NetObjects Fusion 5.0 falls behind

Rather than touting power and price, NetObjects Inc. has built a loyal following for NetObject Fusion by making the program easy to use and able to generate World Wide Web pages quickly.

Unfortunately, while other programs — most notably Microsoft Corp.'s FrontPage and Allaire Corp.'s Cold Fusion — have evolved into robust Web site development applications, Fusion has developed more slowly. It's still an easy program to use, and the new tools and improvements in the just-released Fusion 5.0 give veteran users good reason to upgrade. But the improvements probably will not be enough to lure users away from other authoring tools.

One of the strongest features of Fusion 4.0 was its ability to quickly and easily create Web pages with consistent style and navigation functions. Version 5.0 delivers the same ease of use along with a new focus on e-business, most especially in the new online guide, which includes sections on how to "Plan, Design, Build, Promote and Grow your Web business." The product even comes with one free year of Web hosting from Concentric Network Corp.

The product's interface also has been redone. For starters, a handy new HTML source view presents a document map in an Explorer-like left-hand pane and displays the corresponding HTML text in the right-hand pane. The map looks like a typical directory tree, although it is actually the outline of the document's structure, and it makes navigating a page's source code easier and less time consuming.

Fusion 5.0's site management tools have been enhanced with a capability to publish directly to a Web server, making updating your site a snap. A background-publishing feature works in the off hours and behind the scenes by publishing the pages to a Web server. Putting it all together is easier, thanks to the Site View screen, which presents the entire site in a schematic, color-coded fashion. Drag-and-drop operations make it possible to cut, copy, paste and move pages around within your site.

The process of connecting elements on a Web page to data from other sources, such as a third-party database or a Microsoft Excel file, has changed in the new version of Fusion. A new concept of stacked HTML pages presents a single data record per HTML page as well as navigation tools to move around within the linked database. These stacked HTML pages are automatically generated each time you build a data link from within NetObjects Fusion.

However, that approach could be unwieldy if you're working with multiple links to large databases. NetObjects Fusion, in short, doesn't have the database savvy shown by the likes of Microsoft FrontPage and Allaire Cold Fusion.

NetObjects Fusion 4.0 shipped with add-on components for connecting to data on a Cold Fusion or Microsoft IIS Web server; Version 5.0 does not. You'll have to go to NetObjects' Web site to get those components, which have been updated for 5.0. However, as of this writing, the Microsoft component wasn't available yet.

Version 5.0 does not directly support connecting to Microsoft Access 2000 or Excel 2000 data sources. If you want to access data from applications in the Office 2000 suite, you'll have to save your data files in Office 97 or 95. Those are major hurdles for some departments and agencies.

If your organization uses NetObjects Fusion, the decision to upgrade will depend on your goals. If your Web designers like to fiddle with raw HTML but still want the ease of use offered by NetObjects Fusion, then it would be worthwhile. But those using other Web authoring tools will find little reason to jump to Fusion 5.0, at least not until the program's data handling is improved.

AT A GLANCE

NetObjects Fusion 5.0

NetObjects Inc.

(888) 892-0702

www.netobjects.com

Price and Availability: Available on the open market for $300.

Remarks: Although Version 5.0 still provides an ease-of-use level that's on par with the best of the bunch, it doesn't provide a compelling reason to buy it over another product. With some of the database support missing, it might be prudent to wait and let the product mature.

Grade: B

BY Paul Ferrill
Feb. 23, 2000

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