With a fine blend of page-editing and site-management tools, Microsoft FrontPage 98 has been one of the best general purpose Web design packages around. But after almost a year in service, FrontPage 98 is starting to show its age. For example, more recent packages do a better job implementing Dynamic HTML (DHTML) functions and editing source code.
Based on my testing of FrontPage 2000, Beta 1, you can forget these concerns. This next version includes improved DHTML tools as well as many other changes that are likely to make designing and managing sites much easier.
You no longer need FrontPage Explorer to administer sites and the separate editor to design them; both functions now come together in one application.
I displayed a graphical representation of my site using the navigation icon appearing in the left-hand frame and picked a page, and it immediately opened for editing in the main right-hand pane.
In FrontPage 98 you were limited to one secondary site (sub-Web) within each main Web site. FrontPage 2000 let me create - and individually control access to - unlimited nested sub-Web sites. This makes large-site development more practical.
There were other noteworthy workgroup features. I was able to check out (lock) a page so no one else could edit it - though this feature wasn't yet integrated with the main FrontPage program (I had to run that module separately). When I mistakenly saved a page, the software let me revert back to the previous version.
Lastly, new reports showed me which pages other people had recently changed, which would be slow for users to download, and which were checked out.
However, when I turned on advanced options, the beta software built pages with DHTML effects that appeared identical in both Netscape Navigator 4.0 and Internet Explorer 4.0. For instance, I imported graphics and selected absolute positioning, and FrontPage 2000 let me drag the images to precise points on the page. The same thing is possible with tables and text.
Next, I incorporated some of the new premade animations in order to make layers fly around my pages. They, too, worked across browsers.
Learning and using FrontPage 2000 will probably be trouble-free, especially for anyone familiar with Microsoft Office. Creating CSS specifications is a good example: I picked fonts and formatting using dialogue boxes identical to those in Word.
Moreover, Office 2000 will include HTML as a standard file format.
This means that users will be able to drop, say, a richly-formatted Word file or Excel spreadsheet directly into a FrontPage Web and have the pages become part of the site without additional editing or linking.
Novice to master
Connecting FrontPage 2000 forms with databases is something novice users will quickly master. An improved wizard automatically maps form fields to any ODBC-compliant database (or builds a Microsoft Access database for you).
The wizard also creates queries without any programming, so almost anyone should be able to retrieve database information and view it in various ways.
I used the new integrated Microsoft Script Editor to change Active Server Pages scripts and HTML code - without worrying that the software would change my indents, white space, or custom scripting. Additionally, IT departments can write Visual Basic for Applications programs to manipulate FrontPage documents and Webs.
Given that it's still at an early point in the development cycle, the first FrontPage 2000 beta version demonstrates quite complete features and good stability. It smoothes out the usability kinks of FrontPage 98 and provides easy access to the Web technology of the moment.
The Bottom Line
Microsoft FrontPage 2000, Beta 1
Designed for casual business users and Web professionals, FrontPage 2000 provides extensive control over the appearance of Web pages through new design and formatting tools. In addition, its improved collaboration and publishing functions simplify site management.
Cons: Some unfinished features in beta version.
Platforms: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0.
Price: Not yet available.
Ship date: First half of 1999.
Tel (02) 9870 2200