FrontPage: A Serious Developer's Tool

By Vince Barnes

Is Microsoft's FrontPage really
a Tool for a Serious Developer?.

Many of the old school web developers grew up using the like of Notepad or other simple text editors to create their web pages.  They would remember all the tags and manually code them in where they were needed.  They still do this today.  There is nothing wrong with it, either.  Raw coding in this way is the best way to maintain complete control over what the resulting site does and is certainly the way to garner the deepest understanding of the mechanisms at work.  Many of these hard core guys look down on products such as FrontPage as being OK for lesser mortals, but not really something for real web developers.  I would like to take a closer look into it to see what kind of things it can do, what it doesnt do too well and to blow some of the myths about the product.

By way of housekeeping the version I am using for reference is the current 2002 version that was in a bundle entitled Microsoft Office XP Professional with FrontPage, to which I have applied Service Pack 2.  The Help/About shows the version as (10.4128.4219) SP-2.  When I reference earlier versions, I mean those prior to FrontPage 2000.  The 2000 and 2002 versions are substantially similar; earlier versions were somewhat different.  This article is not intended to be a full review of the product, but rather a look at some of its feature set to help you decide if it could be a useful addition to your toolbox. Please note also that while some common parlance uses "Framed" pages, Microsoft uses "Frames" page in FrontPage.  I am continuing in this article with the Microsoft version.

FrontPage can be used as both a page editor and as a website manager.  When you start FrontPage you will notice that the File menu includes both Open and Open Web.  When you Open, you open a file, probably a web page file, you are editing that page.  When you Open Web you open a website.  The website you open could be either local, using for example either Personal Web Server or IIS (on XP), or it could be on a hosting server somewhere.  Either way, the site will need to have the FrontPage Server Extensions loaded in order to open the site.  Its of interest to note that if you Open Web a site on a hosting server, you will be making changes in real time to the live site.  Click save and the change is live!  If you want to update a set of pages at once, you could create a copy of the set in a new folder, and when all changes are complete, move/copy them to overwrite the originals.  Alternatively, you could edit a local copy and then publish the updates to the live server.  Earlier versions of FrontPage had the site management (the FrontPage Explorer and page editing FrontPage Editor separated as two distinct programs.  Since they have been integrated into a singular view of the toolset, it is a lot clearer and easier to understand the relationships between individual features.

When a site is opened as a website, FrontPages very useful website management features come into play.  If you click View/Folder list you will see an Explorer style view of the folder hierarchy of your site.  Clicking Folders in the Views bar provides full file management capabilities.

Reports in the same bar provides a wealth of  conveniences including Unlinked Files, Hyperlinks, External Hyperlinks, Component Errors and more.  Some of these features open up further capabilities as you use them.  The Reports part of FrontPages feature set is so often underutilized, which is a shame because it is a rich toolset.

Navigation is involved in FrontPages automated site navigation capability.  When this capability is used, it is possible to automatically generate navigation bars on the pages in your site.  Though I have on occasions used this feature, it is not one of my favorites because I feel that I lose a measure of control.  I prefer to manually generate the site navigation that I would like to have.

Hyperlinks is a dynamite tool! Click on this to reveal its window and then select any file or folder in your site to see the functioning links into and out of the item.

When you select the Page view, you are looking at the page editor.  Open up a page (this is also how the program looks if you use it to open a page file instead of opening up a website) and you see three or more tabs.  The three are labeled Normal, HTML, and Preview.  There are more if your page is a frames page.  Frames pages open with each of the contained pages open in its frame.  The additional tabs provide a view of the frames page HTML and the code for non-frames capable browsers.  The three principal tabs are the most important for my purposes here.




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