By James E. Powell
Web-site creators will love the new FrontPage from Microsoft. Offering a broad feature set, with plenty of Web page templates and Wizards to fill them in, this program could be a great soup-to-nuts tool. Unfortunately, its user interface and Internet service provider (ISP) options need some rethinking.
I tested the program's second beta and found many outstanding features. Its template collection is great. FrontPage's Corporate Presence can build in just about everything your business would need to advertise its products and services. The associated Wizard asks you to choose pages, enter content and so forth. Then it builds the shell and incorporates whatever master settings-such as copyrights and last update statements-you've chosen. Of course, you'll still need to add your information, but FrontPage maintains an extensive, prioritized to-do list to keep you on track. You can perform tasks on the list in any order. While you work,
FrontPage monitors your creation for any new jobs that come up. If you add a link to a yet-to-be-built page, for example, the program will put "create new page" on your list.
FrontPage manipulates your creation with a divided Explorer window. On the left, a hierarchical list of your site's elements lets you see navigation links, style sheets and mail-to's by clicking on a page. On the right, you'll find a summary view of all the elements on your site; click on an element and FrontPage's Editor module pops up. You can display an icon for every page with a link to and from the current page, and optionally show where each image is used.
The FrontPage Editor looks much like the Internet add-ons for Microsoft Word. It lets you insert and format text and lists, drag and drop graphics, click a check box to make graphics transparent, and add line breaks without knowing a single HTML command. One frustrating limitation, though: You are able to view the HTML source, but you cannot edit it.
FrontPage's table creation tools resemble Word's, which may lull you into thinking they work the same way. You'll quickly find, however, that they don't. While you can set the alignment of an object in a cell, for example, you can't drag cell borders to change the column's dimensions.
FrontPage's maintenance and page debugging tools are excellent. It's particularly easy to make changes directly from the dialog box that displays the error. Ask FrontPage to verify your links and it first identifies them, then lets you click on a broken link to fix it. The Web-site building Wizard creates pages that automate custom settings such as your e-mail address; make a change and the program automatically updates with the new information. In addition, the program has built-in security at the administrator, author and user levels.
FrontPage also includes a Web-search tool, as well as another tool that builds forms, storing data in either HTML or text. The forms building didn't work properly in my beta copy, but it was not immediately obvious how you'd create a form from scratch using it. I'd prefer a Wizard for this job.
Overall, FrontPage's user interface just isn't intuitive, especially when you leave Wizards behind. Adding pages from scratch is difficult, since there's neither a menu nor a Wizard to get you started. After several minutes of trial and error, I discovered the method.
The sophisticated Editor is unquestionably the easiest tool I've used for creating image maps. You can drag an image from the Windows Explorer onto your desktop and make it a hot spot almost painlessly.
Unfortunately, it relies on proprietary functionality, called a "bot," to run. Bots are enabled with Microsoft server extensions, but they're limited. If you rely on an ISP to host your pages, you may be out of luck. A quick survey of the largest 15 Seattle-area ISPs that host customer Web pages revealed that only one supported the extensions. Many refused to load the extensions on their server unless source code was provided; it wasn't. At press time, Microsoft reps told me only six nationwide service providers-AT&T and BBN Planet were the only names I recognized-currently support the extensions. The company will work towards getting FrontPage to function without these extensions.
FrontPage would make a great tool for building a Web site on an intranet, where you control the server and extensions. But it may not be worth changing ISPs just to get a few flashy features.
Microsoft is aiming this product at the casual Web-page builder; an industrial-strength product is due by year's-end. Despite the terrific features, the possibility that your ISP can't host your FrontPage-created site, along with a confusing interface, make this a product I can't yet recommend.
Microsoft FrontPage 1.1
Price: $149 ($109 for MS Office owners)
Pros: Editing features
Cons: Interface; ISP options
Platforms: Windows 95, NT
Disk Space: 8.8MB
WinMag Box Score: 3.0