AceHTML is arguably a less graphical (i.e. less WYSIWYG) development tool than the Composer. In fact, to those of us who are not yet weaned from presentation tools such as Powerpoint, it is not a very graphical (or a WYSIWYG) tool at all. AceHTML typically provides the user with a bare template of an HTML page into which the user inserts HTML tags as appropriate, using the facilities provided by pull-down menus. Ace HTML's biggest benefit is that its use requires little or no knowledge of HTML tags. On the other hand, those with some superficial knowledge of HTML, such as myself, sometimes find it restrictive to have to work within the constraints of the templates provided by the tool. Thus it is easy enough to insert a table into an HTML document using AceHTML, but editing the table subsequently to add text or images for example, can be quite cumbersome: it depends crucially, for example, on ensuring that cursor is in the correct position within the "table" tags before commencing to use the "Edit Table" sub-menu. More annoyingly, repeated editing of a cell frequently leaves a clutter of superfluous tags resulting in quirky presentation of cell contents, - which then requires a modicum of HTML knowledge to perform the necessary "tag clean- up" (although a "syntax checker" has been provided to assist with this task).

However, these irritants apart, AceHTML has many useful features to help the beginner to develop a quality website. The numerous Javascript and DHTML modules that are on offer, are undoubtedly a boon to any web developer, amateur or professional. The features for creating style sheets, handling forms and Active X controls are similarly helpful to all newcomers who aspire to creating a sophisticated website, - although ironically, in order to put these features to best use, even newcomers need to have some understanding of how they are implemented in HTML.

On balance, it is difficult to regard AceHTML as anything other than a useful tool for beginners, - notwithstanding the above comments. Perhaps its main drawback is that it is not a WYSIWYG tool with a graphical interface.

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Netscape Composer

As mentioned above, Netscape Composer is a more graphical (WYSIWYG) design tool than AceHTML. Indeed such a comparison with AceHTML is probably invidious since the GUI that Composer provides, easily qualifies it to be regarded as a fully WYSIWYG design tool in its own right, - although it needs be pointed out that some GUI features such as "drag and drop" are not supported. Nevertheless, the main "view" that the Composer provides for normal use (unsurprisingly called the "Normal" view) is sufficiently GUI-based to allow visual editing of the web page under development, using the mouse. This includes sizing and re-sizing of tables, merger of table cells and rows, insertion of images and graphics as well as the usual text editing operations such as copy and paste.

As well as the "Normal" view the tool also provides "HTML Tags" and "Source" views which show the underlying HTML source code that is used to implement web page display . As the name suggests, the "HTML Tags" view only shows the HTML tags used, while the "Source" view sets out the HTML code in its entirety (i.e. tags as well as the attributes used with them). The "HTML Tag" view would appear to be designed for editing at the HTML Tag level, but in practice, it seems to be best suited for the editing of blocks of text contained within HTML tags. The view only shows the start tags, and not the corresponding end tags, and does not permit selection of individual tags for deletion. This is rather disappointing, as at first glance the "HTML Tags" view would appear to be well suited for the task of tag clean-up (deletion of redundant tags). However, this is not the case, and tag clean-up can only be done in practice, by recourse to the "Source" view.

Unlike AceHTML, the Composer does not provide a library of javascript "special effects" modules. This perhaps is not a serious drawback, as there are many websites that provide such modules as free downloads (some regrettably with the risk of hidden spyware).

It should also be noted that Composer, like AceHTML, is not provided with any built-in facilities for the support of database operations. so that more sophisticated features such as a "Guest Book" (which most websites offer to their visitors) need to be implemented by development of bespoke code (PHP or similar). (On reflection however, this may be an unfair comment as neither the Composer nor AceHTML purports to be anything other than an HTML editor)

In conclusion, it may be said that the Composer is unquestionably a very user-friendly and productive tool for the inexperienced user, - principally because of its GUI and the consequent WYSIWYG quality. Certainly, during my brief acquaintanceship to-date with both the Composer and AceHTML, I have found the former to be the less unwieldy and the more helpful tool for rapid development of a web page.

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Document created by Neil Keskar ( 17/9/08