by Mark Trescowthick - GUI Computing
Beam Software are one of Australia's leading developers. With games like Kill Krush 'N Destroy and EA Sports Cricket worldwide hits, and with interactive CDs like the award winning The Dame Was Loaded, they have a track record which is more than solid by anyone's estimate. It was, therefore, with some interest I took a look at their latest offering - Splash!, an HTML editor.
Splash! certainly shows its parentage in its interface, which is very much more what you'd expect from a game rather than a "serious" piece of software... though, I should add, not necessarily the worse for that. In fact, aimed as it is at the "newbie" web page creator, perhaps this is a clever move by Beam.
This means, of course, that it's a little unfair that I review Splash! My needs are very different to those of the beginner (I hope). So I suggest you also take a look at what my son, Nicholas (13) has to say...
The Interface :
Kill, Krush 'N HTML?
I did find some interface annoyances which appear to me to be directly related to the games heritage, and which really shouldn't have slipped through the net.
Most glaring was the fact that Splash! will perform in two modes only - full screen or minimized. That's a frankly crazy decision, and makes for lots of unnecessary task bar clicking. If I've invested in a huge monitor, I want to be able to make use of it, not have one application take over. Fine for games, but a lousy decision for Splash!
Another was the fact that the menu pulldowns don't "stick" - if I click on the File menu, for example, to keep the pulldown open and select an option I must have my mouse button down at all times. Which is, of course, totally against the Win95 standard. Again, this may well be fine for games (in fact, in many cases it's desirable in a game) but it's just the wrong decision for "working" software.
Last, but by no means least, is Splash!'s mildly irritating method of doing basic things, like editing text. Let me explain...
To create some text on a page, I draw a text area. Up comes a grey box representing the area, and I can immediately type into it. Well and Good, so far. To Edit that text, I must right click on the text box, then select Edit from the popup menu (where the default is Alignment, rather than Edit) and then I can add or modify. This is clunky at best, and made worse by the fact that the mouse pointer is pretty hard to control when I'm selecting text areas. Again, I suspect this approach comes from gaming... it works almost the same as selecting units in KKND, for example.
Graphic elements are even worse, as it would appear that the only way to set the length of a line, for example, is to select it, then right click, select Edit and, either by input or using a scroll bar, set the length in pixels. Hey guys, what about click and drag??
In summary, then, this "oldie" user isn't so keen on the interface. But I'm not the target market, and once you're used to it things run along smoothly enough.
The Functionality :
This Dame is Partly Loaded?
In the end of the day, any WYSWYG HTML editor has a serious problem :- HTML just ain't WYSIWYG. Splash! touts itself as allowing users to "drag and drop images and text anywhere at all", which, on the face of it, I found to be an amazing and exciting claim... could they really set up the complex tables, etc. necessary to actually achieve this? Unfortunately, no, they couldn't. "...anywhere at all" turns out to be "anywhere it will fit". You can certainly drag boxes of text, images, lines, etc. around, but alignment "snaps" to the nearest of Left, Centre and Right. They do a good job of table generation to support this, but "anywhere" it is not.
One neat feature is the ability to join objects together. This actually generates a table under the covers, and means, for example, that a checkbox and its prompt can be kept as a single unit. A very nice touch. Mind you, it can be confusing at times, especially if an object is within another (e.g. a checkbox within a table). I think, though, that this really comes from my desire to use Splash! in a more "manual" way than Beam intend... users who are prepared to drop things into place as and where they see fit, and let Splash! handle what it can under the covers, should probably be pretty happy.
Splash! comes a little undone when adding hyperlinks. It has no browse functionality for external page links, preferring to allow the user to type in the URL. Which would be fine, except that that URL is not validated in any way at all, which seems a huge omission. If I add a Mailto: link, then all I need do is provide an email address and the appropriate Mailto: prepend is added. Why not do the same for URLs? It seems foolish to force users to always type the "http://" portion of the address.
What I really liked, and what newbie users will love, is Splash!'s interface to Java Applets. Basically, Beam have defined an interface which means that any Java Applet can be configured using a Wizard interface. This is very intuitive, and Splash! comes with a number of Applets ready to roll. Each applet must provide a .PLG file - basically in INI file format - which defines the applet's interface for the Wizard. This would be really easy to create for third party Java applets, and is an excellent approach for the newbie user.
Defining colours, images and tables is straightforward, and although the table support doesn't extend to row and column spanning, it should be more than enough for newbies to get going on. Forms support is good, if a little too well hidden for my liking. Only one form per page, though - again, newbies will never notice.
The HTML produced seems reasonably "clean" though, of course, littered with Splash!'s comments, etc. You can view the HTML, but not edit it directly, and I could see no way to have Splash! read existing HTML pages, so once you start with Splash!, you'd better not want to make any manual edits then continue using it - it only generates HTML on request, preferring to hold Projects in its own file format.
One feature I absolutely loved (and wish I could see more of) is the ability to preview pages at different resolutions at the click of a button. Also, the ability to get download performance stats from various sites is a neat addition.
One feature I absolutely hated was Splash!'s total inability to use frames. This is a huge drawback, and I suspect even newbies will be frustrated by it pretty fast. I'm only too well aware that many people don't like frames (this site is frameless for just that reason), but these days an HTML editor with no frames support is, not too put too fine a point on it, puzzling to say the very least.
The Summary :
One-day Champion, Test Failure?
Splash! is a most unusual take on Web Page creation. As such, I welcome it simply for its difference. This is an area where no one entrant has really got it right yet (that's not counting the World's most widely-used HTML editor, Notepad <g>). New ideas are most welcome, and Beam's background means it is ideally placed to bring a breath of fresh air into the segment.
Right now, Splash! is aimed at the newbie web developer, and in that niche it deserves to do pretty well... it may tempt some games players to apply their computer skills to something more than killing aliens, and that must be to the good. There's no doubt even the greenest user could have a pretty interesting site up in very short order, and the ability to define Applets with a Wizard interface is a great one.
Splash! is certainly no pro developer's tool, and I doubt whether that situation will ever change - the nature of the beast is that it is optimised to do the basics easily, and that fights against allowing professionals the flexibility they need. Frames support is an urgent need, even for beginners, but I have no doubt that Beam will be following up this initial release with additional functionality.
In Summary : Great for your kids, great for simple sites, but not something I'll be adding to my own toolset. But then, I always did prefer Test Cricket to the One-day stuff.
Splash! is available for (21 day) trial download from the GoSplash! web site.