"Well, Jim, the Web pages look pretty good, but they remind me of a food line at a delicatessen. Lots of food, but nothing looks like it belongs with anything else." "But boss, I put in all the information that you wanted!" "Yes, but I want our pages to have a style that's recognizable throughout the whole site."
This conversation has been taking place in companies all over the world, and it's due to the inconsistent design of Web pages. In the corporate Web, consistency means a lot. Consistency can give your customers a sense of solidity, and will give them a good first impression of your company. The problem is that while there are a lot of decent graphics programs for Web design, there aren't many software packages that provide complete style groups for designing Web pages. In this issue, I'll tell you about one such package that's supposed to do just that- DigitalStyle's WebSuite, and I'll let you know if it can help you create a site that even the boss can be happy with.
DigitalStyle's WebSuite installed from the sixteen installation floppies with no problem, taking up 20 MB of hard drive space. It is also available on a CD ROM, which would have installed much faster, as the floppy disk installation took about twenty minutes. WebSuite comes with a forty-one page User Guide that covers the installation and basics of program operation, as well as a searchable online help system and index. The program doesn't take a lot of studying to use, as the User Interface is simple and intuitive. I jumped right into WebSuite without touching the manual, and the only operation that wasn't obvious was how to import the graphics into the Web page I was creating.
WebSuite is actually made up of four parts: The Component Catalog - This is where you are presented with the different Style Groups. It is also where you manage Style Groups and store, import and export components: rules, bullets, buttons, navigational tools, headings, icons, and backgrounds.
The Component Editor - This is where you create new Style Groups or edit the ones you already have.
The Image Editor - The Image Editor works behind the scenes on image size, transparency, and color quantization.
The Load Manager - This application, which is a part of the Component Editor, lets you determine exactly how long the graphic will take to download at various bandwidths.
The Standard edition of WebSuite comes with ten Style Groups and all tools, and the Designer Edition comes with the same, as well as twenty additional Style Groups. As you browse through the Component Catalog (see Figure 1) you are presented with a window that features separate tabs for rules, buttons, navigational buttons, major headings, minor headings, icons and backgrounds. A Scrapbook tab is also included for storing files that you plan to use as components. As you click on each tab, you are presented with the different components for that style. By double-clicking on an image, the Component Editor is launched. Using the Component Editor to customize the images in the Style Groups, you are able to alter the image's text, shadow, font and color as well as add shapes and other images to the component to suit your tastes.
After you close the Component Editor, you are able to use the image on your Web page by selecting the graphic with the mouse and doing one of four things: hitting Control-H, clicking on the Copy as HTML button on the tool bar, right mouse-clicking and using the pop-up menu, or going to the Edit menu and selecting Copy as HTML. Then you paste the HTML code into your HTML editor, (which WebSuite does not provide, but allows you to choose). WebSuite supports all Windows HTML editors including Netscape Gold and Microsoft FrontPage. When saving the HTML code, a dialog box comes up that enables you to specify either a Server path (an absolute path), Document path (relative path), or HTML Output path (local path) to reference the image. By right mouse-clicking on the graphic, you are also able to export the graphic to a directory on your hard drive for use elsewhere. Although I didn't have any problem doing any of this, I still would have preferred a drag and drop option along with the copy and paste method of adding HTML code to my Web pages.
The creation of new Style Groups is easy; you just go to the File menu and click New. Then you enter the name for your new Style Group and add the components that you've created. You can create new components in your new Style Group or existing Style Groups by right mouse-clicking and selecting Create Component from the pop-up menu, which causes the empty Component Editor to appear. The Component Editor has a toolbar that allows the designer to add rectangles, ovals, insert text, import images, and remove colors from the new image (see Figure 2).The WebSuite Component Catalog can import many graphic formats including BMP, EPS, GIF, JPEG, MAC and PCX, among others. The Component Editor's ability to create transparent images, as well as the fact that WebSuite automatically compresses images down to 256 colors, decreasing download time, makes this a very versatile, efficient Web design tool. The Component Editor also has a location to put the alternate text for the image, as not every Web surfer surfs with their graphics turned on.
One of the most useful features of WebSuite is the Load Manager. The Load Manager isn't really a separate application, but is a function of the Component Editor. Located at the bottom of the Component Editor window (see Figure 3) the Load Manager is invoked by clicking the Get Size button. By clicking anywhere next to the Get Size button the Load Manager displays the size of the image, as well as the download time from 9600 baud all the way up to a full T3. The Load Manager works equally well with jpegs or gifs.
As this was being written, DigitalStyle announced the Style Group Subscription Service, which, for $59, allows WebSuite users to subscribe to a year of Style Groups. One Style Group will be available monthly for download from DigitalStyle's Web site, adding to the Styles that WebSuite comes with.
With WebSuite you've got a tool that allows you to create Web sites that have a consistent design and style throughout all the pages. You can create new styles, use existing graphics, manipulate text and colors to suit your needs, create transparent gifs, test for download time, and even automatically create the HTML code to put in your pages. Although an understanding of HTML is still necessary, WebSuite can help the Web designer create professional sites that are not only functional and consistent, but utilize the look and feel that your company has worked so hard to maintain.
About the Author
Scott Clark is the Webmaster for Phoenix Applied Technology, (http://www.phoenixat.com), an ISP in Kissimmee, Florida. Scott is the Product Review
Editor for "Java Developer's Journal" and a Contributing Editor for "Web Developer Magazine." Scott hosts the Java Message Exchange (http://www.phoenixat.com/java), a Web based Java forum, and WebToolz, (http://www.webtoolz.com) the Webmaster's Resource.
Java and Java-based marks are trademarks or registered trademarks of Sun Microsystems, Inc. in the United States and other countries. SYS-CON Publications, Inc. is independent of Sun Microsystems, Inc.