Microsoft Corp. is enhancing the XML capabilities of its FrontPage Web design program with true WYSIWYG editing and easier interaction with other applications in the Office 2003 family.
FrontPage 2003 is scheduled to ship at the same time as the other Office 2003 applications in development, by the third quarter. Microsoft has not announced Office 2003 pricing.
XML support is one of the key features of the other Office 2003 applications, now in beta testing. Of course, the Web design program already supported XML, but it now contains what Microsoft says is the first fully WYSIWYG Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation (XSLT) editor, intended as a tool to build more dynamic Web sites.
Beta 2 versions of FrontPage 2003 are available through the Microsoft Office System beta site.
Shortcuts, Options Added
Other new features include Quick Tag Selector and Quick Tag Editor; Advanced Find and Replace, which works site-wide; built-in scripting; and several coding features that draw on the Visual Studio development system. While FrontPage 2003 provides many functions intended to make it easy for a nonprogrammer to use it to design Web pages, the Visual Studio elements are geared toward experienced programmers.
A new dynamic Web template in FrontPage 2003 also lets designers define editable and non-editable portions of a site. This version of FrontPage does not require hand coding for style sheets, as did previous editions.
Also, Microsoft has improved FrontPage's capability to use any industry-standard graphics, even if they weren't created with Microsoft applications, says Melisa Samuelson, a product manager for FrontPage.
"We've completely reinvented FrontPage," Samuelson says. "Previous versions weren't powerful enough. People want to do more-sophisticated things with their Web sites."
The program also bundles several prebuilt Web packages, including a Web log (blog) design.
FrontPage 2003 can be used to create the front end for a Web page or application that draws data from a number of sources, including data in other Office 2003 applications, through their mutual support for XML, according to the product managers.
"You can pull in data, whether it's from flat-file XML documents, relational databases, OLE databases, or Web services," Samuelson says. When the underlying data is updated, the Web page automatically reflects those updates, making a site more timely and interactive, she says.
Designers can also build in site changes that occur when data changes, she notes. For example, a company may connect its intranet pages to a sales database that displays up-to-date status. Numbers shown on the site could change colors when they hit specified thresholds, as entered in the database from which they're drawn.
Those integration features are of interest to a team at EDS in Ames, Iowa, which is testing FrontPage 2003 for its greater integration with programming tools. David Tucker, an EDS system architect, says his team is building a collaborative application based on Microsoft Sharepoint, a groupware function of Office 2003, and FrontPage is an easy way to create a front end.
The application is data-driven, drawing the latest information from a variety of back-end sources, so pervasive XML support in the Office applications and FrontPage's support for Visual Studio will make that task easier, Tucker says.
"As just a Web design tool it was not integral to our process," Tucker says. The EDS team did not previously use FrontPage for development, only for design. "But now, our programmers can focus on the Web services, and the designers can pull the user interface together."
EDS also plans to provide the application to its customers, who will be able to redesign the interface using FrontPage as well, Tucker notes.
Microsoft representatives emphasize the program's more-sophisticated features. Web services and simple Web site templates provided by ISPs meet the needs of entry-level Web page design, they note. The program's new functions are intended to serve the more-advanced hobbyists, as well as lure professional designers.
FrontPage's users have become more sophisticated, and Microsoft has responded with more advanced tools, notes Joshua Duhl, research director for rich media at the analyst firm IDC.
FrontPage is still useful for entry-level designers, but most FrontPage users are no longer novices, Duhl says. FrontPage is becoming more sophisticated along with its users. The program still competes with high-end Web design products from Macromedia and Adobe, Duhl adds.
For example, a "split view" displays raw HTML code along with the simpler interface to design a page. A user comfortable with HTML can tweak the code directly.
Many of its enhancements are logical given its place in the Office family, Duhl adds.
"Office 2003 is about putting XML into everything," he says. "Today, you don't just publish to the Web, so to write and publish to whatever form you need, you put it into XML."
FrontPage users can create the front end to whatever is available from other parts of the Office suite, Duhl says.
"We feel this is the most substantial release of FrontPage since its inception," Microsoft's Samuelson says. The previous version, FrontPage 2002, shipped in 2001 with Office XP.