NetObjects last week released a beta version of its next Fusion product. I had a few days to test Version 4.0, and I am very impressed.
Having a Web presence is simply not enough these days, and companies are increasingly looking for ways in which the Web can provide tangible business benefits.
There is a lot of competition in this area: Macromedia's Dreamweaver, Microsoft FrontPage, and Elemental Software's Drumbeat appeal to specific groups of builders and their skill levels.
But Fusion has a breadth of functions that makes it well suited to many users.
The beta version of NetObjects Fusion 4.0 that I looked at ties together information distribution, business functions, and ordering and buying on the Web. What that means to Web developers like me is that I can quickly develop Web sites with the freedom to expand Internet-commerce applications as the company's needs change. Fusion will also help me keep up with technology changes while keeping costs down.
Fusion 4.0 now has a standards-based Java API, a part of NetObjects Fusion Component Development Kit, which allows third-party or in-house developers to create Java-based components that are then used as any other component already in the Fusion Tool bars. For example, the beta version I tested included Allair ColdFusion Connector, which allowed a painless deployment of a dynamic Web site with ColdFusion Application Server - without having to write complicated CGI scripts. You will also find components for iCat Commerce, IBM HotMedia, and Lotus EF Connector.
I easily added dynamic database access to my test site using a connector for Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP).
The beauty of such components is that in using nothing more than Java-based wizards I created applications visually without writing ASP scripts.
Fusion 4.0 has the capability to drag and drop components directly into a page layout from another application, such as Excel. As a test I dragged my product-data spreadsheet to my test site and, all of a sudden, I had a product-information table built into my site. I then had full control over the newly created database table using the Fusion Properties palette.
In addition to greatly expanding the Java API, Fusion 4.0 offers a number of improvements in other areas. As in the previous version, this beta release includes a number of site styles that are ready to use.
One of my biggest complaints with the previous version was its lack of better control over tables. The new table tool finally supports complete HTML table specification. In my quick tests I was able to: merge and split cells; resize cells, rows, and columns by dragging handles in the ruler; and apply attributes and enter custom HTML for cells, rows, and columns.
I was thrilled to see a couple of new features: wizards for adding dynamic elements such as forms and cookies, as well as a tool for working with JavaBeans.
I simply inserted a JavaBean on my page and had full control over its parameters through the Properties dialog. Other worthy components are the Go Menu, which once placed on my page allowed drop-down list items to be dynamically linked to other pages; and Screen Door, which dictated which set of pages users see based on their browsers.
Previous versions of Fusion offered plenty of control over published HTML, but Version 4.0 finally sports incremental publishing. This long-awaited feature allowed me to publish a page, a section of pages, or the entire site instead of re-publishing the entire site every time I updated the code.
Along with this release, NetObjects is launching a Web site that aims to help builders achieve more from the program. The site looks pretty cool; check it out at www.e-fuse.com.
Although Web development tools have matured during the past few years, it remains hard for businesses to publish a rich Web site with dynamic data and business logic.
And enabling I-commerce in a Web site is still a pretty tall order for most builders. NetObjects Fusion has an advantage over its competitors: with its simple Web design process, open architecture, and strong ease of use, Fusion 4.0 should appeal to the majority of business users.
The Bottom Line
NetObjects Fusion 4.0, beta
This is a perfect Web development tool for small-to-medium sized Web sites, as well as for departmental-level sites in large businesses. Fusion 4.0 gives inexperienced users the tools to produce and maintain complex Web sites that are ready for Internet commerce.
Cons: None significant.
Platforms: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT.
Price: $569: $195 for upgrade.
Tel (02) 4721 7211