FrontPage, front and center
Microsoft FrontPage 2003
Rating: 4 out of 5
In the world of Web design, the line between professional and amateur has
always been a bit blurry, but the gap between the two has steadily widened with
the growth of the Web as a medium of business. It's fair to say that Microsoft's
popular, though lightweight, Web designer, FrontPage, has long been a favorite
of novice users, while the pros have tended to seek out more powerful design
packages, such as Macromedia's Dreamweaver MX and Adobe's GoLive.
But serious corporate developers and weekend homepage builders alike will
find a lot to appreciate in the latest version of the Microsoft tool. In fact,
both because of its improved feature set and its competitive price, FrontPage
2003 may just give the competition a run for its money, especially among small
Although it was on the roll call of revamped applications included in
Microsoft's Office System 2003 rollout last year, FrontPage 2003 does not come
bundled with any version of the new productivity suite. Yet this standalone app
received some of the most extensive improvements of any of the new offerings
(along with Visio and Outlook).
Microsoft has given FrontPage a major facelift in this version, drawing on
the interface styles of other Office applications for a more unified look and
feel. For example, this version includes ''task panes,'' a familiar feature to
Office users. Task panes, such as the Layout Tables and Cells pane, make layout
easier. Even the Help text appears in a task pane next to the work area. The
revamped interface also provides a new level of efficiency by replacing the
vertical Views bar with tabbed access to site management and editing features
directly from the editing screen. Moreover, it's just a whole lot roomier, with
more space on the screen to see the page you're designing.
Current FrontPage users who rely on the tool to create simple Web pages will
feel at home with the new version. Its popular WYSIWYG design capabilities are
here, including layout tables that let users build professional-looking sites
without writing HTML code, and a variety of new templates. However, the new
version combines those features with a new respect for coding. In this version,
Microsoft has focused on, in the company's words, ''generating clean,
industrial-standard HTML code.''
The new version includes a Visual Studio-like editor that includes
professional-level developer features. Among them, I particularly liked the
IntelliSense-based Autocomplete feature, which handles snippets of regularly
VBScript and ASP.NET -- all are directly editable in FrontPage 2003.
Easily the coolest new feature is the Split View, which displays a design
pane and a code pane at the same time. Actually, I should call this an
''it's-about-time'' feature because competing products already have it.
Modifications in the design pane show up automatically in the code pane, giving
users a powerful, interactive tool for writing better code. Many believe that
this feature will help a lot of FrontPage users to expand their HTML coding
skills by allowing them to see what the program is writing as they work with the
Another capability that I like a lot in this new version is a
design-time-layers feature that makes it easier to work with multiple pieces of
content from different applications. In my test, for example, I opened several
GIFs (photos) with Adobe Photoshop and then combined them with some diagrams I
created in Visio into a single FrontPage document. The process was simple and
straightforward; I was able to position the illustrations precisely using the
program's page rulers and layout grid.
This version also allows you to drag and drop Macromedia Flash content
directly into the workspace. And it includes some new accessibility checkers for
meeting federal guidelines.
FrontPage 2003 allows users to build Web sites that can be viewed by any
browser, and it includes tools that support the targeting of specific browsers.
It even lets you reconcile multiple browser conflicts. You can see how your site
will look in a range of browser resolutions and correct problems before you go
live. And an Autostretch feature prevents browser distortion.
But perhaps the most significant changes in FrontPage 2003 revolve around
XML, which is rapidly becoming the de facto standard for sharing data among
disparate computer systems. The new version of FrontPage allows users to define
how XML documents that follow any customer-defined schema will be formatted on a
Web page via XSLTs, which are created directly within the FrontPage editor.
According to Microsoft, FrontPage 2003 is the first commercially available XSLT
My biggest complaint is that FrontPage 2003 was built to
support Microsoft's SharePoint Services, which is server- and
desktop-collaboration software that lets workers share documents and data. What
this means is that XML collaboration requires SharePoint on Windows Server 2003.
In fact, all of the live, data-driven Web site features in FrontPage 2003
require SharePoint, including XML support, the Data Source Catalog, Web package
templates and Web Parts. FrontPage also lets users publish to FTP and WebDAV
servers, but here, too, Microsoft warns that to access the entire set of new
functionality in FrontPage 2003, you should use the tool in combination with
SharePoint on Windows Server 2003. (I consider Microsoft's white paper Using
FrontPage 2003 to design customized Web sites created with SharePoint Portal
, found at www.microsoft.com/frontpage, to be
essential reading for FrontPage users.)
Finally -- and I know that this is nitpicky -- I was disappointed in the
online help, which lacked the detail found in Dreamweaver.
Overall, however, I was impressed with Microsoft FrontPage 2003. Whether it
will actually cut into the markets of industrial-strength packages of
Web-authoring tools, like Macromedia's Dreamweaver or Adobe Systems' GoLive,
remains to be seen.
As I mentioned before, FrontPage 2003 is available only
as a standalone application. But it is priced competitively at $199 for a full
version, and at $109 for an upgrade (compared with Dreamweaver's heftier price
tag of $399).
* Personal computer with an Intel Pentium 233
MHz or higher processor, Pentium III (recommended)
* 128 MB of RAM
* 180 MB of available hard disk space (Hard disk usage will
vary depending on configuration; custom installation choices may require more or
less hard disk space.) According to Microsoft, optional installation files cache
(recommended) requires an additional 200 MB of available hard disk space.
Super VGA (800x600) monitor
* Microsoft Windows 2000 with Service Pack 3 or
later, or Windows XP or later
Pricing and Availability:
A full version of FrontPage 2003 is $199. An
upgrade version is $109.
A major advance from the previous version with plenty of new
features makes this product a must-have upgrade for current users. Its
competitive price and advanced code-management features, and its support of XML,
make it a product well worth trying for anyone developing commercial Web
* New interface with Office-type task panes and intuitive navigation
* New code-management features, such as Split View and Quick Tag
Selector and Editor, for faster and more accurate coding.
* New layout and
graphics tools streamline the design process.
* Support for XML-based data
* Lacks the detailed online help found in Macromedia's
* HTML editing tools could still be better.
* All live,
data-driven Web-site features, including XML support, require SharePoint
Services on Windows Server 2003.
L.J. Cohen is a freelance programmer based in Los Gatos, CA.