NetObjects Fusion 11 review
VERDICT New support for modern web technologies can’t hide the fact that NetObjects Fusion is showing its age.
These days every business is expected to have some sort of web presence, but the average user can’t be expected to get to grips with mark-up languages such as HTML and CSS, let alone recent web technologies such as AJAX and XML. This is where NetObjects Fusion comes in, providing a largely code-free web authoring solution to quickly guide end users through the maze.
Around 10 years ago, NetObjects Fusion was a great demonstration of just how simple web publishing can be. In particular its clean interface, clearly split into separate task-based views each offering just a couple of large graphical commands, was a model of streamlined simplicity. Nowadays that simplicity has been lost, obscured by toolbars, tabbed panels, smaller icons and so on.
Worse, whenever you load the program, you are now greeted by the ugly Online view which is primarily designed to promote domain, hosting and marketing services. Ignore the hard sell and you can get underway by hitting the Site Wizard button which lets you choose from a range of 68 preset designs. However, there’s a major problem. Many of these themes are simply different colour variations and, more importantly, they haven’t been updated for years. If you don’t want your brand-new website to have a retro 90’s feel, you’d be well advised to check out the range of more modern online Web Templates – each of which costs $30!
Netobjects Fusion 11’s interface and preset templates both need modernizing
Once you’ve chosen your basic design, you structure your site in Site view. This has always been one of NetObject Fusion’s greatest strengths as it lets you add and organize the pages of your site visually, leaving the program to create all the necessary navigation as text links or graphical rollovers. To reorganize your site simply drag-and-drop your page icons and the navigation automatically updates.
Once you’ve finished with Site view, double-clicking on your icon - or now multiple icons - opens your pages as tabs in Page view ready for editing. In other authoring apps trying to create a layout for your page in HTML was a complex chore. However, it’s always been simple in NetObjects Fusion as you simply drag out text boxes onscreen as you would in a wysiwyg DTP app, leaving the program to take care of the necessary code when you come to publish.
The downside of this approach was that it inevitably lead to some ugly and inefficient code reliant on nested tables and transparent GIFs. Disappointingly, it still does – at least by default. However there’s now a new option to take advantage of CSS-positioning and semantic XHTML during output – though this is so hidden away that most users are unlikely to come across it, let alone appreciate its significance. The resulting code isn’t just cleaner, more accessible and quicker to render in modern browsers, it’s also more search-engine friendly which should lead to more traffic.
After you’ve created the basic layout for your page, formatting your text is simple using the Word-style toolbar or Text Properties panel. You can also quickly add images with the Picture tool, converting to JPEG or GIF, resizing and cropping as necessary. Alternatively, images that have already been imported into the current site, can now be quickly re-used from the new Image Gallery tab.
Layout, text and images remain the foundation of each page, but over the years NetObjects Fusion has added support for a whole host of other web objects through its component framework. Some of these such as guest pages, password protection, video holders and so on are clearly useful on occasion and so might the new support for Google Sitemaps and Analytics and the ability to incorporate RSS feeds. However NetObjects seems most excited by its new range of tacky Flash components which include animated pseudo-3D letters, numbers and symbols. And now with the Timeline Editor you can add similarly undesirable animated effects to any object.
New dynamic handling includes Flash components and Ajax panels.
However these days NetObjects Fusion is increasingly keen to stress its coding credentials claiming that it provides the ideal environment for novice designer and expert developer alike. In practice this largely boils down to providing HTML and CSS Inspector panels in Page view and a separate Code view of your page including new colour coding and code hinting.
All in all, NetObjects Fusion 11 is a mixed bag. The need for a simple, code-free web authoring package for quickly producing professional-looking websites is greater than ever. Moreover, with the demise of FrontPage and the advent of XHTML and CSS positioning, NetObjects Fusion should be thriving. Sadly, over the years, NetObjects Fusion hasn’t built on its original strengths but rather obscured them.
EASE OF USE 3/6
VALUE FOR MONEY 3/6
Requirements: Windows 2000 (SP3), XP (SP2), Vista
Tom Arah is the webmaster of designer-info.com. He has been a professional designer working with computer software since 1987. He also offers training and consultancy and since 1997 has been the contributing editor covering design issues for PC Pro, the UK's biggest-selling (and best) computer monthly.