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Freeway Express 6.1.2 review: Web design program is free, outdated, frustrating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

Unfortunately, many of the more complex tasks I mentioned prove woefully unintuitive, thanks to an interface that hides a lot of key commands in menus, displays different options in different places without obvious clues to help you understand those distinctions, and demands you follow steps that seem more like programming workarounds than logical procedures.

To make that CSS menu I mentioned, I couldn’t just select the “CSS Menu” action—one of Freeway Express’s army of interactive or specialized page elements, which can be expanded with downloads from the program’s online repository—and then build how I wanted it to look and where I wanted each link to go, as I could in other programs I’ve tested.

Instead, I had to create a text box, use poorly marked arrow buttons to indent some elements of the text into a bullet-pointed list, apply links to each item via a command hidden in the program’s menus, and apply the CSS Menu action to that list, and then style the menu’s appearance in one of the many obtrusive floating palettes that always seemed to hover over whatever part of the screen I needed to see. I would’ve had no idea how to do any of that if I hadn’t consulted Freeway Express’s clearly written, numbingly thorough help manual.

Freeway Express 6.1.2

Even on a large monitor, Freeway Express’s phalanx of palettes seem to crowd out what you’re working on.

Building that interactive photo gallery proved similarly obtuse, as I jumped back and forth between multiple Inspector tabs for multiple Actions applied to various stacks of elements. It still worked better than Freeway Express’s actual photo gallery action, which just manifested a big, blank box. I’m sure reading the manual would have clued me in – but I’ve tested plenty of other programs whose design made it obvious how to set up a gallery without having to lunge for the help files.

Toll road ahead—lanes divide

I have no doubt that if I toughed out the learning curve, I’d find myself able to accomplish even more impressive feats with Freeway Express. The sheer number of built-in actions, not to mention the downloadable add-ons, suggest a program with more depth and breadth than many others I’ve tested in the past few months. But expending that effort hardly seems worthwhile if it only yields sites built on creaky, cluttered, dust-covered code.

Freeway Express seems outdated by design, since creators Softpress also offer the much more modern Freeway Pro. This shiny new version supports HTML5, CSS positioning, responsive design, and more. I didn’t evaluate Freeway Pro, but its feature set looks legitimately impressive.

However, Freeway Pro still appears saddled with much of Express’s same baffling look and feel. And at $150, it’s nearly twice as expensive as any other Mac web design program I’ve evaluated, including several that provide a respectable portion of its abilities within far friendlier, more intuitive interfaces.

 

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