First Look: GoLive CS2 Goes CSS

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The CS2 release of Adobe's GoLive Web development program marks a tipping point in visual Web design. GoLive CS2 makes Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) the default technique for creating new sites and pages--and by doing so it delivers leaner HTML code, more precise page layout, and the other benefits of CSS, without bogging users down in the technology's usual steep learning curve.

Adobe's GoLive CS2 adds Cascading Style Sheets.
Adobe's GoLive CS2 adds Cascading Style Sheets.
CSS lets designers make site-wide design changes with just a few keystrokes. Both of GoLive's most prominent competitors among so-called WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Web creation packages--Macromedia's $399 Dreamweaver MX 2004 and Microsoft's $199 Office FrontPage 2003--improved support for CSS in their most recent releases (more so in the former than in the latter), but Adobe has made CSS a central tool for site creation.

While you can still use the package to make a first-rate site without using CSS, you're really just postponing the inevitable. Applying CSS styles to your pages is the only way to create the most efficient HTML possible (which speeds page load times and minimizes code errors, among other benefits), and to have your pages look the way you intended them to look in all the various browser permutations.

So if CSS is the best thing since fuel injectors, why haven't most Web designers taken to the technology? Because CSS has always been a royal pain to learn, and it's nearly impossible to apply to an existing site.

GoLive Gets CSS Right

I tested a beta version of GoLive CS2, and while it had some quirks, the application's implementation of CSS impressed me. Adobe addresses the problem of learning to use CSS by supplying several preformatted CSS page templates. Simply click the CSS option on GoLive's main toolbar to see seven CSS page-layout templates, including one with a "scaling" center that automatically reformats text and images to fit the size of the browser window.

Converting an existing site to CSS still isn't easy, but GoLive CS2 makes rebuilding a page as painless as possible by allowing you to import the contents. Unfortunately, there's no way to do a site-wide conversion, but I have yet to see a product that can accomplish that task.

Other prefab layouts give you two or three "liquid" vertical columns, or one scaling and one fixed column (on either the left or right side of the page). You can combine the canned CSS layouts on a single page to represent nearly every common Web-page structure, including nested navigation rows and a padded box (to highlight an image, for example). These drag-and-drop CSS templates are a marvel of HTML programming, and their power is unmatched in any competing package.

Adobe has also enhanced the program's CSS Editor with a new split-code view that shows the site's styles in one window and the corresponding HTML code below. I was particularly taken by how easy it was to add custom styles to GoLive's CSS templates, and to apply them to all or part of my site's pages. So, even though I liked the program's ability to drag and drop CSS templates, I found myself still making slight tweaks to the underlying code in the editor's code window--so I could replace the Times New Roman font with Garamond, for example. Seeing the effect of my changes in real time made me feel safer about trusting my site to the program's canned CSS elements.

Better Import from InDesign

GoLive CS2 is available as a $399 stand-alone app, but it also comes as part of Adobe's Creative Suite 2 Premium ($1199). GoLive CS2 offers more granular control when importing files from the suite's InDesign CS2 print-design program. Adobe has also enhanced InDesign's Package for GoLive option, which automatically creates a Web site based on the InDesign pages or page objects that you select. You can also apply a CSS template to pages exported from InDesign (I didn't test these functions).

However, in spite of these enhancements, GoLive doesn't integrate with other Adobe CS2 applications as seamlessly as Dreamweaver MX 2004 works with other Studio MX 2004 programs. For example, you can edit a Flash or Fireworks object directly within Dreamweaver using a subset of those apps' tools. But GoLive lacks such links with Photoshop, Illustrator, or other CS2 programs.

A Boost for Mobile Web Development

If you haven't yet, it probably won't be long before you do some of your Web browsing on your cell phone or other handheld device. If you're already designing animated Web pages for the small screen, you'll appreciate GoLive CS2's new SVG Editor that provides a visual interface for creating sites using the SVG Tiny (SVG-t) standard.

You can also add animation playback controls via Java or Javascript (aka ECMAscript), or use the GoLive software developer's kit (SDK) to customize your mobile pages. You can even preview your designs on your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, although most designers will find the cell-phone emulators provided with the package more useful.

GoLive CS2's MMS Editor now features a layout view, a timeline, and a preview window for text, images, and animations that will be displayed via the Multimedia Messaging Service. While I didn't test either the SVG or MMS editors, both provide designers with a more accurate representation of how the finished page will appear on the cell-phone screen than was possible with previous versions of GoLive.

Still in Beta, but It's the Future

While testing GoLive CS2, I was reminded repeatedly that it was indeed a beta version: The program crashed at a rate of about once every 30 minutes.

In particular, I quickly learned to cross my fingers when importing an image to my test site. A little luck was especially important when attempting to convert a bitmap image to JPEG, or to downsize a JPEG to create a clickable GIF thumbnail image. Adobe says these issues will be fixed in the shipping version. However, even when the program did crash, upon restarting the application, I usually found the images where I left them, and in the correct size and format.

If you want your site's HTML to be as lean and efficient as possible, and if you want to be sure the site will look its best in any browser, CSS is the only way to go. That GoLive CS2 lets you create CSS-based sites so simply makes the package well worth the cost of upgrading. Of course, once you're running the app you really have no excuse not to bring all aspects of your Web design into the twenty-first century.

The Rest of the Suite

Here are links to our reviews of the other parts of Adobe's Creative Suite 2 Premium:

Adobe Systems GoLive CS2

Beta version, not rated
First-class visual Web design package embraces CSS, and makes creating top-notch Web sites easier than ever before.
List: $399; $169 for upgrades from versions 6.0 and later; also part of Adobe Creative Suite 2: $899 (Standard), $1199 (Premium)
Current prices (if available)
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