Softpress Freeway Pro 6 review

  • Price When Reviewed: £87.49 plus VAT

  • Pros: Publish content-rich sites; Fair price; HTML5 support.

  • Cons: could do with more automation; One level of undo.

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Freeway Pro 6 is a long-standing website creation tool for designers rather coders – but can it match up to its newest rival Adobe Muse?

Freeway Pro is a comprehensive webpage design software package for Mac OS X. It has always taken a visual route to web design, with a page layout approach that's more akin to Adobe InDesign than Adobe Dreamweaver. 

It's not so much a web editor as a site creator, only generating the underlying W3C-compliant code for the site when a page is previewed or published. It's also not a web designer's tool as much as software for graphic designers to produce relatively simple sites for less-demanding, smaller clients alongside the rest of their marketing materials. This approach is controversial with some in the web design community, who believe you need to be a coder (or work with a coder) to produce great sites – but that's an argument for another piece. Here we're going to assume you're looking for a tool that does what Freeway offers and judge it on its merits for this alone.

Freeway Pro offers all the usual bells and whistles however, hyperlinks, FTP upload, graphics and text styles and so on, combined with features like Master pages and pasteboards found in DTP package - and it now offers support for HTML5 and CCS3 to bring it bang up to date.

The latter includes the ability to apply CSS3 style features, such as opacity, shadows for HTML boxes, with options to spread image shadows, as well as text shadows. 

Freeway Pro has been greatly enhanced by the ability to add HTML5 video and associated controls and Actions to a web page

Websites can now be output as HTML5 and XHTML5, as well as earlier versions of both. Freeway Pro can now handle HTML5 input types, as well as offer native support for HTML5 video and audio elements for the first time. 

The former enhance the web-browsing experience for your site visitors as well as make your site more elegant, such as adding placeholder text in search fields or recognising telephone numbers or email. 

Adding them is simple – just draw or insert an Input/Field item and then select a type in the Inspector palette. Browser validation is available for forms viewed in supported browsers, while number options and colour options will display specific controls, again in supported browsers. Precisely how the page will look and how the HTML5 elements will behave can be viewed using a Browser Preview in the Freeway Pro tool bar.

Adding HTML5 video is also simple, just drag H.264/MPEG-4, Ogg Theora or WebM files into a HTML5 page. In a similar fashion, audio elements will be created when you import AAC/MP4, MP3 or Ogg Vorbis into an HTML box. 

It works well, with options available to add preloaders, controls, muting and looping functions. 

Also new are video extras among the Actions (Freeway Pro's JavaScript-based helpers), including setting a poster image when the video isn't playing and providing a fallback option to serve the video using Adobe Flash. 

One of the new Actions in Freeway Pro, Send Form makes creating and implementing a reply form for your website quick and easy

As with input types, playback of HTML5 video depends on the support that a user’s browser offers for H.264, so Freeway Pro provides slots in the inspector palette for the page element for an alternative source file link to one of the other formats. 

Several of the application’s Actions – such as PayPal, Google Maps and a newsletter signup – have been enhanced, and there are some useful additions in Actions that enable comments boxes for visitors or which add functions to share links from your site for LinkedIn users. 

The new Send Form Action can automatically email a form to a specified email address. In fact there's been a general enhancement for forms across the application, allowing them to be properly styled with CSS or associated with labels for example.

We like Freeway Pro’s DTP-style Master page approach to building sites. There are a number of enhancements to this workflow in version 6, including writing master page styles to an external CSS file, part of the new External Stylesheets option in Document Setup. 

New rival on the block Adobe Muse CC offers a similar Master page setup, as well as integration with other tools in the Adobe Creative Cloud and bundled Web hosting. It also has a slick 'image dropper' import and place workflow that Freeway Pro could learn from. 

Freeway Pro's workflow is a bit simpler overall however though, and with this new release its video support is preferable too.

This design-led tool will let you publish content-rich web sites in modern browsers, fairly simply, at a very fair and reasonable price. It's not perfect: we feel laying out elements could do with some automation for example and Freeway Pro Pro apparently has only one level of undo. However new HTML5 support adds some extra brownie points to an already accomplished package.

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