Rob Mauceri's FrontPage Blog

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A higher bar

Before diving into feature talk, I think it is worth spending a little time talking about trends we’ve seen in Web site authoring, the direction we’ve seen customers going over the last few years, and the impact of these on what we’ve built in FrontPage 12.

One significant trend we’ve seen is the “professionalization” of the web designer market. The bar for user experience on the Web has become very high. Even the smallest business wants a great looking, professional quality presence on the Web. While this certainly means visually compelling pages (nice colors, layout, beautiful graphics), it also means dynamic sites which interact and respond to customers, and change with the needs or environment of the business, community, or person who owns the site. More and more the user experience on the Web defines the interaction, relationship, and emotional connection that your customers have with your products, services, and business or organization. It is difficult for non-professional designers to create the quality of experience that people expect to see on the Web. This isn’t 1999 any more.  The designers building today’s web sites have deeper skills (visual and interactive design, CSS, HTML/XHTML, client scripting) and require tools, with a different balance of power and flexibility vs ease of use and learning than before.

Another trend we’ve seen is that the desire to build web sites around web standards, specifically the use of XHTML and CSS has increased dramatically in the last few years (refer to the IE team’s blog for discussion about IE’s improving support for standards). There are several reasons driving this, but certainly the desire to support a range of browsers and platforms, a variety of devices, and accessibility requirements (section 508 and WCAG) are all contributing. There is also a certain of amount of this change due to maturity in the technology (browsers and standards) and design practices used by web professionals – the XHTML/CSS approach is just a better way to build sites compared to HTML/tables/spacer gif layout – easier to maintain, better performing, more accessible.

Along with these 2 trends, we’ve also seen changes at the lower end of web site authoring, where customization and control is less important than ease of use and learning, and quick deployment and update. Specifically more and more of the needs of low end sites are met with (often free) hosted services. This is true of personal web sites which have rapidly been replaced by blogs on hosted systems like MSN Spaces or Blogger. It is true for many types of family, group, or community sites which instead of being individually designed are hosted on systems like MSN Communities or Yahoo Groups. Note that all of these services are free/advertising subsidized. Photo sharing is another great example. 5 years ago it was much harder and required specialized tools and a web hosting company to share your pictures on the web; today there are many free hosted services to do so.

So what is an easy to use and learn web authoring tool like FrontPage to do? These trends aren’t new, and they influenced our direction beginning with FrontPage 2003. While we did consider moving the product to more of a hosted services approach, we chose instead to focus on moving the product up and helping designers grow skills and provide a product that would grow with them. Features like the split view and quick tag selector are examples of features aimed at web designers with deeper skills and understanding of web technologies, but also at the needs of customers wanting to develop new skills. Code intellisense, tag completion, and code snippets, were all included in FrontPage 2003 with the professionalization of the market in mind. And what you will see is that a large part of what FrontPage 12 is about is continuing this path and evolving to help FrontPage users meet the higher bar for building a web experience.

Next time I post, I’ll talk about one more trend having a big impact on FrontPage 12, and that is the growing popularity of the Windows SharePoint Services and server platforms.