Reviewed: FrontPage 2000 Pre-release

By Keith Furman

Microsoft's Michael Anguilo publicly demonstrated FrontPage 2000, the next version of the company's Web Development program, for the first time last week at Internet World Fall 1998 in New York. It was clear from the half-hour preview that Microsoft has spent a lot of time turning FrontPage 2000 (FP2000) into the ultimate tool for Web developers.

FrontPage 2000 will be tightly integrated with Office 2000 (Indeed, it will be included with the Premier Edition of Office 2000). This integration is very apparent when you first open the program. While previous versions of FrontPage contained two applications, FrontPage Explorer and FrontPage Editor, these two applications are now combined into a single program. Microsoft did an outstanding job of pulling this off. On the right side there is a familiar Outlook Bar (just like the old FrontPage Explorer) and to the right is the Word-like HTML editor. An optional folder pane displays all of the files in the current Web. The FrontPage Editor contains all of the features in Word 2000, such as background spell checking, format painter, and common pull-down menus. FrontPage menus and toolbars are now totally customizable just like the rest of Office 2000.

Mr. Anguilo said that the ugly and inflexible Themes are one of the biggest complaints Microsoft received about FrontPage 98. Themes allow you to apply a common look to your Web site. FrontPage 98 contained many Theme templates, but they were hard to manage and horrible looking. Microsoft completely redesigned the Themes in FP2000 and has enabled users to customize every aspect of the Themes and create new Themes. Microsoft’s Theme Wizard allows you to customize the colors, graphics and style sheets in each Theme. The color customization was very impressive. They had predefined color schemes you could pick from as well as a color wheel and the ability to select custom (browser-friendly) colors. The custom color feature also contains an eyedropper that allows you to pick a color from anywhere in Windows (such as your taskbar, an open application, etc.) and add that to your site. Theme graphics can also be customized. For example you can include your company’s logo in a Theme if you'd like. There is a bundled CSS style sheet editor as well.

FP2000 shows that Microsoft finally understands that FrontPage must equally support both Netscape and Internet Explorer. The company spent a lot of time rewriting the HTML code generator in FP2000 so that FrontPage features look identical in both Netscape Communicator and Internet Explorer. The browser compatibility features in FP2000 appear to work nicely. When Microsoft introduced DHTML features in FrontPage 98, but they only worked in Internet Explorer. For FP2000, Microsoft changed the DHTML code so that it now works the same in both Netscape and IE. Anguilo demonstrated this by adding a transition to a Web page so that when the Web page was loaded, all the page’s headlines would scroll in from the right to the left. He then showed the page in both Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator 4.05: It looked identical.

Another example of browser compatibility improvement is a new compatibility tab. This tab allows you to select the browser you are targeting (Netscape, IE, or both), including which versions as well as the technologies that are allowed to be included (such as ActiveX, VBScript, JavaScript, Java applets, frames, Cascading Style Sheets 1.0, Cascading Style Sheets 2.0, etc.). Corporate administrators will also be able to disable the use of any of these technologies.

The most impressive and important new feature in FP2000 is its support for hand-coded HTML. I've always liked the site management features in FrontPage, but wouldn't use the program because of the way it butchered hand-coded HTML in both new pages and existing pages. Allaire Homesite 3.0, on the other hand, has tools that help you add HTML code to an existing Web document easily (such as tables). With FP2000, Microsoft finally respects existing hand-coded HTML and makes it easy to write HTML code from within the editor. In fact, the HTML editor in FrontPage Editor works very similar to Homesite now. If you decide to use FP2000’s WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) editor, FrontPage no longer changes the existing HTML code layout! All indenting, spaces, and the like stay intact in the HTML code. You can also train the editor to create HTML in your own personal style, how to layout HTML code tag by tag, or give it an example hand coded HTML document to copy. The code that the normal editor creates is much cleaner as well and you can (finally) tell it not to write its own code in all lower-case text.

Site management has been greatly improved in FP2000 also. Like previous versions of FrontPage, however, server extensions will need to be installed to use FrontPage’s site management features. Along with the folder view in FrontPage, FP2000 includes hyperlink and navigation views. A much improved task/group management feature allows users to assign files and pages to particular people to work on. Microsoft also announced that people would be able to write Visual Basic applications that could tie into FP2000 through an open API. An example showed a VB application that would send an email whenever an employee upload or updated a page on the site. FP2000 is also scriptable, like other Office applications, using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).

You can assign categories to each of your web pages and a new feature called Autolink creates a web page that lists links to all the pages in a particular category. The list is dynamically updated whenever a page is added or changed.

FP2000 can now generate powerful reports that give you information on the content in your site. You can get information about the number of files, pictures, information on old content (and you can customize what should be categorized as old content. For example, any pages that are 120 days could be considered old content), information on broken links, average file sizes, download times for pages, external and internal links and many other things.

With FrontPage 2000, it is now extremely easy to add information from a database to your Web sites. For example, users can now automatically create an HTML form that posts information to an existing database or to a new database. FP2000 can help you create a new database based on the fields in the HTML form. A Database Result Wizard is included that helps create a page that can dynamically display information from a database.

FrontPage 2000 will be available early next year as part of Office 2000, Premium Edition as well as a standalone product. Microsoft will also ship a brand new version of the FrontPage Server Extensions with Office 2000 and FrontPage 2000

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