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FrontPage and Dreamweaver

By Jon Ingle, UNT Central Web Support

Over the past few years we have seen an explosion in the uses of the Internet. From E-mail, eBay and e-commerce to WebPages, Webcams and WebCT, all sectors of society have been touched by e-frenzy. With this explosion has come the desire for the common person to make their virtual presence known. Since the beginning, HTML has been the lingua franca for publishing Web content. Although HTML is by no means a complex language, many people thought that it would be helpful to have a visual way of creating Web content so that you can see how things are shaping as you work. Enter WYSIWYG. This lengthy acronym stands for What You See Is What You Get and it is the philosophy behind the HTML editors on the market today. Although there are plenty of choices out there (even free ones), this article will only focus on Microsoft’s FrontPage and Macromedia’s Dreamweaver.

Microsoft FrontPage

FrontPage will be first since it is the one that has been most widely used on campus. FrontPage’s strength is in it simplicity for the user. It is considered better for those new to HTML and WYSIWYG editors. Firstly, since most people are very accustomed to the workflow of Microsoft’s Word, the transition to FrontPage is quite seamless: the layout is like a beefed-up Word application. All of the same commands and the same icons are present. Secondly, FrontPage has what is called FrontPage Server Extensions.

Going into the details of server extensions is not within the scope of this article, but rest assured that their presence is to make the user’s task of creating Web pages easier. For example, creating forms that collect information from users is a cinch. All that is required is to drag-and-drop form elements into the page, set a few settings about how to retrieve this information and voilą! it is done. Also, in FrontPage 2002 (the newest version), database features have been added to allow the creation of dynamic content. All of this is managed invisibly by the beloved extensions.

Although there are some downsides to FrontPage, because of our licensing agreement [1] with Microsoft, we are not allowed to use the software to express views that would “disparage” Microsoft or any of their products. Since Claudia Lynch uses FrontPage to post these articles on the Web, I suppose that I am not able to talk about any of these downsides lest I would breach the agreement. Hopefully it is within the scope of the agreement to say that all products have different strengths and weakness. FrontPage is not exempt from such realities and actually some of its strengths are also some of its weaknesses. For instance, its ease of use makes it a bit unwieldy to do more complex tasks. Another is, because of its likeness to Word, it flows like a text editor. This asset becomes problematic when higher level editing is needed (especially with graphics), since Web documents are markedly different from text documents. These differences between Web and text documents should be reflected in the tools that create them. Dreamweaver is one such editor that has fashioned itself to be an appropriate tool for the Web development task.

Macromedia Dreamweaver

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Dreamweaver is a tool that has been created with the Web developer in mind. One such feature is the Layout View that enables the user to create tables visually.  Since tables are mainly used for layout purposes in HTML, it would make sense to create tables visually.

The tool works by first drawing a square that will house all of the cells. For each cell, another square is drawn inside the table. It is possible to create quite complex layout configurations quickly and painlessly. Another plus is its seamless integration with Flash and Fireworks that allow animation and graphic editing respectively. Dreamweaver even provides functionality to add flash components (such as text and buttons) that can quickly enhance a site. Lastly, is the Code Reference Panel. This tool gives access to three O’Reilly reference modules for JavaScript, HTML and cascading style sheets. For those of us that have difficulty remembering which tag does what, this is an invaluable asset.

Many hail Dreamweaver as the best WYSIWYG editor on the market. While this might be true, there still are certain factors that need to be considered. The advantage that FrontPage has over Dreamweaver is its straight-forwardness. FrontPage does not require any prior HTML or site architecture knowledge. It handles most of the work for you. For those that want a good tool with a shallow learning curve to create simple sites, FrontPage is the way to go. Dreamweaver is a more powerful tool that does require a bit more learning and effort. By saying this I do not want to scare people away from Dreamweaver. While it takes a bit longer to learn, there is great reward for the time spent.

Training Opportunities

As you can see, both tools have their place in meeting your Web development needs. The best approach in deciding which one to choose is to assess your needs and pick the tool that is most appropriate. Also, Charity Beck and I (Jon Ingle) will be teaching short courses for both products through the fall. If you can’t decide which one is best for your needs, either sign up for one or both of the short courses or email us (cbeck@unt.edu and joningle@unt.edu) with your questions. The URL for information about these short courses is http://www.unt.edu/training/shortcrs.htm


[1] The FrontPage licensing agreement states, “You may not use the Software in connection with any site that disparages Microsoft, MSN, MSNBC, Expedia or their products or services” (p. 2)