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The future of FrontPage

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By Colin Ramsden, April 2006.

The bad news

Microsoft has surreptitiously announced (well not really announced, just let it become known through their online Office Assistance site at http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/assistance/HA101205221033.aspx) that FrontPage is no longer being developed. In their own words:

MS Visual Studio Logo"After nine years of being an award-winning Web authoring tool, FrontPage will be discontinued in late 2006. We will continue to serve the diverse needs of our existing FrontPage customers with the introduction of three brand-new application building and Web authoring tools using the latest technologies, Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Designer 2007 for the enterprise information workers, Microsoft® Expression„ Web Designer for the professional Web designer and Microsoft® Visual Studio 2005 for the Web developer."

Microsoft's plan for the future of FrontPage

Both Office SharePoint Designer and Expression Web Designer aren't due for release until 2007, whereas Visual Web Developer was released in 2005 along with Visual Studio 2005. Frontpage 2003 is the final version of FrontPage, and these suitors to its client base are aimed at different types of web developers. For example:

Which web tool is for you?

  1. Use Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Designer 2007 if you are a solution creator and content author working using SharePoint technologies. SharePoint® Designer 2007 will enable information workers to develop applications and solutions on top of the SharePoint® platform to enable organizational agility, business process automation, and get the full value of Microsoft® Office applications on the SharePoint platform.
  2. Use Microsoft® Expression„ Web Designer if you are a professional Web Designer. It is a professional design tool to create sophisticated standards-based Web sites that deliver compelling user experiences. Microsoft® Expression„ Web Designer is targeted at designers who are building broad reach HTML Web sites.

    Important! Update

    As of July 2006, Microsoft's Expression Web Designer (EWD) 'Community Technology Preview' version 1 was announced as a free trial tool, available to the general internet public for download, testing and review. Read my synopsis at Jump to separate topic Expression Web Designer.

  3. Use Microsoft® Visual Studio 2005 if you are a Web developer. Visual Studio 2005 is aimed at professional developers and enables them to build high performance, robust, and enterprise ready Web applications with ASP.NET 2.0.
  4. Hobbyists and enthusiasts can also get Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition which is a new, easy to use, and easy to learn development tool for building Web sites.

The good news

In an unbridled effort to gain market support and widespread adoption by as many early users as they can, particularly students and enthusiasts, Microsoft has magnanimously offered the Express Edition of the Visual Web Developer 2005 (along with the other Express Editions of Visual Studio programs) for free, available for download for one year from November 2005.

They won me over. That's my price. I downloaded the Express Edition of Visual Web Developer 2005 and have installed it for evaluation. Being the only web development tool currently available with a foreseeable future from the Microsoft stable, and at the exact right price (for free) there was little choice.

Visual Web Developer is a lightweight, full-featured development environment for creating ASP.NET Web applications (which are simply called "Web sites"). Visual Web Developer offers you the following features:

Being a part of the Visual Studio package, and with the look and feel of the Visual Studio 2005 IDE (Integrated Development Environment), the startup of 'Visual Web Developer 2005' displays a 'Start Page' as illustrated:

VWB start screen

Importantly, it appears that this is no direct replacement or upgrade from FrontPage. VWD is actually a software developers tool, not a web designers tool, and as such, requires a working knowledge of the Visual Studio IDE interface. If you've never developed a software product in Visual Studio before, you're suddenly faced with a steep learning curve to navigate the interface, let alone managing your website.
See Jump across to separate topic How to navigate around the VS.NET IDE

I shall investigate this tool and report further in due course. Should you wish to keep informed about this subject, drop me an email (or just click on the email link at the bottom of the page) identify yourself, and I'll let you know when this topic is updated.

Important! Update

I later stumbled upon the blog site of Lisa Wollin, an MS employed FP code developer who commented upon the next version of FP (http://blogs.msdn.com/lisawoll/archive/2006/01/24/516992.aspx):

"For the next release of FrontPage, there are a lot of changes happening. One of the largest is a stronger focus on SharePoint and SharePoint site design and development and less focus on Web development. You can read more about the changes to FrontPage for the next version in Jump across to a separate website on the internetRob Mauceri's blog. I haven't been working with FrontPage nearly as long as Rob, but I have worked with several other Web development apps, and the changes that they made to the FrontPage code this time around are, in a word, incredible. Rob explains what these features are, so I won't go into detail. Please look at his blog for more information".

A subsequent visit to Rob Mauceri's blog is an insight to FP development which revealed on 25Sep2005:

"Welcome! Let me introduce myself, my name is Rob Mauceri and I’m the Group Program Manager for FrontPage. I’m going to use this blog to talk about what is coming in the next release of FrontPage – code named “FrontPage 12”. This version of FrontPage will ship sometime next year, on the same timeline as the rest of the Office family of products."
"Just a couple notes about me. I’ve worked on FrontPage for a long time (over 10 years, yikes!) and I contributed to every release of FrontPage including Vermeer FrontPage 1.0. I worked as a software developer on FrontPage 1.0 through FrontPage 2002, and as a program manager on FrontPage 2003 and FrontPage 12. I’m passionate about personal publishing, web site design, building web applications, and SharePoint."
"I’m looking forward to using this space as a place to discuss what is coming in FrontPage 12, as well as hear your thoughts on where we are going. Just to give you hint, we focused on two big areas for FrontPage 12 - making it easier to create high quality standards-based Web sites, and providing powerful tools for designing SharePoint sites and applications. These are two initiatives we began in FrontPage 2003, but FrontPage 12 will bring them to a whole new level. I hope you'll come back to hear more..."

Oh dear! It appears that Rob and his team have been reassigned since then. His last relevant post was on 16Feb2006 where he confirmed the demise of FP:

"Next – lots of exciting news today about the Office 2007 line-up, not the least of which is the announcement about Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007 and Microsoft Expression Web Designer. Be sure to read the official Jump across to a separate website on the internetPressPass with John Richards if you have not. Obviously this is big news and I'm excited about this announcement (and have been dying to blog about it since October)."
"Of course, this leaves the obvious question - what's happening to FrontPage? (and what to call this blog?) The short answer is that once we ship SharePoint Designer and Expression Web Designer, we will eventually discontinue FrontPage. On the one hand this is sad to me; I've spent the last 11 (eleven!) years working on FrontPage and that mission is coming to an end. On the other hand, we're building two fantastic products which will meet the needs of customers better than we ever have. With SharePoint Designer and Expression Web Designer, a new era begins."

Thanks Rob. Goodbye FrontPage—Hello 'SharePoint Designer' and 'Expression Web Designer'.

In the PressPass "interview", John Richards defines the intended audiences of both new tools:

"While both products are partially based on Microsoft Office FrontPage technologies, they are tailored to very different usage scenarios. We have built SharePoint Designer 2007 expressly for information workers in an enterprise who are creating and customizing Microsoft SharePoint Web sites and building workflow-enabled applications on SharePoint Products and Technologies. It provides these workers with versatile tools to produce more interactive Web pages that incorporate data from a wide variety of sources, as well as enable business processes and create powerful reporting tools on the SharePoint platform. SharePoint Designer 2007 also allows the IT department to closely manage all of these activities so that employees ultimately can more productively build and customize SharePoint sites and applications.
Expression Web Designer is focused on the needs of professional Web designers seeking to build high-quality, standards-based Web sites for companies. It provides exceptional support for integrating XML, CSS, ASP.NET 2.0, XHTML and other standard Web technologies into sites to make them more dynamic, interactive and accessible. Teams of designers using Expression Web Designer and developers using Microsoft Visual Studio will benefit from numerous integrated features that allow them to collaborate on the design and development of content and applications.
Microsoft is now truly able to deliver a comprehensive family of Web authoring products for the diverse needs of our existing Microsoft Office FrontPage customers."

In summary

It can now be said with certainty that Microsoft no longer are providing a web design tool aimed at the beginning web designer for simple WYSIWYG HTML generation, as was the purpose and function of FrontPage.

It used to be the case that MS Office products, such as Word, produced awful HTML output. There was a need for a dedicated HTML generation tool for creating simple web sites which weren't ASP based. Microsoft bought Vermeer FrontPage in 1996 and launched MS FP with Office 97. I first selected and used this tool in 1999 as the HTML editor of choice for generating HTML Help topics which contained the cleanest HTML code available from all the other HTML and HTML Help authoring tools available at the time. The fact that it came bundled "for free" with MS Office, meant that it was already on every writer's PC.

Learning HTML wasn't necessary to produce HTML topics once you had master pages defined in FP. I worked in a team of writers where I was the only one which "knew" (or understood the intricacies of) HTML and CSS. The others simply used the master pages as topic templates and wrote or edited the content. Rarely did they get themselves into trouble about page layout or applied styles. Frontpage served our purposes well for many years.

I used it from 2002 through to 2006 for the development of my own and other websites. It had its own idiosyncrasies and bad habits which didn't suit my working style in some cases, but still was able to be made to produce the goods at the end of the day. In fact, my web site www.lotechsolutions.com was created in part to house topic detailing FP tips and tricks, as well as subjects detailing how to do some tricky web behaviour in a simple way using FP. 

The ability to develop web sites and HTML Help using a widely available and simple to operate tool such as FP was the inspiration for the site name, lotech solutions—producing world class output with a minimal set of low technology type tools and technologies. All of the pages on my site are static HTML which make use of client-side scripting. No pages are created dynamically, or are database driven. Simple. And that's worked for me, until now.

I'm investigating the use of Microsoft's new generation of web development tools, and it appears that they have married their future success to their ASP.NET technology. It appears that MS want their web authoring customers to technically ramp-up and become web "developers", or go away. They're not targeting the original market which FP targeted and held for so long.

Oh, and one last thing. These "free" programs have an expiry date as indicated below:

Expression Graphic Designer License terms  



May 2008
Life after FPSE


See Also

Jump across to separate topic height: 9 Working with Visual Web Developer | Jump across to separate topic height: 9 Problems with Visual Web Developer | Jump to separate topic Expression Web Designer
Jump to separate topicWorking with Expression Web | Jump to separate topicProblems with Expression Web | Jump across to site home page Lotech Solutions' Tips, Tricks, and Procedures

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