Shop Pro. I am running PSP 8. I think they are at least up to 10 (Uh.. I mean X). I have no intension of upgrading. PSP 8 is doing everything I need, and I am barely scratching the surface.

Since I want to do a slightly jazzed up look while testing the web site tools, I had to spend a fair amount of time with PSP to design the graphics that would make up the look of the sites. I came up with a first draft look that I wanted to try. It is a little heavy in the graphics (for me) but still pretty simple.

I had the opportunity to play around with what Paint Shop Pro calls tubes. These are graphic "extensions" to PSP. You can "draw" with a tube to create... well... tubes. However, by putting different images into the tube file you can just use the tube to generate repeating graphic images. I built too tubes. One with pictures of 50 Muscle Cars and one with about 20 cartoon style computer themed clip art images. It took a while looking for Muscle Car images on my hard drive that would look good and identifiable at the size I was shooting for (about 100 pixels wide). Basically you blank out the background and put a thumbnail into a file that will be imported into PSP as a tube. Then you can draw with it. I didn't so much draw as click in spots to put a quick image in place. I did this to create some collages of Muscle Cars and computer components in a graphical banner to run across the top of my pages.

Preview

I have put the basic design to work in FrontPage. After it is working the way I like I will try doing the site over in Dreamweaver and Nvu. I have not done much to build the sites yet, but you can see my progress here:

FrontPage Sample Site
Dreamweaver Sample Site
Nvu Sample Site

I am building the basic look in FrontPage first because I am used to it. Look at the FrontPage sample site to see the look I am going for. The others will get updated when I start spending more time with them.

Conclusion

After I built the initial design for my comparison in FrontPage I came across a really nice looking site that inspired me. I was so inspired that I built a similar site using hand coded HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Part of my comparison will be how well each tool picks up and starts working with the hand coded stuff.

Until next time.
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