Express promises speedy results and ease of
use in creating websites on the Mac, but getting
to grips with this web design tool can be far
Mac OS X or Mac OS 9
good feature-set at a highly competitive price
patchy results. No spell checker, link map, or code
OS X or Mac OS 9
whole website is created in a single Freeway
and drop images and text directly from the finder
rotate, distort, and overlap graphic elements
and combine them with HTML text
Express completely re-writes the HTML code and
re-compresses all the graphics automatically
pages allow site-wide changes
website in the browser of your choice
website using onboard FTP
definable styles (not CSS) to speed the formatting
to enter META Tags
HTML Markup and items
with additional 'Fast Packs', families of plug-ins
that allow many complex web design tasks
technical support by email
walkthroughs available at softpress.com
Express is a Mac program and unavailable for the
Windows platform. Its purpose is to create websites
simply and is targeted to those who do not wish
to get involved with html coding.
website design tools are not that common so this
software will likely be on the shortlist of any
Mac user seeking a simple solution to create their
website. Freeway Express is far less expensive as
compared with the likes of the industry standard
Dreamweaver (also available for the Mac), yet promises
much of its capabilities with an 'intuitive' drag
and drop interface.
This review focuses on Freeway Express which also
happens to contain the core functions of its bigger
brother Freeway Pro. Freeway Pro delivers more
features than Express including greater coverage
of the kinds of files the program can work with,
CSS Styles and layout, and other capabilities designed
for the web professional.
Freeway Express might therefore seem like the perfect
solution for the Mac user who hasn't created a website
before: the drag and drop functionality is familiar,
the promise that all html is handled by the program,
the 'legendary ease of use' and 5 star reviews quoted
on the developers site reassure the potential new
user and point to a winning application. In practice
however Freeway Express has serious usability flaws
that will confuse and intimidate many first-time
ships with a number of website templates that work
adequately even if they're a little short on inspiration
(choose the simplest to start with as some templates
are more difficult than others to modify). If you
want to deliver a simple website, Freeway Express
will do the job well enough, but as you begin to
use the program in earnest you'll soon have to delve
deep into the manual to understand how even the
simplest of functions is handled.
program weighs in at well over 60 MB, and for those
who don't enjoy a broadband connection, it takes
a considerable time to download. Fortunately Softpress
also provide a CD and printed manual version at
a slightly higher price. The CD will be posted on
Freeway Express is simple to install and requires
the input of a registration key to unlock the trial
mode. Separate 'Fast Packs' can also be 'bolted
on' and require registration from within the program.
When Freeway Express is first launched it provides
a list of website templates that have been pre-built.
This seems a great start for those who are not familiar
designing web pages. Unfortunately the implementation
of some of the template sites isn't up to scratch
and you'll discover error messages appear when previewing
some template sites from within the program. This
is poor attention to detail. If the program developers
produce errors then it's certain the common user
After Freeway Express has launched and a new document
or template has been chosen, the main screen elements
appear. As a default these consist of seven main
the text menu containing all the main software functions
the document window where the user edits their web
an inspector window that provides details about
the particular element that is selected at any one
time (much like a properties window in Dreamweaver)
a styles window that allows the user to define and
edit styles that can be used in the development
of the website
a site window that presents an overview of the site
a tools icon window with a range of shortcuts like
the selection tool, zoom tool, sketch and link tools
pop-up windows accessible via the lower left of
the document window that allow changes to the magnification,
and the selection of pages
Express has a simple and effective preferences
window where the user can alter the main settings
of the program.
The user may alter preferences relating to the
general interface, text, grids and guides, output,
a website is a complex process and any tool that
keeps the code from the eyes of the developer has
to function perfectly. Unfortunately the very nature
of producing web pages that 'degrade gracefully'
on a range of browsers and on different platforms
requires compromise and a strong element of human
judgment, and this is where a program like Freeway
can place text and images directly from the finder
onto the page via panel dialogues (window dialogues)
and drag and drop functionality, after which they
can resize and change the text and image objects.
found however there were occasions when all seemed
fine in the document window but all was far from
fine when previewed in a browser. That's part of
the usual process of designing a web page, however,
the problem becomes serious as the user can't see
exactly what's causing the difficulty as there's
no code view from within the program. The only way
to make certain the page resolves appropriately
is by way of trial and error, and depending on the
complexity of the page, this method can take a considerable
amount of time.
screenshot on the left shows the tools palette
which lets users create and edit items on the
Unfortunately some of the commands available
from the tools palette are not undoable. For
example, if the text box linking tool is used
the only way to undo the command is to 'revert'
back to the last saved version of the document
(using the 'Unlinking' tool can alter the layout
of text as compared with the original version).
This inability to undo is a major usability
shortfall of Freeway Express and should be addressed
in future versions.
the drag and drop feature functions well it might
seem like a great time saver for the novice user.
Simply locate a jpg or gif image file from your
finder and drag and drop the image directly onto
the Freeway Express document window. The trouble
is that any dragging and dropping may significantly
affect other page elements and may indeed prevent
them working altogether.
attributes of any given object can be easily edited
as the 'inspector' panel is context sensitive and
changes depending on the object that is selected.
That said when I first used the program I spent
a great deal of time trying to figure out how to
change the text of a rollover image. Eventually
I had to resort to reading the manual before I realised
I'd need to practice what I'd view as a 'workaround'
and delete or move an element then replace it after
I made the appropriate changes. This is indicative
of the untintuitive nature of Freeway Express. I
use many professional web and graphics programs
on a daily basis but found I had to learn a whole
new way of doing things when it came to using Freeway
produced software encourages exploration of the
program and assists the user at every corner. If
users find they have to constantly resort to the
manual most will soon give up and favour a simpler
contrast the FTP integration was easy to configure
and worked without error when tested on a Unix server.
Be aware you may need to select the 'Passive FTP'
mode to successfully connect to your server. During
the upload process Freeway copies any files that
have changed since the site was last uploaded and
deletes any files that are no longer needed. Files
are not uploaded if they have not been changed.
generously provided the Graphics and Navigation
'Fast Packs' for this review of Freeway Express
which significantly extends the functionality of
the software by allowing users to edit graphics
directly from within the program and create complex
drop down navigational menus. Fast Packs are usually
purchased separately and can almost double the price
of the program.
documentation of Freeway covers both the Express
and Pro versions. The pdf guides are particularly
well written and produced with copious screenshots
and clear explanations. The size of the user guide
(398 pages) shows just how much functionality this
program has. It's also an indication of how complex
Freeway is to use.
A 'Quick Guide' is also provided to familiarise
the user with the essential features of the software.
deciding to opt for Freeway should read the documentation
first. I couldn't emphasise this point more as attempting
to create a functioning website using Freeway Express
without reading the online documentation will be
Freeway Express interface is delivered in many
languages and features copious tool tips and
a searchable on-line help facility.
how is it that this review is at odds with the stack
of reviews quoted on the softpress website that
give it a consistently higher rating? I've carried
out this review from the perspective of the average
user. After all, that's who Freeway Express has
been targeted towards. Freeway Express is quoted
as being the 'consumer' version.
creative professionals may well find the program
easier to use than I've suggested as the familiar
quick-keys they've used in Photoshop and other paint
programs may give them a head start. The majority
of first-time users however are likely to be very
disappointed by the often complex methods of achieving
tasks, and the constant opening and closing of dialogue
windows as the site is developed.
features like the link map view and spell checker
should not be confined to the professional version.
Rather they should be considered as core functions
in any high quality website creation software.
change I'd like to see in the next version is to
drop the implementation of Fast Packs with the view
to delivering 'complete' Express and Pro versions.
The purchase and integration of additional Fast
Packs makes Freeway Express more complex to learn
as they are not part of the core feature-set and
require separate activation. The advantages that
result from the integrated Fast Packs considerably
improves the software's functionality and I'd like
to see them as integrated into the core program.
The development of more user-friendly 'Actions'
would also significantly improve the software's
attention to detail in the functionality of Freeway
Express is testament to the effort that has gone
into producing this software. Softpress place great
emphasis on the ease of use of Freeway Express,
and it's therefore a great irony that the program
seems to make the process of designing a website
more difficult than it need be.
most fundamental task in any website design software
is to create links easily and quickly from one page
or page element to another, and yet the implementation
of this in Freeway Express is convoluted. An indication
that many of the core functions require redevelopment
with far greater emphasis being placed on the usability
and accessibility of functions.
So, if you decide to opt for Freeway Express do
one thing above all else: read the manual!
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable®
(the link above opens a new browser window)
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