Aimed at businesses that want to get a Web site up and running yesterday, NetObjects Fusion has always been an easy-to-use and flexible tool, and the Fusion 5.0 beta that I tested for this review is no exception.
Fusion doesn't allow you to build dynamic Web sites based on Microsoft's Active Server Pages (ASP) technology, as does Macromedia's Drumbeat, and graphically oriented Web designers will prefer tools such as Macromedia's Dreamweaver. But only Microsoft FrontPage rivals Fusion's capability to create spiffy Web sites very quickly and easily plug in more powerful capabilities later - such as ASP-based dynamic Web pages or Internet commerce services. And I have always considered Fusion to be much easier to learn than FrontPage, resulting in great Web sites being developed quicker.
Fusion 5.0 should reinforce Fusion's standing as a fantastic Web-development application for both novices and experienced Web jockeys. The most noteworthy additions are an internal HTML editor and an embedded Web browser. Thanks to the built-in HTML editor, you no longer need to launch a separate application (such as Allaire's HomeSite, which used to be bundled with Fusion), but rather can tinker with the HTML directly in Fusion and immediately see the results.
Furthermore, you no longer need to publish the site to get at the code. The embedded Microsoft Internet Explorer browser is also a smart and welcome feature, allowing you to preview pages without taking the time to launch an external Web browser.
To accommodate these additions, the interface has undergone a slight facelift. The main development area now has three tabs, with each representing a specific view.
The first tab gives you the Page View, where you can do most of your page layout and design work by dragging and dropping page elements into place. The second tab takes you to the new internal HTML editor. By switching from Page View to the HTML editor, I was able to view the code that Fusion generated for the page I was developing and add my own tags and scripts. The third tab lets you quickly preview the page being designed as it will be seen in the Internet Explorer Web browser.
One of the things that Fusion has always done well is site structuring and maintenance. The site-structure view displays individual pages in relation to the rest of the site. Adding pages or moving them is just a matter of dragging and dropping. New to version 5.0 is the capability to copy and paste entire pages or even sections of the site. This enhancement will save designers a great deal of time.
The product has other important enhancements. For example, the HTML import feature has been improved dramatically. Importing an existing site into previous versions of Fusion often resulted in missing graphics or a crippled site structure, but importing into Fusion 5.0 proved to be a little faster and much cleaner. I imported a complex site with more than 300 pages and was impressed with the results. Fusion 5.0 also adds more ready-to-use site styles. FTP enhancements include multi-threaded publishing, which allowed me to publish my site to my Web server in the background while I continued to work in the application.
Other significant enhancements include a better toolbox for customising tables, the capability to format multiple objects at once, and much better control over navigation bars. For example, I was able to associate each navigation button of a navigation bar with any internal or external link.
In addition to new features and tweaks, Fusion 5.0 really makes an effort to help small-to-medium businesses with the entire process of planning, building, and marketing a Web site. A new Online button on the main toolbar launches the internal browser and takes the user to a tutorial that explains site-building concepts and provides links to other useful data. For example, to learn more about enabling my new Web site with electronic-commerce tools, I simply went to the Grow section of the planner, where I found relevant information with links to e-commerce tools.
If you need to plan, build, and maintain a Web site that can easily be e-commerce-enabled, then Fusion 5.0 is the answer. Fusion 5.0 is a mature Web-site design tool that allows novices and experts alike to create visually appealing and highly functional Web sites. And when the time comes to add more functionality, Fusion's standards-based Java API simplifies the process, with connectors for deploying dynamic Web pages, multimedia, and e-commerce services. By Andre Kvitkathe bottom lineNetObjects Fusion 5.0, betaSummary: NetObjects Fusion 5.0 takes you step by step through planning, designing, building, and maintaining an elegant Web site. A built-in HTML editor, an embedded Web browser, and other enhancements further streamline the site-development process.
Business Case: Fusion's ease of use and flexibility make it the best choice for companies that need to get a Web site up immediately and add electronic-commerce or other services later.
Pros: ¥ Straightforward interface and design tools ¥ Built-in HTML editor ¥ Embedded Microsoft Internet Explorer browser ¥ Almost nonexistent learning curveCons: ¥ None significantPrice: $US335 to buy online, $US115 for upgrade. www.netobjects.com/store/html/essintlnoprod.htmlPlatforms: Windows 95/98, Windows NT.
Shipping: December 6.