By: Frith Gowan
June 21, 2006
Your Web site is your organization's window to the world, a way for the public to contact you, interact, learn about your mission, and donate funds. If you're going to build a site on your own, using Web publishing software is the best way to create a compelling design.
TechSoup looked at four Web publishing programs that can help your nonprofit establish a presence online, add new features and content, manage your Web site as it grows, and integrate with complex back-end systems, including databases and servers.
To help you choose a product, we looked at important components of Web publishing software, and compared the features offered by each program. Keep in mind that this is not a formal review. All of the titles we looked at are available for a free test run, so try out the software yourself before making a final decision.
Despite the fact that other Web publishing tools are available, to keep things simple, our comparison includes just three widely used titles — Dreamweaver, FrontPage, and GoLive — and one, Nvu, that is free to download.
Macromedia Dreamweaver 8 (Now Adobe)
Nonprofit Offer: Available for $25 to qualifying nonprofits from TechSoup Stock
Platforms: Mac OS X, Windows
The skinny: The package is crammed with features for professional Web designers and developers. It may be overkill for users with simple needs and Web newbies.
Try it for free.
Microsoft FrontPage 2003
Nonprofit Offer: Available for $7 to qualifying nonprofits from TechSoup Stock
Platform: Microsoft Windows 2000 SP3 or Windows XP
The skinny: Microsoft's Web publisher is popular with small businesses and many schools. Its interface will feel familiar to Microsoft Office users. Some advanced features require Microsoft SharePoint or extensions on your ISP's side. It doesn't have as many robust back-end features as Dreamweaver and GoLive.
Try it for free.
Adobe GoLive CS2
Nonprofit Offer: Available for $40 to qualifying nonprofits from TechSoup Stock
The skinny: Adobe's acquisition of Macromedia has led many industry watchers to question whether the company will continue to develop GoLive as a separate product. However, Adobe contends that it will continue development of the software. The program offers features, such as tools for designing for small devices (like PDAs and cell phones), that set it apart. It also boasts an array of professional site-developing and back-end features, including Secure FTP and Secure WebDAV. Integration with other Adobe products makes working between programs a breeze.
Try it for free.
Platforms: Linux, Mac OS X, and Microsoft Windows
Consider what your organization needs from a Web publishing tool before you buy the software. If you have a small team with a relatively simple Web site, you may not need a large array of complex features, and a professional program could slow you down. If your publishing program needs to work with a particular server setup or database, you may find that only one program offers exactly what you need.
To help you evaluate your options, we take a look at the interface, template options, adherence to Web standards, how each program works with different types of code, integration with other programs, and user support.
Since it's difficult to envision exactly how HTML code will look when it's rendered on a Web page, all four programs offer a WYSIWYG (what you see if what you get) mode that approximates how your Web page will appear when viewed in a browser.
Even more useful, Dreamweaver, GoLive, and FrontPage allow you to view your raw HTML source code and your WYSIWYG window at the same time so you can see how every change in your code will affect your output without switching between windows or tabs.
In Nvu, you'll need to tab between different modes to see how code changes affect your design. In addition, when you switch modes, the program validates your code and changes it if it believes it has found a problem. There's no reversing the process if it's wrong, so consider saving a backup of your file.
Templates, "blank" pages that include all the repeating elements on your Web pages, are nearly essential to creating sites, and all four programs offer them. You can create templates for each type of page you have, and then use the templates to create new pages that share elements. This way, you can change shared elements on similar pages at the same time and update multiple pages at once. Plus, you can lock elements of your pages so that team members don't accidentally delete or alter them.
GoLive, Dreamweaver, and FrontPage take things a step further by offering basic pre-made pages that you can alter and use if you're starting a Web site from scratch.
HTML: All programs create the appropriate HTML code for you on the fly as you work in the WYSIWYG layout view, applying styles and formatting much as you would in any text editor — you type something, then select a style from a button or pull-down list and the program automatically creates the code necessary to produce the desired style. However, if you like to work directly with HTML code, you'll find that Dreamweaver and GoLive offer more tools, such as tag libraries, to help you create the code.
Standards: Dreamweaver, GoLive, and Nvu are designed to create code that adheres to World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web standards. That is, the code you make using these packages should look the same on any Web browser that is also compliant with W3C standards. FrontPage does not check code for compliance, thus, you may find that your code doesn't work properly on browsers other than Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Using the W3C's validator will help get rid of errors.
Accessibility: While you can use third-party tools, such as WebXact (previously called "Bobby"), to evaluate the accessibility of your Web site, Dreamweaver offers an integrated tool that checks your code's accessibility and presents reports based on Section 508 compliance — a U.S. law that ensures Web sites are accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities — and the more in-depth Web Content Accessibility Guidelines priority 1 and 2 checkpoints . FrontPage also checks code for compliance with Section 508 guidelines.
Web designers and coders will likely be familiar with the following terms; however, if you're building a site for the first time or creating a very basic Web site, these features may not be necessary.
Cascading Style Sheets: All four programs reviewed here work with cascading style sheets (CSS), which give you more control over how your page appears and allows Web developers to separate Web content from presentation. They also reduce work and allow site-wide changes to be made more easily.
Dreamweaver uses visual tools, like a CSS panel in the page design area, to help you see CSS nesting and how CSS elements are influencing your design. GoLive also offers visual tools for working with CSS.
XML and XSLT: Dreamweaver includes integrated XML tools, including code hinting that helps you use the correct syntax for XML and XSLT, which stands for Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation and essentially defines how to display XML code. You can, for example, add RSS feeds by dragging and dropping. Or, you can create XSLT using visual authoring tools, making the technology more accessible.
FrontPage also includes support for XML and XSLT. (XML collaboration requires Microsoft Server 2003, however.)
Other coding languages: Dreamweaver supports ColdFusion and PHP with server behaviors and code hinting. It also includes reference sets for ASP and JSP.
In general, Nvu allows, among others, the use of PHP scripts on pages (you can see your scripts in Source View only), but you won't be able to see how the scripts affect your page and the program offers only limited support for creating them.
Dreamweaver is the only product here that includes support for connecting to back-end databases. In FrontPage, database features only work if your ISP offers FrontPage extensions. Other advanced features, like blogs and data-driven news pages, require Windows SharePoint Services.
When you're choosing a Web publishing tool, consider what other programs you may already use as part of your publishing workflow. For example, if you primarily work with Microsoft products, you may find that the FrontPage interface feels comfortable to you. GoLive, on the other hand, is designed to work seamlessly with other Adobe products, such as Adobe Photoshop (drop Photoshop or Illustrator files into your page, and they'll automatically re-render if you go back and edit them). Dreamweaver has an interface similar to other Macromedia products, such as Macromedia Flash. While you can still mix and match products from different companies (you can drag-and-drop Flash files into FrontPage, for example), if a familiar interface makes you more efficient, consider this when making your choice.
In addition, some special circumstances might put one program at the head of the pack. If, for example, you have a large number of Adobe InDesign files that you want to bring online, GoLive could be a logical choice, as it's built to translate these files to the Web.
Furthermore, if you're publishing content for small devices, such as phones and PDAs, consider that GoLive offers tools for developing on these devices, and support for mobile standards including CSS Mobile Profile, SVG-t, and SMIL.
Although support manuals that come with software are pretty much a thing of the past, you'll find extensive online documentation and support for Dreamweaver, and to a somewhat lesser extent, GoLive and FrontPage. Nvu's support and documentation is a bit thin at this time, but efforts are underway to develop a wiki with full documentation. There's also a user forum where you can ask questions.
It would be impossible for us to say which program would be right for you and your organization's Web site. Evaluate your needs, your current setup, your back-end systems, and make sure the software will work with them. The best way to do this is to take the programs that interest you for a free test run, make sure you're comfortable working with them, and ensure that they include features you need.
Frith Gowan is a freelance writer and a former TechSoup editor.