Enhanced Web Tools for Small Business

Microsoft Corp.'s FrontPage 2002 and NetObjects Inc.'s Fusion MX are competent, expanded products that, although of the cookie-cutter school of Web site creation tools, will be valuable to small companies that need to create and post entire sites quickly.

Microsoft Corp.s FrontPage 2002 and NetObjects Inc.s Fusion MX are competent, expanded products that, although of the cookie-cutter school of Web site creation tools, will be valuable to small companies that need to create and post entire sites quickly.

FrontPage and Fusion do well in setting up an entire site, managing links and assets, and bringing in services from third-party suppliers (Fusion) or from other programs (FrontPage). We easily put a multipage site together in very little time by choosing from the styles offered and inserting our own text and graphics.

However, if original design is an objective, these are not the tools of choice. For complete control over the layout of a given page, to the exquisite degree possible in a page-layout program, a better choice would be Macromedia Inc.s Dreamweaver or Adobe Systems Inc.s Go Live.

In eWeek Labs tests, FrontPage 2002 got the nod for overall usability, but Fusion could be a better choice for organizations that want a Web creation and management tool that doesnt enmesh the user in Microsofts clutch of applications.

At $169, FrontPage 2002, which ships later this month, offers myriad creation and management features to committed users of Microsoft Office applications, MSNBC, MSN search, Expedia or bCentral. The message is clear: Get with the program.

The consistent interface among Office applications makes FrontPage a familiar place for anybody who has ever used Word or other Office applications; integration is smooth. New features including discussion boards and dynamic online surveys are made possible by Microsoft SharePoint Team Services, a new Office component. PhotoGallery gains a bit of the flexibility already available in other programs such as Adobes Photoshop.

NetObjects $99.95 Fusion MX, which shipped in March, leverages Fusions strength as a Web site management tool and reshapes it for site creation.

Fusions Matrix Services allow users to contract for and install third-party services (marketing, reporting and management, and customer interaction services) on a Web site without having to write source code. Consistent with NetObjects subscription revenue model, this eventually generates a periodic subscription bill to the user.

The "convenience" of Matrix Services reminds us of the "convenience" of the 411 offer to dial your call for an additional charge.

It can be argued that small businesses lack the resources to implement features that may require scripting, hand-coding and management and that Matrix Services helps level the playing field. However, whether it would be better to outsource the tasks and pay once or use Matrix Services and pay often remains to be seen.

We had to register to look at the Matrix Services and then drill down four levels to find detailed descriptions of the services and, finally, the cost. We would like to see cost information displayed more prominently.

Usage analysis will cost the user in Fusions Matrix Services but is free in FrontPage, which downloads Internet service provider logs and automatically displays data either as an Excel document or a Web page.

We liked the easily resizable text boxes in Fusion, finding them a bit more amenable than FrontPages word-processor-like appearance. In other respects, both programs offer similar capabilities.

However, FrontPage is the only choice for companies that need to control the code completely. Users can write their own HTML in either program, but Fusion did not allow us to edit Fusion-generated code.

We found FrontPage the better choice for hand-coding HTML because it allowed us to edit all HTML directly and to find errors by line number.

Although Fusion reserved its own code, it did offer an object tree or color-coded tags rather than line numbers, which proved helpful in editing hand code. Both programs allow importation of JavaScript and HTML from external sources.