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-- by Warren Ernst
The task of tracking links, pages, graphics and other Web-site elements on your Internet site has become gargantuan, often involving hundreds of HTML and GIF files. Enter a new class of Internet applications: the site manager.
Microsoft FrontPage 97 is best described as a comprehensive "conventional" site-management system with excellent, though proprietary, automation of common Web-site jobs and a robust WYSIWYG HTML editor. A smaller, though equally ambitious, solution is DeltaPoint's QuickSite 2.5. This package manages sites by using an unconventional database system and a graphical editor that exports HTML files in the final stages of publication. Both compete with SoftQuad's HoTMetaL PRO 3.0, our previous WinList favorite.
Microsoft FrontPage 97
As with many Microsoft software suites, FrontPage 97 is intuitive and well-rounded. The suite is easy enough for beginners and comprehensive enough for expert Webmasters to quickly generate and manage complex sites.
The two core components of FrontPage 97 are the FrontPage Editor (to create and edit Web pages) and the FrontPage Explorer (to manage the resulting site). The Explorer has all the basic site-management capabilities of competing modules from Netscape and SoftQuad, allowing you to transfer your site to your Web server, open a selected file in the Editor, display the relationships between linked files and perform group-file activities.
The FrontPage Editor, a competent WYSIWYG editor, provides toolbar and menu choices that obviate the need to deal with HTML tags, as you must with HoTMetaL PRO. The Editor works like Microsoft Word 97: You make changes by highlighting text and selecting the appropriate attributes. Additions, whether graphics or an ActiveX control, appear precisely where you place them. Occasionally, however, the Editor is cumbersome. For example, you can only adjust Frames or Tables within dialog boxes instead of dragging them around the screen. However, FrontPage supports nearly every HTML 3.2 and Internet Explorer tag, and has excellent context-sensitive help screens.
FrontPage also comes with a good image-editing program and a large library of clip art. There's also a "personal Web server" that allows you to test your pages on your local machine without installing and managing a "test" Web server. All work well.
FrontPage's ace in the hole is its set of FrontPage Server Extensions. Usually, you must program your Web server with a CGI script to add features (such as a site-wide search engine), create certain special effects (such as animated text) or process a form. FrontPage makes use of special server modules (available free from Microsoft) to let you do those tasks without programming. Additionally, servers with FrontPage Server Extensions can work directly with the FrontPage Explorer to let you "hot-edit" files on the server while they are being served. FrontPage Server Extensions are available for the most popular NT- and UNIX-based Web servers. The caveat: Many ISPs running UNIX are apprehensive about adding them, due to their proprietary nature.
If your Web server or ISP uses FrontPage Extensions, FrontPage 97 is an exceptionally straightforward and powerful way of dealing with huge sites and implementing extra features. Even without FrontPage Extensions, it still makes an excellent site manager.
Last year, when QuickSite was virtually alone in the site-management field, its unique method of writing pages and tracking site resources seemed sensible. If you have never touched an HTML editor before and don't need to create complex Web pages, QuickSite 2.5 should still suit you, especially if you have existing database files you want to publish online. Experienced users, however, will find QuickSite's unusual metaphor less than intuitive.
The program works by managing a complex database of Web pages, internal and external hypertext links and elements that are repeated across the pages. You create pages and modify predefined site templates with the program's WYSIWYG editor. When you are done, QuickSite "publishes" the database into a true Web site on your hard drive, complete with HTML and GIF files. The program then automatically launches both Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer for testing and review-a nice touch.
Clearly, there are advantages to using QuickSite's format. For instance, it's simple to establish links to files and graphics already defined in the database. Additionally, it's a pleasure to generate an online catalog of products for which you already have a database; QuickSite can import pictures, descriptions, prices and product categories, and automatically generate attractive product Web pages complete with ordering links.
However, the WYSIWYG editor ignores actual HTML tags until the final stages of publishing, so it makes virtually no use of HTML's ability to quickly create site elements in a WYSIWYG environment. Instead, it creates a list of separate elements whose positions are stored in the database. To add text to a page, you click on the text tool, draw a rectangle and start typing within it. To reposition or resize the blocks of text, you drag them with the pointer tool. This method of text manipulation, while fine for small paragraphs, is cumbersome for text-heavy pages. The program lacks tools to make common Web-page elements-such as bulleted or numbered lists-or to embed graphics within text. Frame management is also awkward.
You can use HTML tags in the provided tag-oriented editor or in a third-party editor like FrontPage or HoTMetaL. However, the elements that the alternate editor creates aren't thoroughly indexed within the database. Furthermore, switching between the default and alternate editors is difficult; elements created in one don't show in the other.
Both QuickSite 2.5 and FrontPage 97 beat a plain-vanilla HTML editor for generating and maintaining complex Web sites. FrontPage 97 gets the nod for its more intuitive style, because it uses conventional file formats and provides an HTML editor that is powerful and simple. Both FrontPage and HoTMetaL are adept at creating pages and managing entire sites. However, generating pages with FrontPage 97's HTML editor is easier for both basic and sophisticated tasks, even though you give up HoTMetaL's ability to directly edit tag attributes.
With its combination of extra image-manipulation tools, template set and FrontPage Server Extensions, FrontPage 97 outshines both QuickSite 2.5 and HoTMetaL PRO 3.0 for page creation and site management. For this reason, FrontPage 97 replaces HoTMetaL PRO 3.0 on our WinList.
The Explorer in FrontPage 97 displays and manages links within your Web site, while the Editor handles page-creation chores.
Windows Magazine, August 1997, page 150.
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