HTML editors – A comparative review
Shawn M. Gordon
S.M.Gordon & Associates


Unless you have been studying at a monastery in the Himalayas for the last year, you have no doubt heard of the World Wide Web (WWW). This is sort of an overlay on the Internet that presents information in “Pages”. It has become quite fashionable to have your very own “Home Page” these days. The neat thing about the Web is the ability to present text and graphics, and be able to link it to related documents at other computer locations. The secret behind a web page is an authoring standard known as HTML (HyperText Markup Language).

Now strictly speaking you don’t need any special tool to create HTML documents, as it is completely character based. The idea is for all computing platforms to be able to create and interpret the HTML page. So HTML is made up of ‘tags’ and text, so if you want to have a sentence that displayed in bold faced type in your browser you would do something like;

<STRONG> This sentence is in bold type </STRONG>

you basically have a beginning tag, your text, and your ending tag. The advantage to using an HTML authoring tool is that it can do things like automatically insert the appropriate tags when you click on an icon, prompt you for information for more complex HTML structures, validate your HTML, and preview your page for you.

In the tools I looked at, there was no true WYSIWYG HTML authoring tool. Netscape is going to have one built into it’s Netscape Navigator Gold version, which should be pretty slick, but I couldn’t get my hands on it.

The tools I tested were HotMetaL from Softquad, HotDog from Sausage Software, and Live Markup from MediaTech Inc. I tested on my 25Mhz 486 using Netscape version 2 beta 5.


As of this writing the official version of HTML is 2, there is a proposed 3 standard which Netscape has already plugged into it’s Navigator product, and then there are the Netscape extensions (which everyone wants to try to be able to use). So one of the things we will be looking at in the authoring tools is the support for HTML 3, and the Netscape extensions. The genealogy of HTML looks kind of like this;

| HTML 1.0			|
| basic linking			|
| headings, paragraphs etc.	|

| HTML 2.0			|
| Specifies core features:	|
| adds images, forms		|

+-------------------------------+	+---------------------------+
| HTML 3.0			|	| Netscap Extensions:	    |
| (proposed: aka HTML+)		|	| Most of HTML 3.0 features:|
| Adds tables, math, flowing  	|	| adds centering, blinking  |
| text around graphics		|	+---------------------------+

The best way to start this is by showing some examples. Figure 1 shows how a web browser (Netscape in this case) display’s our sample HTML file. This is a pretty basic sample file that came with the HoTMetaL editor, and coincidentally that is the first editor that we will look at. Figure 2 shows how HoTMetaL displays this particular piece of HTML.

You’ll notice that the HTML looks almost like it would on the web browser, but it has all the HTML directives in little gray balloons. This feature is know as displaying the ‘markup’, and can be turned on and off. This is a nice feature because it makes it easy to see what the impact is of different HTML commands immediately, and to see what the commands are.

HoTMetaL does try to be a little WYSIWYG by displaying font’s, and styles on text. Ican also display GIF files, but not JPEG files, and will display a few other enhancement types. This let’s you get a general feel for how it is going to look, and you can
quickly spawn your web browser to check it out. My complaint with HoTMetaL in this respect is that it makes you hunt for the browser instead of trying to find it like HotDog does. I also couldn’t find a button on the button bar to spawn Netscape, I had to go to the menu bar and select “preview”. The button bar does pop-up balloon help when your mouse sits on an icon for a second, this is a wonderful standard that has emerged in the last year or so, and makes it much easier to learn what all those cryptic little icons mean.

HoTMetaL also pays attention to where you are at inside your document. Tools are only allowed if they are valid for the section of HTML that your cursor is currently sitting on. this option can be turned on and off, but it is nice, especially if you are new to HTML.

HotMetal’s HTML validation seems to be unique from what I have seen. You can turn it on while you are editing, or have it validate the whole document for you. The only real problem with it is that the error messages are rather cryptic, and could really use a bit of beefing up, but it’s nice to even have the option. So HoTMetaL wil validate the 2.0 HTML spec, and also provide a list of 3.0 and the Netscape extension tags so you can be alerted to possible compatability problems with other browsers.

The Help facility in HotMetaL is very good, offering good links and little tutorials on different topics like how to do a form. I know that from the little HTML documentation that I had, there wasn’t anything that really linked the topics together, so this was a nice feature. However when editing a tag, it requires that you press F6, instead of clicking on the tag. This isn’t very intuitive, but doesn’t take long to get use to.

Now let’s take a look at HotDog, check out figure 3 for our example document. As you can see this is pretty raw, and it’s as good as HotDog displays your text, where HotDog excel’s is in it’s ability to walk you through even some of the most complex HTML setup’s, and it’s extensive online help. See figure 5 for the standard startup screen that you get from HotDog. You get options for learning HTML, using the program, and tutorials. This is how I actually managed to learn the most about HTML. You also get the nifty little balloon help when you let the mouse cursor rest on an icon for a second.

HotDog is also the most customizable of the editors, you can change how it looks, what icons are displayed, defaults for just about everything you can imagine. HotDog is also nice enough to generate a basic HTML file whenever you start a new document, this get’s all your default tag’s in place for you so you don’t have to worry about them. There is an interesting option in HotDog that allows you to remove all HTML, remove HTML only from the highlighted text, remove all anchors, or just the highlighted anchors. This will leave potentially with a straight ASCII text document, which has some advantages. The thing to keep in mind is that the only to get the HTML back is to undo the edit operation, this doesn’t “hide” the markup, it removes it.

A nice feature is the floating Tags palette that HotDog provides as seen in figure 6. You can double click on any of these tags, and the begin and end tags will be inserted into your document at the current cursor position, this just leaves you to type the text into the middle of it. The tools in HotDog are very nice, they will prompt you for all the information for building things like a form or table, and will also show you some of the options that you didn’t realize were available. My only real problem with this feature is that it is a bit confusing because you aren’t exactly sure what you should be filling in, I imagine that this confusion goes away as you become more familiar with the product.

The last feature that I want to make note of in HotDog (but not the last feature available by a long shot) is the ability to drag and drop text and graphics into an HTML document directly from the Windows File Manager. This can be much easier than opening a browse dialog box every time you want to add some external data, just keep File Manager open all the time.

Now finally let’s look at Live Markup in figure 4 for our example HTML, and in this case I didn’t save the best for last. Live Markup takes an entirely different approach to editing, and I didn’t find it particularly intuitive. It is a little bit WYSIWYG, but you notice all those little vertical lines next to the text? they are referred to as “element selectors”. Now you can change the type of tag it is, and what is in it by either right or left clicking on these “selectors” to bring up a floating menu of options.

Now this is the whole idea behind Live Markup, you never see or touch the markup language, and I suppose that some people will like this approach, but I found it annoying. It is pretty nice to be able to just right click on the selector and change text from


with out first removing the HTML tag, or manually changing them. Their help facility is ok, but nothing amazing, and there is no little balloon help (I love balloons), they do give a description on the status bar at the bottom of the screen however.

As you can see, the tool bar is pretty sparse, and the command to spawn the web browser is buried under the “Options” menu bar selection. The options to create forms and tables wasn’t working properly for me, and I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t have my HTML setup right, or the function wasn’t working right, but I couldn’t see the HTML to be able to tell. Since Live Markup doesn’t let you type in your own HTML, if it’s not working right, they you are out of luck. This kind of thing always makes me nervous.

Your probably getting the idea that I didn’t like Live Markup much, but it did have some very nice tools. One of the really neat options was the ability to just stretch a graphic in the page to resize it. They seem unique in the ability to perform this function. It was also very easy to set options such as background and text colors, that you got immediate feedback of. They claim you can view the images directly in Live Markup, but all I ever saw was the Live Markup happy face icon in place of the picture. When I passed it off to the browser it looked correct though.

One of the more tedious things to do is to build the URL links inside of an HTML document. A URL stands for Uniform Resource Locater, and is basically the path name to the document or site that your link points to.

One thing they all seemed to have in common was the ability to have a pop-up window of special characters, so you wouldn’t have to lookup the ASCII code and put it into the HTML yourself.

All the products provided very nice tools in this respect, you got all sorts of options for providing different internet services such as FTP, and Telnet, as well as browsing for files or locations to link to. The power of the web is it’s ability to link documents, it’s also one of the most difficult, and tedious to do, so any help you can get is good.

This list isn’t exhaustive, and the neat thing about the WWW is that it is easy to find and download demo’s of software, so check them out.

Usability (also installation)

All the programs used standard Windows installation routines, which all proceeded very smoothly, however they differed in their usability quit a bit. I found that Live Markup was the most difficult program to get use to since it’s way of displaying data was really odd to me. HoTMetaL was pretty easy to get use to, however with three different tool bars, there is a rather daunting number of buttons to push. HotDog was the most straight forward, with a clean easy to read tool bar, but some of the features for building complex HTML weren’t as user friendly as they could/should have been.


All the programs run, they don’t corrupt your files, and they don’t crash Windows, or lock up. So reliability doesn’t seem to be a problem on any front.


Performance isn’t a real issue here since it’s like sitting in a word processor, you are mostly waiting on think time. However you do have the reaction of menu items, and validation checking to think about. Honestly all of the editors were very reasonable in the response time of their various functions. HotDog was the slowest to start up of any of the editors, but I think that’s due to the fact that it’s written in Visual Basic, which means it won’t be getting ported to any other platforms any time soon.

Supportability (including Doc)

Well with all the products the documentation was almost non-existent except for on-line help. I usually posed my queries to the companies via e-mail, and this brings up a pet peeve of mine. Everyone is advertising their e-mail addresses these days, but almost no one responds when you send them questions, and I seemed to have a similar problem with SoftQuad especially, they never actually returned any of my e-mail inquiries. Sausage Software was the best returning all queries very quickly, and MediaTech was close behind.

One of the things I really liked in HotDog was it’s extensive documentation on HTML, the new proposed HTML standard, and the Netscape extensions. It was light years better than Live Markup, and also better than HoTMetaL.


As I said at the beginning, you don’t need a separate product to do HTML, you can just type it all up in something like Notepad, or you can get the HTML template for Microsoft Word, or some of the other plug in type features out there. The advantage to a dedicated program is that it is going to be dedicated to this one function, and if you can find one that will interface with various word processor document types, like HoTMetaL does, then you can preserve you document work. With all the new extensions and features coming out, it’s rather hard to keep up, so let someone else keep up for you, and just download your updates periodically.

Strange as this sounds, your better off with an HTML editor that only does some WYSIWYG, and will easily spawn a web browser, because the browser is going to be more up to date on the HTML that is available than your editor is likely to be, but they should be close.

I have to be honest, I used all of these programs at one point or another because I liked the way they did certain things better than the others. I can honestly see keeping and using at least two HTML editors. There are obviously many many more editors than the three that I compared here, not to mention the Navigator Gold package that is supposed to have a built in WYSIWYG HTML editor. I am most inclined towards the HoTMetaL editor at this point, but I really liked HotDog for some things, and if it was just a little bit WYSIWYG I would have made it my first pick. I just never really could get use to Live Markup and the way it handled documents.

At-a-Glance box

HoTMetaL Pro version 2.0
Softquad Inc.
56 Aberfoyle Crescent
Toronto, Ontario Canada M8X 2W4
Phone 416-239-4801/800-387-2777
Web Site –
Price $195 (list), available for both Windows 3.x and Macintosh


HotDog Pro version 1.0
Sausage Software

Web Site –
Price $79.95, available on Windows 3.x


Live Markup Pro version 1.0
MediaTech Inc.
9785 shenandoah Dr.
Cleveland, OH 44141-2833
Phone 216-526-6788
Web Site –
Price $79.00, available on Windows 3.x (16 and 32 bit)

Feature Comparison

Viewing		HoTMetaL Pro 2.0	HotDog Pro 1.0		Live Markup Pro 1.0
Display Markup		X				X				-
Hide Markup		X				+				-	
Spawn Browser		X				X				X
Raw HTML editing	X				X			-
WYSIWYG Editing	+				-				+
Error Checking
Syntax Checking	X				-				+
HTML Validation	X				-				+
Spell Checking		X				X				-
Find dup links		-				X				-
Creating Pages
Table tool		X				X				X
Forms tool		X				X				X
Image map tool		-				+				X
Color tools		-				X				X
Background tools	-				X				X
Insert HTML		X				X				+
Special Char tool	X				X				X
URL managment		X				X				X
Image Resizing		-				-				X
Importing Documents
Format conversions	Lotus WordPro
		ASCII text 	SCII text or HTML
				MSWord for Mac		from DOS and	only
				4.x and 5.x, 		UNIX, and
				MSWord for Win,	HTML
				Dos, RTF, ASCII
				Word Perfect 
				For Win and MAC, 

Hardware supported
Windows 3.x
Windows 95/NT		X				X				X
MacIntosh			X
UNIX				*

X, Fully supported
+, Partially implemented
-, Feature not available
*, Being developed