Feature Article
FrontPage 98 vs. FrontPage 2000

December 1, 1999
By Scott Lewis

I finally got my hands on a shipping version of FrontPage 2000. It only took my company 3 months to fill my order. Oh well. But that is neither here nor there. This article is going to compare FrontPage 2000 to its previous version, FrontPage 98.

I was inspired to write this comparison due to the major difference in the way FrontPage works. I am no expert in FrontPage. I have used it to maintain this sight since FrontPage 97. However, just from a basic WYSIWYG web page development tool, it has made a drastic change in the way I, and you, will work. And I thought it deserved a few words.

The biggest change to FrontPage is the integration of the FrontPage Explorer and the FrontPage editor. In FP 98 you had separate tools, in FP 2K you have one tool. The editor is a pane on the FrontPage Explorer. At least that is the only way to describe it to FP 98 users.

Compare these screen captures:

FrontPage 98 (Explorer)

FrontPage 98 (Editor)

FrontPage 2000 (Integrated)

Notice that the editor is always present whether you are editing a page or not. You can change views, but this takes getting used to for people that have gotten accustomed to navigating between windows.

It takes some getting use to when looking for options. Things don’t seem to be in the right place. This is partly due to the menus that change based on context. It is a little frustrating watching the menu change around so much.

As for menus... this is the one thing that some with love, some will hate. The menus hide lesser-used options by default. Holding the mouse down over the top menu item (File for example) will cause it to expand to its fullest. You can also click on a little arrow at the bottom of the menu to expand it. This feature also moves menu items you don’t use much to "hidden" and migrates the ones you use often to the top.

I tend to use the same menu items over and over, and am expecting this to be quite helpful in the long run. But I can see how this could be trouble for many. And making it the default behavior is probably not the best choice.

The editor is a lot faster. In the pervious two versions of FrontPage typing was a little slow. More importantly deleting and backspacing was painfully slow. That is why I started using Word to write my columns. Once I finished the text, I would cut and paste it into FrontPage for publishing. But know FrontPage’s editor is very fast. It also has on-the-fly spell checking. Just like Word, it will put a red squiggly line under misspelled words.

Between these two items, I am tempted to switch to FrontPage 2000. However, I still find it incredibly convenient to keep my columns on a floppy to carry around until they are finished. This way I can work on them anywhere. Not just at the machine that holds my FrontPage web.

Starting up FrontPage is not as nice. I always liked the way FP 98 listed all the web sites I was working on, since I do maintenance to more than one. But FP 2K just opens with no web site present. Clicking on the little "Open" button on the toolbar displays an open dialog box that defaults to the directory "C:\My Documents\My Webs." Since I didn’t (and don’t) store my web sites here, this button is useless. So it is necessary to click the very little down-arrow next to the open button. This is difficult for me, but may get better when I finally get a ball-less mouse. I find it too small. Then you get an open dialog that has options to change were it looks. Not perfect, but better. The trouble is it is not as useful as the way FP 98 just popped up a list of webs I was working on, regardless of where they were stored. This is definitely a step backwards.

Screen real estate is much more precious with FP 2K. Since everything is in one "window," it takes up much more space on your screen and makes the amount of a page you can see in the editor less. Once again, this is not progress. It reminds me of Visual Basic 5 & 6. With its integrated UI (User Interface) you can’t expand a code window or form larger than the "pane" it must reside. FP 2K has this limitation. If you are developing web pages design for screen larger than 640 X 480 you will miss the old editor a lot.

You would be best bet to run your screen resolution at at least 1024 X 768 when developing for 640 X 480. If you are developing for 1024 X 768... good luck, you are going to need it.

FP 2K does do one thing very well. It leaves your code alone, finally. This is the main reason I need this at work. My current main project is building a site with Oracle Express Objects and its Web Agent toolkit. I put Express code into Express tags. Since FrontPage 98 doesn’t know about Express tags, it assumes they are all comments. It then strings them together and word wraps my code. It took me quite a while to fix this the first and second time it happened. I stopped using FP 98 on that site.

FP 2K doesn’t touch your HTML code, or even your comments. Thank goodness. That also bothered me about FP 98. I would put comments in my code. Particularly I would comment code for parameters to Java applets. FP 98 decided that all comments should be at the end. This totally screwed up my reason for carefully aligning text for readability, or comment for understanding.

FP 2K does as promised. So far it has not touched any of my comments or my HTML code. This makes it a joy to use to make a simple change to the screen layout.

I have not spent much time publishing with FP 2K, yet. FP 98 couldn’t publish this site from a directory on my hard drive to Microsoft’s Personal Web Server. It hung repeatedly at 69 or 70%. That is strange since it really was just placing things in another directory on my hard drive. FP 98 also could not publish my site to my UNIX based host. It said it was going to launch Web Publishing Wizard, but it never worked. I could launch Web Publishing Wizard manually. That worked, but it uploaded all the files every time. FP is supposed to be able to upload only the changed pages. I assumed that if FP worked properly with the Web Publishing Wizard, only the changed pages would get uploaded. Unfortunately this feature never worked for me.

I may try in the future to publish a FP 2K web site to UNIX, but that will have to come at a later time.

That about covers my opinion. Should you upgrade? Maybe, maybe not. I am torn between the simplicity of some of the features of FrontPage 98 and the improvements to FrontPage 2000. Some of the improvements are nice. But is it nice enough to warrant dealing with its problems? I haven’t decided yet.

I will let you know.