FrontPage 11 Closer to Rivals

The next version of FrontPage, Microsoft Corp.'s Web site editor, has a significantly better text editor and simplifies publishing tasks by using standard transfer protocols, making it a better citizen when used with non-Microsoft Web servers.

The next version of FrontPage, Microsoft Corp.s Web site editor, has a significantly better text editor and simplifies publishing tasks by using standard transfer protocols, making it a better citizen when used with non-Microsoft Web servers.

However, FrontPage has an awkward position in the enterprise. Although its inexpensive (the current version, FrontPage 2002, sells for $169), easy to buy through Microsofts standard volume licensing programs and is bundled with developer versions of Microsoft Office, it isnt good enough to compete head-on with other stand-alone Web design or development tool packages.

eWeek Labs tested Beta 1 of FrontPage 11. The final edition is slated to ship by midyear, and pricing hasnt been announced. We found a number of useful improvements in the beta that show FrontPage 11 will be a good upgrade for current users, particularly those who hand-edit HTML.

However, when compared with Macromedia Inc.s $399 Dreamweaver MX, we would pick Dreamweaver in most circumstances. One exception would be if users were doing only occasional page editing and didnt need a lot of visual complexity. Otherwise, for professional Web site builders, Dreamweaver is a much more powerful and flexible choice than FrontPage.

Web developers will find FrontPage still has serious limitations when used to create Web applications—the only server-side Web scripting languages it supports are Microsoft ASP (Active Server Pages) and ASP .Net, and it lacks an integrated debugger or source code control system integration (other than the simple check-in/check-out features built into FrontPage server extensions).

For developers working with ASP or ASP .Net, Visual Studio is a much more powerful environment, with its built-in support for ASP .Nets code-behind structure, editor outlining and dynamic help features. Dreamweaver MX or Adobe Systems Inc.s GoLive are our suggested options for those working with server-side scripting languages other than ASP or ASP .Net.

FrontPages HTML editor has numerous catch-up improvements to provide a modern code-editing environment.

The biggest benefit is auto-completion for HTML, VBScript, JavaScript and ASP .Net code—tags and functions now have parameter prompting and method name auto-completion, and matching HTML and ASP .Net close tags were automatically added in for us. This is a big timesaver.

Code blocks themselves are now color-coded, new keyboard shortcuts are available to find matching tags and braces, and a feature to create bookmarks in code has been added. The editor also has a snippets command to paste in boilerplate code.

A split-view editing mode is now available that simultaneously displays both the HTML code and graphical rendered version of the page. Edits we made in the graphical edit pane were immediately reflected in the code edit pane, while edits in the code edit pane werent updated until we switched the focus back to the graphical edit pane or pressed F5.

The split view has a nice new feature called a Quick Tag tool bar that displayed a list of tags reflecting the nested tag structure of the document at our cursor location. We could select a code block just by clicking on the appropriate tag in the tool bar, double-click on the tag to bring up a tag parameter editing window or use a drop-down list next to the tag to wrap the tag in a new tag. Unfortunately, the Quick Tag tool bar isnt available in the normal code view, just in the split view.

FrontPage 11 also gains new absolute page position tools for building complex HTML page layouts. (As with the split view, competitors Dreamweaver MX and GoLive already provide this feature.) In design view, we could draw a layout cell using a pencil anywhere in the table. FrontPage automatically created new spacer columns and rows (optionally with spacer .gif images) around the layout cell to keep it in location.

FrontPages new split-pane deployment tool made it much easier to selectively deploy files to a Web server over a variety of protocols, including FTP and WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning), although not Secure FTP, which we use extensively in the Labs.

FrontPage is now more standards-compliant in its code generation as well: Themes use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), tables are now created using a minimum of attributes and data-driven pages use the XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations) language to generate HTML.

West Coast Technical Director Timothy Dyck can be reached at