By: Michael Bednarek
These days Web authors have two choices - they can either learn HTML and code it by hand, or they can use one of the many software packages out there which aim to create your Web site for you. The majority of these software programs are WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) editors, so design is often as easy as dragging and dropping elements onto a page and then configuring them to your liking.
The only problem with these programs is that they tend to cost a lot of money. What can you do if you don't want to touch HTML but would like to create your own site? FrontPage Express, from Microsoft, could be your answer. FP Express is a cut down version of Microsoft's Web authoring software, FrontPage 98, and is available free for download from the Internet Explorer site. You may have it already if you have downloaded Internet Explorer 4 or have bought Windows 98.
As with many HTML editors, FrontPage Express is only pseudo-WYSIWYG. This means that you can't position elements exactly where you want to. This is not a deficiency of the program itself, but more a disadvantage of HTML, which is starting to be addressed with the introduction of absolute positioning.
When creating a Web page in FrontPage Express you have two options. If you are only just starting out, you can use one of several templates or wizards to create a basic page. Most are variations of feedback forms, though for the home user there is a Personal Home Page Wizard (shown below). In the case of wizards, you are asked a series of basic questions about how you would like your page to appear and a custom page is then generated for you, which you can edit as you see fit.
Above: The Personal Home Page Wizard allows you to quickly create your own personal page.
The other way to create your page is by starting from scratch and adding everything in yourself. FrontPage Express acts just like a more advanced word processor in this respect - you type in any text you want, then format the font, colour, size and alignment. You can also insert pictures, form elements, tables or almost anything else.
FrontPage Express supports a large number of HTML features, including inline and background images, background sounds, videos, marquees, lists, tables, and form elements. You can insert script into your pages with the Insert Script command, but you have to type the script in yourself. You can also insert ActiveX controls, Java applets, plug-ins, or Powerpoint animations into your pages, but similarly you have to know the location of the appropriate file and exactly how it should be configured.
One interesting feature is the inclusion of WebBot components. These make use of FrontPage extensions on the Web server and provide increased functionality to Web pages, such as a search facility, a time stamp, and the ability to save data to a file.
There are a number of good points to FrontPage Express. Firstly, the WebBot components provide an easy way to add sophisticated features to Web pages - you can use the time stamp to automatically maintain a "last updated" line, for instance, or the form WebBot to log form results to a text file for viewing later.
Above: The HTML code of your page is displayed in different colours for easy reading.
Secondly, there is a feature which allows you to view the HTML of your page, colour coded to make it easier for you. Text, elements, attributes and attribute values are all distinguished to make the code clearer for beginners to understand.
An excellent feature is the estimated download time which appears in the status bar. It tells you the number of seconds which your page will take to download at a speed of 28.8Kbps, and takes into account text, images, tables, form elements and everything else on the page. If you are looking to keep your page as fast as possible, this is a good indication of how well you're doing.
Many HTML editors will panic when they encounter an unrecognised tag and will give you error messages telling you that you've done something wrong. This can be a pain if the editor is slightly out-dated and you want to use a recent HTML tag or feature. Luckily, FrontPage Express has a special command, Insert Markup, which allows you to enter HTML code yourself, and this is then marked as new code and is not checked for errors. Of course, you will not be able to preview the effects of your tag in the program, but it is a useful way of future-proofing.
Finally, the wizards are a useful time-saving feature if you need to construct a quick feedback form or survey for your Web page. They are also a good introduction to beginners on how Web pages are constructed and what they contain.
And now for the disadvantages to FrontPage Express. One of the biggest is that it is simply too basic. Cascading Style Sheets are not supported, so you can't use advanced formatting and layout techniques. Even frames are out of the question, both normal and floating frames, so you may have to author more pages than you need to. However, Microsoft isn't pretending otherwise, and they recommend that once you are ready to create more advanced Web pages you upgrade to FrontPage 98.
Another disadvantage, though this one also applies to the commercial version, is that the WebBot components only work on Web servers which have the FrontPage Extensions installed. Most Web servers have yet to do this because of possible security risks and the fact that the extensions need to be run under Windows NT rather than UNIX, the more popular OS for servers. This means that the majority of users will miss out on the added functionality that the WebBots provide.
The nature of HTML editors means that there are often surplus tags in the code, such as an abundance of paragraph tags, or pointless META tags. This can make the code difficult to read, but can also inflate the size of your HTML file, so if you're looking to make the most compact code then it would be better for you to do it yourself.
Microsoft has clearly pitched this program at the beginner/home market, and rightly so. If you have just acquired an Internet connection and are itching to make a home page right now, FrontPage Express is worth downloading. It is powerful enough to fulfil your basic needs and with a bit of practice some reasonably impressive pages can be made. It is obviously not meant for the business owner or professional, who will need to look at a more powerful package, perhaps Microsoft's FrontPage 98, or perhaps a different package such as Macromedia Dreamweaver.
|Strictly for those who are only just starting to create web pages.|