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Hot on the Web

Tackling Front Page

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on January 28, 2005
(Issue 2304, Getting Up to Speed)

Just as Microsoft Windows and Office have come to dominate their respective fields, so is FrontPage starting to become the dominant personal Web authoring tool.

Which in and of itself isn't bad, any more than it's bad to have Word as the de facto standard.

It's what happens when Microsoft starts controlling too much of something as big and important as Web site design.

For starters, FrontPage is probably the least standards-complaint HTML authoring package on the market. Web sites designed in FrontPage will typically display correctly in Internet Explorer – but not necessarily in Mozilla, Opera, Netscape, Safari, Firefox or the other increasingly popular alternatives to IE.

Which is troublesome – because where Microsoft's non-compliance usually happens is in multimedia and security applications on Web sites. So if you're not using IE, you can't view all the content of the page. Or complete your online purchase.

FrontPage was actually a latecomer to the Web design game. Adobe had an early HTML editor called PageMill that was quite good, although they dropped development of it in favor of GoLive.

But GoLive is pricey – $400 from Adobe's Web site. And MacroMedia's Dreamweaver Web authoring package costs the same. HomeSite, a stripped-down version of the Dreamweaver engine, is only $99 – but that's still a lot of money for creating a Web page.

Free options

Both the Mozilla and Netscape browsers include a Web design package as part of their free browser suites. And both are pretty serviceable, as long as you don't want to get into anything too fancy.

And of course, you can always use a plain-text editor like Notepad for creating Web pages.

But there's a new open-source alternative now out called Nvu. Available as a free download for personal use for Linux, Windows and Mac, Nvu is a worthy entrant into the web-authoring arena. It is an easy-to-use, powerful tool that, if not quite to the standard of GoLive, Dreamweaver or FrontPage, is nevertheless a very useful product – especially for free.

It's user interface is similar to that of Dreamweaver or HomeSite, with a directory/file manager on the left, and a tabbed main editing window in the center, with the toolbars running across the top. As with Dreamweaver and HomeSite, Nvu allows you to have multiple files open for editing at one time.

And as with most Web authoring tools, you can view the document in either HTML mode or browser preview mode. What's different about Nvu is that you can only access many of the editing features in the "normal" mode, which is similar to the browser mode. While HomeSite and Dreamweaver (and perhaps the others, although I've not used their most recent releases yet) allow you to use the automated menus to add an image or a table with the HTML source code, Nvu forces you to go back to normal view to use its built-in tools.

As far as more powerful features go, Nvu allows you to "publish" your HTML files once you're done editing them – basically using ftp to send the files to your Web server with the click of a button (after you've set those options up, of course).

Nvu includes a spellchecker and search and replace capabilities – although, unlike Dreamweaver/HomeSite, it doesn't allow you to search directorywide (very handy when trying to replace the same element on a bunch of pages all made from the same template).

Nvu also has an HTML validator, to check your code for you (misspelled tags can break a page in a hurry) and a stylesheet editor.

So if it still contains some holes, Nvu is still a pretty solid package. For the price, it's certainly worth checking out.