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Web Design Program Review


Deverill
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[Mods, I put this here instead of the FrontPage forum because it is Software Talk and I'm hoping people who have written off FrontPage for life will see it, which they wouldn't do if it was in the FP forum.]

 

I recently started a class at our church to train people to do the things that need to be done in the technology area. Things like CD creation, audio cleanup, projector and sound equipment control, etc. One of the areas that came up and that my Pastor wanted training on was web design. How would I do it? Obviously I don't want to try to do a 3 month long session on tags and java and such. I decided to use a WYSIWYG. For my own work I use a combination, depending on the task, of Dreamweaver MX, a text editor, HTML-Kit and various other tools such as FileZilla.

 

Dreamweaver is cost prohibitive for our small group of students and it's future is unclear since Adobe bought it. I never used GoLive and it was just as expensive. That left, for a quality, non-transient tool only FrontPage (at least in my mind). I own FP2000 and the thought made me shiver! FP has always made garbage code with a simple title turning into 3 lines of <font/style/h/etc> tags. I figured, however, that I'm the final step between anything they create and the website so I can by hand and with tools clean up the code. No problem!

 

I went to the store and purchased the upgrade FrontPage 2003 and have been using it for a couple of weeks. Boy was I shocked! The code is as clean as any WYSIWYG I've seen and it has tools to clean up things like empty tags, comments, whitespace, unused content, extra formatting tags, etc. “This has potential” I thought. Ok, so now I don't need a barf-bag to start it up, let's see what it can do!

 

There are a lot of nice features that have been added to bring it up to a level of real tool. They have split code/design view, a pretty complete rendering engine, tag viewers and editors, various other element editors (more later), lotsa toolbars that can be customized to give you one-click access to most everything, way better CSS functionality, layers and much more.

 

The element editors are similar for many things. For instance, right click on a table and choose Table Properties and you get a popup with all the options for tables, margins, alignment, etc. It's a very easy way to set things up without having to memorize the syntax. The ones that get me are like margin 1,3,5,10 – is it left, top, right, bottom or some other order? No more guessing.

 

Another great help is the intellisense built into the code editor. Like many Microsoft tools, the editor knows the syntax of the language and has a lot of finish-for-you ability. Example, type “<” and it brings up a combo box with <head> <frameset> and <body>. If you type “<table “ it gives you all the options for a table – everything from "accesskey" to "width" and some helper entries for things like onmouseover.

 

They also have behaviors so you can point and click your way to popup menus on your website, for example, by making the menu hidden at start – adding a behavior for your activation button that makes it visible – and a behavior for onmouseout to make it go away again. These add javascript to the code that is pre-optimized. To change the property of that menu from hidden to visible is about 7 lines of javascript. Sure you can do it in a smaller CSS script but it's not point-and-click.

 

Another nice thing is that it has the familiar Office look and feel so people familiar with Office have a leg-up on learning the interface. File New brings up a “New Document, from template, from existing page,” etc. box just like Word does.

 

FrontPage 2003 is not the solution to making quality web pages without learning HTML. A solid knowledge of how web pages work will prevent you from creating so many messy <font> tags, for instance. Using the tools available with the knowledge of HTML and CSS will create clean WYSIWYG pages. As an example, if I have 3 paragraphs <p>whatever</p> and select each and make it Arial font I get

><p><font face="Arial">Paragraph A</font></p>
<p><font face="Arial">Paragraph B</font></p>
<p><font face="Arial">Paragraph C</font></p>

Eek! I do have another option though! I can use the Format-Style menu to open the CSS dialog box, select the P tag, click Format-Font and select Arial and I get:

><style>
<!--
p			{ font-family: Arial }
-->
</style>

<p>Paragraph A</p>
<p>Paragraph B</p>
<p>Paragraph C</p>

This exchanges the font tag in every paragraph on my page for one line at the top, 2 comments and 2 <style> tags. Then use the tool to strip comments and it's even smaller. Additionally it's much easier to read.

 

This is just a small example of the improvements of FrontPage from 2000 to 2003. Anyone who has an irrational bias, like I did, against FP because they used the old version and saw the havoc it created really should check out the new version.

 

Please note: FrontPage as we know it is no more, BUT Microsoft is recreating it into a new package known as Microsoft Expression Web. There is a beta available that will run until some time in March if you're interested in seeing it for free. I tried it and felt right at home from the 2003 interface I'd been using recently. Microsoft is trying to get away from the stigma of the immature early days of FrontPage and they are repackaging several programs into a package of graphics/web/animation to compete with Adobe I believe.

 

Am I going to delete my text editors, HTML-Kit, Dreamweaver, etc that I used in the past? No way – a worker who is well versed in many tools can do the job the quickest/best. I am, however, giving FP2003 a chance for my web design that I'm working on now and see how it ends up. I have to get this one project done quickly and FP2003 seems like a way to do it.

 

If you have any questions, please ask. I am no expert but will be happy to tell you what I can. If you want to argue about WYSIWYG versus hand-coding l33t-ism then please don't – we've heard it all before. Use whichever tool you are blessed with having and the knowledge thereof and be happy with it. Not everyone will follow your path and we all think our path is the best. :rolleyes:

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I'm not a big fan of FrontPage, however that's not why I'm posting.

 

I'm sure you know that the Office XP/FrontPage 2002 life cycle expired on 7/11/2006. This includes the FrontPage 2002 Server Extensions for Apache. This means there is a possibility that there will come a time when they are no longer offered by many Linux hosts. For now the current version of 2002 Server Extensions has no known issues and does support FrontPage 2003 with some limitations.

 

 

What I am interested in knowing is if you have seen any loss of functionality due to the difference in available features. Would you continue to use it without the FrontPage Server Extensions? Would you move to Windows hosting just to take advantage of any of these features?

 

Thanks

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Hmmmm...interesting! If *nux servers will continue to support it, this might work for some people who either don't have or won't take the time to learn HTML. But, as far as I'm concerned, a good way to help one LEARN HTML. As you stated, different strokes for different folks!

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Thanks for the reply, Dick. That's why TCH rocks - cuz you guys know your end of things inside and out. I did a search and it seems that Expression Web will not rely on FPSEs. They are getting rid of the IE-only and substandard things to make it a serious tool and one that will run on any server - if I read it right. Here's the blog from MS I was reading from http://blogs.msdn.com/xweb/default.aspx

 

This whole thing is sort-of moot since FrontPage is also a discontinued thing in the near future. Being replaced by ExpWeb.

 

I haven't noticed any problems with compatibility and the only thing I am consciously aware of needing FPSEs for is uploading/synchronizing and I could as easily use FTP for that. The answer to your other question, I would use it without FPSE from what I've seen (which my experience at this time is limited) but I would not use it if I would have to change hosts. If TCH had a Windows server I'd probably stay on Linux and do what I needed to make the pages work there. I also wouldn't change to a Windows server to take advantage of the 'bots and stuff for the reasons listed below.

 

Of course, it also counts that I don't like out-of-the-box 'bots like feedback forms, themes, etc. I'd rather incorporate something from hotscripts, etc. than use the generic thing. It does also count that I'm a developer who started hand-coding in the early 90's and have used everything from text editors to Netscape Composer to Dreamweaver to HTML-Kit so I'm probably not the typical FP user.

 

I'm still not convinced. I will stick with recommending NVU in place of FrontPage.
I wasn't trying to convince you, Bruce. By all means, recommend anything you think will help someone - that's what we do in the Forums and why it is so great that we can come here and hear/say things from each of our unique perspectives. If we all agreed on one product it would be a boring place with few solutions I'm afraid. Everyone has to go with what they like/know/can handle/can afford/etc. I just wanted to share my experiences. If it weren't for this class I'd still be using HTML-kit and The Semware (text) Editor. I wouldn't have given FP a second look based on past experiences, but you never know what situation will thrust you again into the unknown or uncomfortable... unless you're stuck in a rut and a rut is just a grave with the ends knocked out. :) I'm just glad I have yet another tool in my box to use when it calls for it.
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