When Macromedia merged with Allaire in March 2001, the two companies' product lines complemented each other nicely. Whereas Dreamweaver is the reigning visual Web page editor, HomeSite appeals to developers who prefer to work in raw code or need to program more than HTML. It has always been popular for its customizability, automation, and highly intuitive interface for handling and editing multiple files. The newest HomeSite release makes a strong product even better with new features and improved performance. When Macromedia merged with Allaire in March 2001, the two companies' product lines complemented each other nicely. Whereas Dreamweaver is the reigning visual Web page editor, HomeSite appeals to developers who prefer to work in raw code or need to program more than HTML. It has always been popular for its customizability, automation, and highly intuitive interface for handling and editing multiple files. The newest HomeSite release makes a strong product even better with new features and improved performance.
Growing with the times
HomeSite's first asset has always been its editing window, with myriad options that can be as helpful or as nonintrusive as the user prefers. In keeping with the expanding Web, HomeSite 5.0 extends color-coding, tag help, validation, and code optimization to support still more languages beyond HTML. It recognizes XHTML documents by their and validates and edits tags accordingly. Visual Tools Markup Language (VTML) lets you create tag support for new document types such as custom XML DTDs. The editor also now has a double-byte mode that supports Unicode and other international character sets.
Another HomeSite strength is its file-handling interface, which has convenient devices for editing and managing several documents at once. This version adds a Secondary File panel that lets you work with content from two locations at a time. A smart FTP manager, integrated with Windows Explorer, transparently handles FTP connections and transactions for you. And the new Auto-Backup feature regularly saves works in progress to a backup folder, so the user can selectively retrieve earlier versions after an unwanted save, a system outage, or a change of heart.
Other new features aim at the developer who manages an entire site or also works with graphics and design. A new project-deployment system automates rule-based file publishing to one or several remote servers. It has a steep learning curve but can be scripted, and it is quite a time-saver once you get it going. HomeSite 5.0 also introduces nominal integration with other Macromedia products: a button lets users switch to editing in Dreamweaver, and a menu command opens any image in Fireworks, which attempts to find the original source file.
Stronger, with minor scratches
The stability and performance are much improved over previous versions, handling complex file systems and large open documents with speed and grace. HomeSite is still fragile on the edges: dragging the wrong panel icon or attempting a misconfigured deployment gets you a long pause or a cryptic error message. But in our most abusive tests, the program didn't once crash or freeze.
Some of the new features are not as well integrated as they could be. The project-deployment interface doesn't make it clear that you can use servers that you already entered in the FTP manager. And after you designate a document as XHTML, HomeSite still won't validate it as such unless you tell the program to do so in the Options menu. Still, these are inconveniences that you'll have to deal with only once.
Weapon of choice
Most of your experience with HomeSite 5.0 will be churning out quality code and managing your site's files with ease and convenience. Macromedia has successfully updated this editor to keep up with a maturing Web. For current HomeSite users who don't run Windows 95, the $29 upgrade is an outstanding value, but any Web developer who creates and manages volumes of code and other Web content should strongly consider HomeSite 5.0.