The following are my thoughts on Sparkle 2.0.3, from a Freeway user’s viewpoint. Here’s the website where you can download the free trial:
- No installer required. No DMG. No ZIP loaded to the hilt with files. Just a simple ZIP with the app. That’s it. I rather like that.
- Launching the app presents you with the option to upgrade or create a New Document. Since I am evaluating this as a trial for the very first time, it’s pretty obvious which button I’m going to click.
- An “Untitled” document opens. No dialog like Freeway. There’s a puzzle piece named More that is popped down, awaiting your orders. No means of setting page size or HTML level or Resources folder or template like in Freeway. Not saying this is bad, just a big difference on opening a new document.
- One other point of note is the page design area reminds me of GridMeister by Thomas Kimmich. Not the same of course. It’s just the first thing that popped into my mind.
- The “More” pop-down wants you to get started designing right away, presenting you with the option to add text boxes, pictures, video, audio, form items, social buttons, and EMBED (code). Seems to be sort of like Freeway’s HTML Markup dialog, just without the dialog. You get a box on the page, and you then need to type in your code (what they call, “Emedded Content”) in the right sidebar. Not sure if I like this over Freeway’s dialog insofar as the right sidebar needs to be made bigger if you want to see a large chunk of your code. In Freeway, you accomplished that by simply making the HTML Markup dialog bigger. But Sparkle is the same as Freeway in that the code you type in is just dumb text. There is no special highlighting like you get if you were to type CSS or other code into an app like TextWrangler.
- When you add a Button to the page, you see the “Page” tab highlighted in the right sidebar and its asking you for “Search Engine Information.” Why that is the first thing you see is beyond me, but I just want a button, not a search engine, thank you very much. I then click the “Style” tab, also in the right sidebar, to change the button name and other aspects. It makes it easy to do an OnClick link to an external site, which I use buttons for in Freeway quite often. You can of course set the font, size, alignment, colors, rounding, border, etc. Very nice.
- Wanting to see what my button looks like I search for Preview. There it is in the upper right corner, with icon shaped like an eyeball. But when you click it, you get a drop down filled with choices. It says 3 checked browsers will be opened with Live Preview. Only wanting to use Safari, I try to deselect Firefox and Chrome, but it won’t let me choose only Safari. Seems strange. Not sure why. So I deselect Chrome only and keep Safari and Firefox enabled, then click “Open Live Preview.” Sure enough it displays my page in Safari (which was already open) and then launches Firefox to display the same page. I thought it would do that which is why I only wanted to choose Safari, but I guess Sparkle knows better. Sure I preview my sites in all browsers, but I wish to do that at my leisure, not be forced to do it all at once. By the way, since this is a trial version, you can’t create multiple pages and the page you do create will have a silly black bar at the top that says “Made with Sparkle” in white text. Makes the trial experience less enjoyable and complete, but perhaps it won’t bother some of you.
- Sadly, I am not finding a keyboard shortcut for Preview. I find one for Publish, just not for Preview. Being used to using a keyboard shortcut for Preview in Freeway makes the absence of one in Sparkle less than enjoyable.
- I then thought to myself, “Okay, now what if I want to have text display over the button when I hover the arrow cursor over it?” In Freeway, that’s easy. You just click your button to select it, then Opt-Cmd-X to bring up Extended Attributes, then click New and type “title” for Name and your text for “Value.” But in Sparkle, I cannot find a way to accomplish that. No “Extended Attributes” of any kind that I can see. Right-click on the button to get it? Nope. So right here, we have a showstopper for many Freeway users. Whether or not I myself can live with such a severe limitation is yet to be seen.
- Next I ask myself, “Okay, how do I center this button on the page?” My eyes immediately spot the alignment icons, top center. But with my button selected and when clicking on those alignment icons, nothing happens. I hover my mouse over each of the alignment icons, but no tooltip! What the heck? Clearly, I need to read the documentation. But I consider it a negative when something doesn’t work as expected and forces me to read a manual. That’s just naughty. So I leave my poor, helpless button pathetically unaligned on the page for now.
- I’m rather sick of this button, so I will click the More puzzle piece again and choose Text Box. A box appears with cartoonish scribbles inside. No unreadable Latin filler text here! No, you get truly unreadable scribbles! But double-clicking inside the box gives you the expected text cursor and you are intelligently shown the “Style” tab in the right sidebar. I then Preview in the browser. Man, do I hate not having a Preview shortcut! This really takes the sparkle out of Sparkle for me. Why? Because it takes 2 clicks, folks. You have to click the Eyeball, then wait a second for the pop-down animation to finish, then you click the silly button inside. Repeating that 100 times a day would be a living hell. But for the sake of testing, I shall persevere.
- I now take note of the Embed (HTML Markup in FW lingo) box sitting on my page. I click it and copy/paste the HTML Markup I use in Freeway to display my Favicon: I then preview again (using those 2 dad blasted clicks). No Favicon in the browser. Hmmm. Check the HTML source in the browser. To do that I must click on the http://127.0.0.1:14444… link inside the source, then view the source of that. Okay. Well, what in THE heck. Yes, friends, my “HTML Markup” is there, but boy is it nasty. It’s sitting inside the tag and inside a !! Here it is: And so, friends, we sadly see that “EMBED” in Sparkle is in fact NOT analogous to “HTML Markup” in Freeway. This will probably be a showstopper for many, even if the lack of Extended Attributes wasn’t.
- Let’s put a YouTube video on the page. Click “More” and then “Video.” A video box appears on the page and video attributes appear in the “Style” tab in the right sidebar. I copy/paste a video URL. Boom, it displays beautifully on the page. But alas, there is no helper text like you get in Freeway that suggests proportional dimensions. Which means, folks, Sparkle actually lets you truncate your own video. I cannot find a way to proportionally size it either! What the heck? Okay, I see the “Arrange” tab in the right sidebar, let’s click that. Great, I see Width and Height. Changing only one of those will SURELY change the other dimension automatically so your video displays proportionally correct, right? WRONG. What about a right-click on the video? Nope. No dice. The solution? Use Freeway to find the correct dimensions, then go back to brain-dead Sparkle and manually type on those Width and Height values. No doubt the developer of Sparkle would say, “Great idea, we can put that on our list.” But the absence of this basic of all features, combined with the previous 2 potential show-stoppers I found doesn’t sit well with me. But for the sake of testing let’s go on.
- Let’s put a picture on the page. Back to the “More” icon and we choose “Image.” The box appears on the page. and the Style tab is selected in the right sidebar. But how do we import our graphic? CMD-E like in Freeway? No, my friends. In fact, I cannot see a menubar command that imports! Contextual right-click? No. In fact, I don’t think Sparkle even cares about contextual commands! What about the sidebar? No “import” feature I can see. What about drag-and-drop? Yes! Finally! But seriously? Only via Drag-n-Drop? Now, it’s true I’ve not yet read the documentation, and you book worms will chastise me for it. But I am evaluating the “intuitive nature” of this app, and to me, the lack of an easily accessible “import” command/dialog is bizarre.
- Okay, my graphic is imported into the Image box via drag-n-drop. I don’t see any equivalent of Freeway’s “High-resolution” checkbox in Sparkle. But when I Preview from Sparkle, using those infuriating 2 clicks, I see my pic in the browser, in its full 144ppi glory on my Retina 5k iMac. So back to Sparkle. I want to size my Image box to fit the imported image’s dimensions proportionally. In Freeway, you just press Shift-CMD-D for a graphics box, and for pass-thru graphics its down for you automatically. What about Sparkle? No where to be found, from what I can see. Yes, Sparkle’s sidebar has FILL and FIT buttons, and a STRETCH checkbox, but those are not giving me “resize box to imported image’s proportions” like Freeway does. This makes me an unhappy camper. But let’s go on…
- We all know very well how Freeway let’s us compress JPEGs or reduce colors in our imported graphics. And we have the power to use pass-thru images too (which is what I use most of the time). But what of Sparkle? Those controls are no where to be found from what I can see (without reading the manual). I’m speechless.
- Okay let’s now create a navigation menu. For truly, what website DOESN’T have that, right? Click “More” again and choose Menu. A single cell/box appears with Page 1 written inside. In the Style tab of the right sidebar I see options. I untick “Replicate Site Structure” and click “+” to add some entries, then click Vertical to ensure it’s a drop-down, and then Preview (with the dad blasted 2 clicks). Well, it’s not a clickable drop-down after all. It looks like stacked cells in a table to me. Clearly, I am going to need to read the manual to figure out navi menus. I consider that a negative.
- Alright, my brain is getting tired now so let’s wind this down. What’s another fundamental thing we modify on our pages? Right. We open Freeway’s Inspector and click General Page Settings. From there we can set the page title, filename, etc. In Sparkle, you click on the pasteboard or on the page (something other than content). Then your right sidebar changes to “Page” and you see that confusing “Search Engine Information” bold text again. What the heck? Beneath that are fields to set the page title and filename, just like Freeway. But in this Preview, the “Custom Filename” checkbox is disabled. Hopefully that’s not true of the real version. And this confusion is precisely why dummied down trials are stupid. Give us a full featured trial for 15 days, for crying out loud. Anyway… There’s a field for Description and another below that for comma-separated keywords. Where for art thou, Meta Tag Dialog? No where to be found, that’s where. You are restricted to Description and Keywords only. Fine for many people, but not all.
- I see that you have the means to add a “Custom Pattern” (which in Freeway is the Background Image). Interestingly, you can import that via dialog, not merely drag-n-drop alone. There’s a fixed position checkbox, Scale and Blur, but honestly these controls are NOTHING compared to the flexibility Freeway gives you to tile your background image as you see fit. But if you don’t use background pics, this won’t be a problem for you. Annoyingly though, your changes (such as blur) are not updated in real time in the page design view. I see the changes in a tiny preview in the left sidebar, and I see the changes appear instantly in the browser (if I flip to the browser).
- I see a Settings icon in the upper right of the Sparkle window, so I click that. Here I see 5 tabs giving me many adjustable options. The General tab gives me the ability to choose 2x and/or 3x images, or neither. Leaving both unchecked means your graphics will be a fuzzy 72ppi on retina displays. I guess I need to read the manual about why 3x is needed. I use 144ppi pics in Freeway all the time, but never 216ppi. But perhaps 3x is needed for something, which I guess makes it nice to have. Anyway, you also have Text encoding and Text antialiasing options in the General tab, along with “Always show vertical scrollbar” – although why you’d want to do that is beyond me. Clicking the Website Icon shows the favicon! Good news seeing that Sparkles EMBED box is not equivalent to Freeway’s HTML Markup dialog. Clicking the Analytics tab gives you Google’s snooping code controls. The Privacy tab gives you the ability to create a Privacy page which has buttons allowing the user to Deny cookies and Remove tracking consent. Seems like a nice feature. And lastly, the Publishing tab gives you what Freeway does in File > Document Setup > Document > Site Folder. But in Sparkle you can choose a local site folder or remote.
- Since the menus in Sparkle are quite lean compared to Freeway, I will conclude this mini overview of Sparkle by talking about the 3 items in the top left of the window. You have a Zoom popup. Next to that is the Device icon which let’s you set one or more predefined breakpoints for a Responsive page. I won’t go deep into that seeing I’ve never created a Responsive site before, but those options are there. And lastly there’s the Grid icon that does just that.
You may now want to ask me, :So what about Feature X, Y, Z in Freeway – aren’t those in Sparkle?" Honestly, the above 21 points cover the major features of Sparkle that I could see. As such, Freeway users will find a lot of things missing if they decide to move to Sparkle. And no, my friends, there is no HTML IMPORT feature in Sparkle that I can see. So no hope of bringing your existing sites easily into Sparkle.
CONCLUSION. Sure, there’s more I could have said if I were to have read the documentation, but I’ve leave that for another time. Suffice it to say, if you are accustomed to Freeway and are a Visual Designer like I am, Sparkle has some appeal in that it doesn’t force code down your throat. But there are times when you may need to dabble in code, even a tiny bit. That’s where Sparkle doesn’t really sparkle in my eyes. There’s no equivalent of Freeway’s HTML Markup dialog nor any Extended Attributes. I can understand hiding code from our code-hating eyes, but to not allow access to it at all seems going too far.
I have no doubt that if I were to engage the developers of Sparkle or the users of it, I would come to know the app better, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean I’d get all the control I have grown to love in Freeway. Most likely, I would get the standard, “We’ll give that some thought” or “We have that schedule for a future update” sort of reply. Maybe in another 2 years, we might see Sparkle really shine. But will the developer still be around then? Will they have sold out to someone else who cares nothing for Sparkle but instead wants their engineering talent? These are legitimate risks we Freeway users take when considering Sparkle. And because of that, I am rather disappointed. Out of all the Mac web design apps out there, Sparkle looks to fit my “don’t see the world as code” mentality rather nicely. Even though I dislike code, I need access to it, from time to time. To prevent me from adding snippets of it like Freeway does is putting my brain in a box. That’s a problem because I want a web design app to unleash my design potential.
I hope these thoughts help guide some of you thinking about Sparkle, and if I have additional thoughts to share over time I will add them here. I also hope this will help some of you who still want to give Sparkle a chance to examine the trial closely and then let us know your take here in this thread.
Thanks and best wishes,
freewaytalk mailing list
Update your subscriptions at: