CHRIS MONTGOMERY
NetObjects Fusion
When I first began dabbling with creating web pages over three years ago, I started with Microsoft's Internet Assistant, a plug-in for Microsoft Word, which created basic HTML pages. I soon thereafter started using the popular HotDog HTML editor, but abandoned the program when it became severely bloated with features I didn't need.

 At that point, I took up using Homesite. Like Susan Ives, I feel it's the best out there for writing pure HTML and use it everyday in a special incarnation, Allaire Cold Fusion Studio (a unique database application development interface for creating Cold Fusion applications, wrapped around the Homesite 3.0 editor).

 Recently, however, I turned to a different approach I never dreamed of using a year ago - a WYSIWYG web authoring program, NetObjects Fusion. Some HTML "purists" decry the use of these type of authoring programs (as I did), more aptly classifying them as "WYSINWYE" (What You See Is Not What You Expected). But the desire to build web sites rapidly, without spending extra time to learn the intricacies of HTML, has created a market for these types of programs for creating web sites. 

My particular reason for turning to NetObjects Fusion was the need to rapidly develop web site prototypes for my clients during the initial design stage. It's site-level versus page-level approach also appealed to my desire to build and manage a web site by starting with the overall structure first rather than creating a home page and then adding another page here and there without losing focus of the overall site design. Fusion excels as the first web authoring program to have offered this approach to site-wide design, emulated by later versions of other programs like FrontPage 98. It also offers pixel-level precision to place graphic images, text blocks, tables, forms and other "components," much like working in a desktop publishing program.

 In all honesty, you can use NetObjects Fusion without knowing any HTML. However, the program does require getting over a learning curve that is made easier if you DO know the basics of HTML. The real beauty of Fusion is that changes take affect at the site level. For example, changing a navigation link on one page will result in the link being changed on every page across the site. No need to chase down and edit the link on each page (a considerable time saver if you have dozens or even a couple of hundred pages). This is accomplished through defining and using Master Borders and Page Layout views. 

In addition, moving pages around in the site is a breeze. If you change your mind about where a particular page belongs in the overall site's structure (something that is fairly common in the initial stages of creating a site), simply click on that page's icon in the site view screen and drag it and drop it in the section where you want it to appear. All links to that page get updated instantly.

 In addition, Fusion makes starting a web site quicker with predefined styles and even has predefined site templates to save time. For example, you can start a business web site by using the predefined Company template, then modify it to by choosing a style to suit your needs. You can quickly switch between over 150 themed site styles (collections of site layout templates and graphics such as banners and buttons) and make changes to any of the graphics or colors (e.g., background colors) that immediately take effect across the entire site, or apply this to only certain sections of the site. Again, without having to edit each page individually.

 NetObjects Fusion lets you easily add components like Java objects, Javascripts, BBS-type discussion forums, and integrated database features. The newest version 3.0, released in late March, now offers features like menu-built event handlers and interactive objects without having to learn and write Javascript. Its updated interface produces pages that support Dynamic HTML (DHTML) and Cascading Style sheets and can also handle overlapping layers, plus it contains a built-in commerce engine for setting up shopping sites, and threaded-discussion features to let Webmasters easily add discussions to their sites. 

A new "Everywhere HTML" feature reduces browser incompatibilities when applying the newer browser technologies such as DHTML and style sheets. The new Dynamic Actions option will let you add DHTML animation effects by entering basic event-handling rules in a dialog box. You can even add your own JavaScripts if the library of pre-defined actions included with Fusion won't meet your needs. One of the most significant improvements of Fusion 3.0 over the 2.0 version, however, is that developers can now directly access the HTML code. Building pages is still a WYSIWYG process, but the Fusion now includes the popular HomeSite HTML editor for those who want to get directly at the code. This removes a major complaint about Fusion 2.0 from professional developers.

 I must admit that I haven't yet had a chance to test all of the newest features available in NetObjects Fusion 3.0, but look forward to trying them out. Check out a simple site I created with NetObjects Fusion at http://www.blueknight.com/team.

 You can download an evaluation copy and find more information on NetObjects Fusion at the NetObjects web site, www.netobjects.com. The street price for Fusion is $295 ($99 for an upgrade). Fusion is available for purchase from major computer software retail centers or from software resellers. My company offers Fusion at the reduced price of $285.

 Chris Montgomery is the owner of Blue Knight Internet Solutions (http://www.blueknight.com), a web site development and hosting company. Blue Knight Internet Solutions is an authorized reseller for NetObjects Incorporated and Allaire Incorporated software. Chris can be reached at 490-3249.