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Freeway Express 6.1.2 review: Web design program is free, outdated, frustrating

Nathan Alderman | Aug. 31, 2015
This bargain edition of a more powerful — and expensive — website creation tool has its good points but they’re mired beneath a poorly designed interface, and the websites you create seem a half-decade or more behind the times.

Unlike most Mac web design programs, Freeway Express costs nothing. You get only slightly more than what you pay for. This bargain edition of a more powerful — and expensive — website creation tool has its good points. But they’re mired beneath a poorly designed interface, and the websites you create seem a half-decade or more behind the times.

(Apple’s Mac App Store has a nearly three-year-old version of Freeway Express. The current version is available on Softpress’ website.)

Freeway Express 6.1.2

Freeway Express’s drag-and-drop ease belies the out-of-date code it creates.

Under construction — expect delays

In the early days of the web, designers used HTML tables as a framework for laying out sites. It was a kludgy workaround for a problem HTML hadn’t yet solved, but it got the job done. In 1998, the earliest versions of CSS layout arrived, providing a cleaner, easier way to lay out page elements. Though it’s hard to say exactly how long CSS has been the standard, “at least a half-decade” is an incredibly safe bet.

I explain this so you’ll fully understand when I tell you that Freeway Express uses table-based layouts. It doesn’t even include an option for CSS layout. It relies on standard, space-hogging JavaScript for interactivity, rather than CSS or the sleeker and more versatile jQuery. And except for a few odd elements here and there, it doesn’t fully support the HTML5 or CSS3 standards on which most modern sites are built. It also lacks support for the responsive design technology that lets sites adjust their designs to fit various devices’ screen sizes.

Freeway Express does an admittedly clever job of hiding these shortcomings at first. It lets you drag and drop elements onto your pages anywhere you want, sized however you prefer. It doesn’t actually generate the underlying HTML code until you preview your site. This might actually be a clever solution to avoid cluttering up clean code with layers of revisions, if that code were up to modern standards. As it is, the separation merely makes it harder for you to easily see how your site will look as you edit it. Too often, you just get empty boxes with labels on them.

Freeway Express 6.1.2

Once you know what you’re doing, you can create impressive results like this photo gallery—but it’ll require patience.

Slow next 50 miles—steep hills

Once you figure out how to use Freeway Express, you can actually accomplish some pretty nifty tricks. Though I wasn’t impressed with Freeway’s paltry, unappealing roster of standard fonts, I did appreciate its ability to create fully editable graphical text elements using any of my system fonts. Configuring the built-in, no-frills FTP to upload my files required only minimal fiddling with the settings. I also built a reasonably slick CSS dropdown menu, and followed the exhaustive tutorial in the instruction manual to construct an interactive photo gallery, complete with selectable thumbnails that displayed a larger image.

 

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