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Spinning a Web with the Penguin - page 3

Reviewing CoffeeCup and TopPage

  • May 26, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

IBM is not the first place you would expect to find a new Web development application for Linux, yet Big Blue has released exactly that. Well, sort of.

TopPage is a graphically-oriented Web page editor and can be run on Caldera, Red Hat, TurboLinux, and SuSE. This flexibility comes with a price: in order to run, you must first download and install Wine for TopPage, a custom version of Wine developed and distributed by Keio University in Japan. If you need this file, there is a link to it adjacent to the download link for the main TopPage RPM.

Since both TopPage and the required Wine for TopPage are located on servers in Japan, any users not in Asia may suffer from trans-Pacific and/or trans-Asiatic lags in pulling these files down, particularly since the TopPage RPM is about 16.6MB in size. With patience and perseverance, you'll get them down eventually.

Installation itself was pretty simple--running rpm on the Wine for TopPage package first is the most important thing to remember. IBM does a terrific job of providing HTML documentation, as well as PDF docs on how to install and use the application.

TopPage takes a completely different approach to Web development than CoffeeCup, and not just in its interface. Rather than focusing on one page at a time, TopPage wants to manage Web development for your entire site. This is very evident when you start TopPage and the first thing it asks is, "What kind of site do you want?" This site-management approach puts TopPage in the same category as MS FrontPage, so if you have been exposed to that product, then you recognized a kindred application in TopPage.

You can, of course, just use TopPage to create single stand-alone Web pages, but after a tour through it, you may wonder why. TopPage delivers an impressive array of tools for you to use on your Web site. Using them is just like using a word processor--select the text and click an icon and the change is made right there on the screen.

This methodology prevails throughout TopPage, which leans towards using palettes to get formatting changes made, rather than dialog boxes.

Creating a site is done with the Create Multiple Pages wizard and I have to say I was impressed with the range of available themes and genres I could choose from. You can even select the backgrounds and component images independently of the selected theme, which gives even more variety. The wizard creates three subpages on your site by default, but can easily add more. Once a custom theme is finished, you can register it for future use.

TopPage wants to be a one-stop application for handling Web sites. There is an embedded FTP tool to load pages onto your Web site, and the application's Site Manager will keep track of which files need to be uploaded after updating.

Another excellent capability is TopPage's handling of cascading style sheets,a new and efficient way to lay out a Web page with consistent styles and object placement. TopPage, unfortunately, did not have any examples of CSS, but it does allow the user to link to or import another Web page's style sheet.

What impressed me the most about TopPage was that after all was said and done, the code that was generated by the program was not beset with extraneous code, like MS FrontPage tends to do. The generated code was clean and efficient, which means less download time for your site's visitors.

I have to admit, I groaned when I saw the Wine requirements. Wine and I are not good friends. But at no time did I have any Wine problems, and no extra processes spun out of control on my system. For a beta application, TopPage was very stable and quick and efficient in performance.

If you like WYSIWYG Web page creation, I strongly recommend acquiring the TopPage beta. The long download time is certainly worth it. Certainly the price should be when the product goes gold. Right now the Windows version of TopPage is retailing for $59.95, a much easier pill to swallow than its competitor FrontPage's $199.95. Of course, the pricing for the Linux version may vary, but this is still a fair benchmark.

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