REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 28, 2000 — Microsoft FrontPage 10, the newest version of the the company’s popular Web development software, adds further versatility and control to an application toolkit that has always been regarded as among the most intuitive to use for Web designers at every skill level.
The latest edition — currently available as a Beta 2 version for customer evaluation — includes new tools for more easily importing graphics and content, thoroughly analyzing how visitors are using a site and collaborating with other users through team Web sites. The product is expected to be available in stores toward the middle of next year. Kelly Weadock, a FrontPage product manager at Microsoft, spoke with PressPass about how these enhancements will help Web designers make their sites more versatile and powerful without sacrificing the ease of use for which FrontPage is already renowned.
PressPass: More and more organizations of all sizes seem to be launching or expanding their presence on the Web, especially small businesses that traditionally have limited technical resources. How is the evolution of Web site development and publishing tools such as Microsoft FrontPage influencing this trend?
Weadock: Before FrontPage was developed, creating a Web page required someone to look up or memorize HTML code, then type them into a text editor, and then figure out how to get the resulting pages and files onto the Internet. Unless they already had some technology-savvy people on staff, companies that wanted to establish a presence on the Web had to hire an outside vendor that specialized in Web site development. FrontPage changed all that, because it made the process of creating Web pages and publishing graphics files onto the Internet simple enough for non-programmers to do. This has made FrontPage the ideal choice for business owners who want to create and manage their own Web sites.
PressPass: In what ways do you see customer needs growing more sophisticated in the area of Web page development and publishing?
Weadock: Now that millions of customers have successfully created Web pages and Web sites with FrontPage to establish an initial presence on the Web, they are asking Microsoft for more. First, they want help with streamlining some of the more complex tasks of Web design, such as adding photographs and automatically updating content from other sites. We’ve responded with a new feature called Photo Gallery that lets people arrange and display their personal or business images in any of several different customizable layouts. They can add captions and descriptions, reorder images, change image sizes and even switch layouts using this tool. Another new feature called Automatic Web Content allows users to insert information that comes directly from MSNBC, like news headlines and weather forecasts, as well as MSN, Expedia maps and bCentral small-business tools — all of which gets refreshed daily without the user having to do any more work. The initial feedback on Automatic Web Content has been outstanding.
Second, customers want to better manage their sites and more clearly understand how visitors are using the sites. We’ve responded by adding Usage Analysis Reports and Top 10 Lists to the FrontPage site management features. The FrontPage Usage Analysis reports allow businesses to track how many hits they get per page in their site. They also can find out where visitors were referred from and learn which browsers and operating systems the visitors use. By inserting FrontPage Top 10 Lists into their pages, business can easily link visitors to the most popular pages on the Web site.
Third, businesses have told us that they also want help running their intranet and extranet sites without a lot of expense and hassle. That led Microsoft to create the new SharePoint technology, which allows groups of users to collaborate, share documents and communicate on SharePoint-based Web sites through their browsers. Team members can participate in discussions and contribute to materials on the site directly, rather than having to ask someone to create hyperlinks to documents or add content for them.
PressPass: What else can you say about SharePoint and how it will work with the newest version of FrontPage?
Weadock: SharePoint is a team Web site solution that users can edit straight from their browser. You don’t have to possess any particular Web authoring skills to add and edit content to a SharePoint-based site, which means that everyone within a work group or a broad organization — even family members in different places around the world — can collaborate on projects, share documents and communicate more effectively.
We have received great feedback on SharePoint from users who recognize the value that it can bring to a business in the form of a corporate intranet site, but SharePoint also can be used as an Internet site. For example, picture a youth sports team posting game and practice information to a site like this. The coach, the parents and the players don’t need to know HTML at all — they simply use the menu bar to add an announcement to the site that will be instantly viewable by the whole team. SharePoint-based sites also offer Document Libraries, Events, Lists, Contacts, Surveys and a long list of other features. Best of all, you can bring the site into FrontPage, customize it with FrontPage themes or personal graphics, and use every bit of the other FrontPage functionality that’s available.
PressPass: Microsoft debuted the first version of FrontPage in 1995 and began shipping FrontPage 2000 in March 1999. What has the response from customers been like?
Weadock: Users’ feedback has surprising and overwhelming on several levels. FrontPage sales have continued to surpass expectations with every release, independent of the fact that the product began shipping with the Premium version of Microsoft Office starting with the FrontPage 2000 release. Also, it’s so gratifying to work on a product that generates so much interest and questions and feedback from customers. Whenever we demonstrate FrontPage at a trade show, the room is packed. Afterward, people always want to talk about how they’re using FrontPage and the benefits they’re seeing.
PressPass: What other improvements have you made to FrontPage 10?
Weadock: FrontPage 10 is a major new release of the product that combines features to help individuals, teams and organizations get more from their Web sites. It allows people to quickly create great Web pages and sites, have precise control over the characteristics of their sites, and add expanded capabilities such as team collaboration, XML formatting and multiple languages. But most of all, Microsoft listened to customer feedback — in the form of customer site visits, usability studies and thousands of
requests — to determine what our users wanted in the next version of FrontPage.
We focused on meeting customer expectations in three key areas with FrontPage 10. First, we added more powerful content tools and graphic tools like Photo Gallery, Automatic Web Content and Enhanced Drawing to let people create exactly the site they want. Second, we included additional management features such as Usage Analysis and Top 10 Lists to give people the fullest possible control over their Web sites. Third, we provide an instant team Web site solution that people can use right out of the box to edit a page straight from their browsers. They don’t need any Web authoring skills at all to start working with content, sharing documents, participating in discussions and subscribing to information updates.
PressPass: FrontPage has a strong reputation of being easy for people to use, which has led some professional Web designers to assume the product isn’t powerful enough for them. What has Microsoft done with FrontPage 10 to meet their needs?
Weadock: A big reason that FrontPage has become so successful is because it looks and works so much like Microsoft Office applications such as Word and Excel, so users are able to create Web sites in a highly familiar environment. FrontPage allows Web developers of all skill levels to create and edit their pages in a WYSIWYG (
“What You See Is What You Get”
) view so they can see how their finished documents will look as they’re being created. This helps users quickly make each page look exactly how they want.
But Microsoft has done a lot of work to mask the complexity involved in creating Web pages and managing the sites. Many smart Web professionals who build Web sites for a living use FrontPage, because it allows them to create prototype sites quickly and deliver finished sites that their customers can maintain themselves. Web professionals also love how FrontPage lets them create code in HTML View, which looks like Notepad but provides a range of buttons and menus to help users create Web content faster than they ever could by typing code. FrontPage allows users to control exactly how their code looks and works. Starting with FrontPage 10, they also can re-format HTML pages according to their preferences — such as color-coding tags, indenting tags a specific number of spaces and using optional tags — as well as re-format pages to conform to XML specifications. FrontPage also provides sophisticated features such as dynamic HTML effects, ASP source code preservation and the unparalleled site-management features mentioned earlier.
PressPass: How do you see Web page development and publishing tools evolving in 2001, and what is Microsoft doing to better serve the needs of this changing market?
Weadock: As customers learn more about creating Web sites, they expect increasingly sophisticated features from their Web development tools in such areas as e-commerce, site management and team collaboration. Building a Web site is not a finite job; the day that the site goes live is only the beginning. From there, the provider of a site needs to understand who is visiting the pages, where they are coming from, why they are there and what their preferences are. Businesses are challenged to make their sites even more accessible and, if appropriate, offer customers the ability to order products directly from the site. Microsoft’s focus with FrontPage 10 and beyond is to provide users with convenient Web-design tools that help them capture customers’ attention and provide highly valuable content that keeps those customers coming back.