EW3 - Editor Wars v.3 EDITOR WARS

Comparative HTML Editor Reviews, v.3


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  FrontPage 98    

Category: WYSIWYG Editors
Manufacturer: Microsoft Corporation, www.microsoft.com
Download: ??? MB, trial version no longer available

  What it does.    



Microsoft touts FrontPage 98 as the all-in-one tool for creating Web Sites with a minimum of fuss.

The application consists of two main windows: The FrontPage Explorer window gives an overview over the whole site in several modes and provides all site management functions. The separate Editor window is where one actually fills the pages with content.

FrontPage 98 offers nicely designed "Themes" to give the whole site a consistent look and navigation. Every theme consists of a matching set of buttons, backgrounds, heading styles and navigation bars. The application also includes a series of special functions named "WebBots".

Some features of FrontPage 98 (most bots) depend on server extensions which are included in Windows NT's Internet Information Server (IIS), but which are also available for other server platforms. FrontPage 98 Hover Buttons require a Java-compatible browser.

The FrontPage 98 package comes with the Microsoft Personal Web Server, which essentially is a local, 1-person-web server to test the pages (and the bots) with.

Support for DHTML animations and effects is rudimentary and will only work in Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0 and beyond.



  The Light Side.    



FrontPage 98 tries to make web publishing easy for the novice.

The editor looks and behaves a lot like Microsoft Word. If you work with Word everyday, you will probably find this useful. The whole application is modelled closely after the Office 97 interface.

The application sports a nifty table drawing tool (again, similar to recent versions of Word). This way, you can create and complete HTML tables by simply "pencilling" in lines as you see fit.

If the FrontPage extensions are installed on the web server, the application's provide some nifty functionality including complex HTML forms and HTTP upload (which can be convenient since it is faster and more dynamic than a FTP upload).

FrontPage 98 allows the user to define CDF push channels for Internet Explorer 4.0 and above.



  The Dark Side.    



The FrontPage 98 Themes are nice, yet they lock you into a generic look which is very likely to be shared by other FrontPage 98 users. As a general rule, when you create a web site, you never want it to look like somebody else. By default, these FrontPage Themes can neither be edited nor can one create new ones.

There is, however, a badly documented "Theme Designer" utility hidden in a subdirectory of the CD (\Sdk\Themes\Designer). To modify existing layouts, one has to remove the "read-only" flags inside a text file contained within each Theme directory. This is hardly what I'd call intuitive.

Many bots depend on the aforementioned FrontPage server extensions. Most hosting services which are not running their web servers on Windows NT will be reluctant to install these extensions -- some of them are also said to be unreliable and possibly insecure.

FrontPage 98 consistently stonewalls Netscape users. The term "Netscape" doesn't even seem to appear in the printed manual. DHTML functionality is laughable at best, especially as it is not cross-browser-compatible.

The Hover Buttons are a Very Bad Thing. They rely on Java instead of JavaScript -- possibly because Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.x can't handle JavaScript Rollover commands (Netscape 3.x does, though).

Considering that FrontPage is aimed at novice users, these might easily be tempted to rely exclusively on Hover Buttons for navigation -- which means that a visitor without a Java-enabled browser will be stranded on one page with no way of exploring the rest of the site.

There is a weird interconnectedness between the FrontPage Editor and Explorer: Even though the Explorer window / application can be closed without quitting the Editor, as soon as one tries to save a file in the Editor, the FrontPage Explorer will start up again.

Table handling is troublesome -- FrontPage inserts unwanted HEIGHT parameters when you play around with a table layout which are tough to get rid of.






Initially, FrontPage 98 looks very nice and easy to use. Given a bit of time working with the application, however, this first impression slowly shifts; working with FrontPage can become tough fast, especially when you intend to work with frames or complex table layouts.

When the publisher of an HTML editing application also holds a stake in the browser market, bad things happen. Obviously, FrontPage favors Microsoft technologies, shunning existing standards -- i.e. proprietary Bots instead of CGI scripts, DHTML effects designed in such a way that they will not work with Netscape browsers.

The Hover Buttons are a ridiculous kludge, for reasons which have been explained at length above. Especially Netscape 4.x users will probably have Java disabled by default since its Java Virtual Machine takes a long time to load and might even crash the browser.

The Themes are a nice concept, executed badly. It is obvious that the FrontPage developers were taking broad hints from the uncannily similar implementation of Site Styles which has been part of NetObject Fusion since Release 1. Fusion, however, allows modifications of its pre-made designs without the hurdles put into the way of FrontPage's users.

Finally, there is the code issue. FrontPage creates bulky code, often with proprietary Frontpage tags which are of no use whatsoever to any web browser. Curiously, FrontPage HTML occasionally failed to display in Internet Explorer 3.x as intended.

Available for Windows 95/98/NT; Cost: 150 US-Dollars






NetObjects Fusion was the first web editing tool to offer site-wide design concepts. Fusion's implementation is far superior to FrontPage's clone.

Macromedia Dreamweaver has a somewhat cluttered interface, but its DHTML code is cross-browser-compatible. Click here for a review.

FrontPage's word processor metaphor is shared by MVD WebExpress which also looks and behaves a lot like Microsoft Word.



  Related Materials.    



Web Resources

User Groups

  • Frontpage-related sites and add-on software: FrontPage Frenzy (very complete)
  • Useful JavaScript plug-ins: El Scripto
  • JavaScript components such as OnMouseOver: J-BOTS
  • Use FrontPage without server extensions: KISSfp cleans up FrontPage HTML code



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