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Spinning a Web with the Penguin - page 2

Reviewing CoffeeCup and TopPage

  • May 26, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt
HTML editors, by nature, tend to be more complicated than Web-page editors. Web-page editors, for instance, do not require that you know any HTML to make a Web page. If you want to make something bold, you just select the text and hit the bold icon on the toolbar, just like a word processor. In a good HTML editor, the process is much the same, except when the selected text is made bold, its appearance stays exactly the same. Only the addition of and tags before and after your passage of text indicate something new. The visual results of your action are not seen until the page is interpreted by a browser, which sees the tag and says to itself: "all text after this tag will have a boldface appearance." When it sees the ending tag, it stops applying the boldface attribute.

This is a very simplified explanation of HTML, but you will need to know this and perhaps a little bit more about HTML in order to fully capitalize on the HTML editor CoffeeCup HTML Editor++ for Linux. One great online source is the Web Developer's Virtual Library, which contains a lot of information on the not-so-mysterious HTML.

This learning curve is just one of the small hurdles you have to get over when you want to start using CoffeeCup. The next one is getting and installing the application itself. CoffeeCup is a shareware product and the method for getting it from the CoffeeCup site is ridiculously simple--just a quick form and a link to the CNet download site and you're pretty much done. The download size was a manageable 2.3 MB (nice and slim compared to the Windows version's 5 MB size), so no issues there. The problems began soon after that, beginning with the platform CoffeeCup needs.

The Web site documentation clearly says that CoffeeCup only runs on Red Hat with glibc2 libraries, and by golly, they're not kidding. I tried to install it on Red Hat running KDE as the default desktop environment and was rebuffed by a nonfunctioning installation application. Beginning Linux users will have some trouble here, and the online documentation was no help. (The only installation instructions I found on the Web site just said to use a temporary directory when you gzip'ed and tarred the installation archive.) I installed the glibc2 libraries and got GNOME running as my default environment, and from then on all was well. This inflexible inability to install on any other Linux platform is CoffeeCup's biggest detriment.

The shareware version of the software has all of the features the registered version does, though some of the provided examples are scaled down in the shareware. At first glance, the interface is a bit daunting, but it was quick to pick up. CoffeeCup uses a simple text editor as the focal point of its operations, with file and project manager tools adjacent and toolbars chock full of stuff everywhere else.

The best place to begin coding an HTML document is by setting up all of the required tags that all Web pages must have. If you don't know how to do this, the Quick Start feature sets this up for you in a snap. The Quick Start dialog box lets the user establish everything from the color of linked text in the document to the contents of the metatags that search engines use to locate and catalog your page.

This dialog-box mentality is pervasive throughout the design of the product. Click a tool, get a dialog box. The main work of filling your special configuration needs is done in these dialogs, not in the text editor. CoffeeCup's designers knew a lot of time would be spent in the dialogs, so they gave the ubiquitous OK and Cancel buttons the new labels: "Cool" and "No Way." A nice touch, though I felt like Keanu Reeves was going to jump out at me at any moment.

This works very well in the Tables Designer and its less filling version, Quick Tables. These tools made table creation (ordinarily a pain) pretty easy to handle. I did note, however, that even though the Tables Designer was very complete, there were no settings available to create spanned (or merged) rows and columns. This had to be done by hand in the text editor window.

The Forms Designer was a bit of a chore to manage, since it relied on dialogs to get things set up and has no visual design references at all. The Frames Designer dialog box was the hardest of all to wade through, as it was very crowded and not easy for even a veteran to use. Just how crowded? Well, the fields to insert the URLs of each frame were only nine characters wide, which is way too small.

On the positive side, this application has a lot of functionality built in. Tags can be placed by selecting text and clicking on one of the available tags in the HTML Tag list or one of the more commonly used tag icons to the right of the text editor.

Other goodies included some sample ActiveX controls, PHP and CGI scripts, and VRML elements, not to mention a few JavaScript applications and image and sound files. CoffeeCup did not scrimp when it came to loading this application up, which makes it a great product to play around with and fit to your needs. There is even an icon to start your FTP application so you can upload your completed files to the Internet, which is very handy.

The cost to register this CoffeeCup HTML Editor ++ for Linux is just $20, which gets you access to more graphics and scripts. If coding is your preferred method of making a Web page, CoffeeCup is a good way to go.

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