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Grace Roberts - GUI Computing
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FrontPage is Microsoft's HTML authoring tool for Windows '95 or Windows NT workstations. It is the best of the WYSIWYG HTML editors and is ideal for web page designers that want to concentrate on content and layout - and not HTML code and tags. No prior knowledge of HTML, TCP/IP, or Server Administration is needed to create and administer web sites.

A personal web server is included in FrontPage, so your Windows '95 machine can host pages and test interactive features. The 'Copy Web' command makes it extremely simple to move your pages to a public, or Service Provider, web server that recognises FrontPage. Also included are the two main components, FrontPage Explorer and FrontPage Editor. The Explorer is where you manage your site structure and administration. The Editor has the Microsoft word-processor 'look', and lets you start creating web pages right away.

FrontPage Explorer
Screen Shot

One of the best features of FrontPage is its built in interactive components like site search capabilities, auto table of contents, and timestamps. These 'bots' also enable you to process HTML forms without using CGI or VB scripts. At publishing time, however, the public server hosting the bot pages needs to have FrontPage extensions installed. FrontPage works reliably with most popular web servers, like WebSite or Apache (although a little quirky with Microsoft's Internet Information Server), but because it requires these extensions it seems best suited for intranet publishing.

FrontPage goes beyond the scope of most HTML authoring tools because it will also administer and maintain a complete web site. In fact, it insists on it. Depending on your perspective, this can be good or bad. It controls the site, or 'web', and all tasks related to creation, maintenance, and administration can only be performed from within FrontPage. Some people may be uncomfortable with that.

If you already know HTML you will appreciate the ease of creating client-side imagemaps and complex tables with FrontPage. The HTML code generated by FrontPage is valid and adheres to most W3C standards, and it also includes a Wizard to create framed pages. Most tag dialogs also include an option for Extended Attributes. The HTML form submission properties allow you to insert Custom CGI code for processing of input.

Most of all the Editor's page layout features are very good and quite intuitive, with the exception that table formatting is sometimes unpredictable. Most new users only become frustrated by HTML limitations, and not FrontPage issues.

The Explorer shows you a graphical view of your entire site, including referenced links and (optionally) inserted images. At first, large webs can be a bit confusing in structure since all pages are dumped into a big list. Double clicking on any element in your web will open that file for editing.

Right now FrontPage seems to be the best of the current HTML authoring tools, and ideal for internal intranets. The learning curve is not a steep one and there is no need for users to have prior knowledge of technical configurations, because FrontPage controls everything behind the scenes. Whether FrontPage uses that power for good or evil will be up to consumers and the likes of Luke Skywalker. There is no question that Microsoft is serious about Internet-aware products and tools. It seems likely that new releases of FrontPage will be plugging into Office Ninety-Something.



Written by: Grace Roberts
August '96

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