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Website Development
Comparison of Front Page 2003
& Dreamweaver MX 2004

I have used Front Page for most of my website development. At one point I started using Dreamweaver, as most people I talked to, and posts in most of the forums on the Internet, praised this product. I have tried out Dreamweaver MX 2004, and I must say that I am not as impressed with it as I thought I would be.

I researched this issue on the Internet quite a bit, and I found that most people tended to praise Dreamweaver and put down Front Page. However, with a little reading it quickly became apparent that people were usually comparing Dreamweaver to versions of Front Page prior to Front Page 2003 (most often Front Page 2000). While earlier versions of Front Page had issues (I have used Front Page 98, 2000, 2002, and 2003), the latest release of Front Page came with significant improvements. There was also a lot of Microsoft-bashing and snobbery in the opinions, which essentially rendered them useless.

One thing I must say to give this page context. I don't have hugely complex websites, with database access, PHP, layers, complex formatting needs, and so on. I have kept them fairly simple. So, what is on this page should be read with that in mind.

Criticizing Front Page: Here's how I found most people criticize Front Page:

  • Comparing Dreamweaver with Front Page 2000, an older version, and not with Front Page 2003.
  • Comparing results produced from Dreamweaver with results based on Front Page templates (give me a break ... pre-canned templates are hardly a fair basis to judge any product).
  • Snobbery 1: People who just plain hate Microsoft products and/or Microsoft
  • Snobbery 2: "I'm a serious web developer so I use Dreamweaver"
  • Snobbery 3: People who don't use any WYSIWYG editor, but do all their coding by hand in HTML and think everyone else should

Criticisms about Front Page, that aren't really valid any more with Front Page 2003:

  • Bloated HTML code: earlier versions of Front Page definitely inserted useless excess HTML. Front Page 2003 is much better. You want to see bloated code? Save a page created in MS Word as HTML. Now that's bloated code!
  • Lack of features that are present in Dreamweaver: layers, templates, snippets, tag selectors, browser compatibility checks, HTML optimization, understanding Javascript, behaviors, split view (code-design), HTML code lines are numbered, and more. Front Page 2003 now has all these features.

Okay, so lest you think I am a Microsoft-praiser, I'm not. I look for what works and what doesn't.

Problems I have experienced with Front Page 2003:

  • The only real problem I experience with Front Page 2003 is a constantly recurring and highly annoying error regarding temporary files. It happens when open a page for editing that uses include pages. I have to repeatedly hit "Ok" in a message box perhaps 5-10 times.
  • I find all those "_vti_cnf" folders to be irritating. Why can't Front Page keep track of the website structure without them??
  • A quick note about Front Page 2002: Don't use this version - it's terrible! Very buggy and unstable. Stick with Front Page 2000, or upgrade to Front Page 2003.

Here's some of the problems I experienced with Dreamweaver, and some of the things I don't like:

  • Pages based on Templates: Often if I edited the HTML directly, within an Editable Region, I received a message that I was working in a "Non-Editable Region" and was offered a dialog box asking if I wanted to save my changes. Invariably, if I said yes, I wanted to save my changes, the changes were discarded. This would repeat if I tried again. The only way to get out of this non-error was to close the file and re-open it. Then I would be allowed to do the exact same edit I had previously tried. After experiencing this error over and over again, I got pretty fed up!
  • Dreamweaver is a memory hog. Sometimes if I had a few programs open (Outlook Express, couple of Windows Explorer windows, Front Page, and an image editor), Dreamweaver would act strangely. Most often the file/folder list bar would start flickering, and I would have to wait for it to stop before I could do anything.
  • I found it difficult to highlight rows of a table which had editable rows, on a page based on a template. The highlight simply wouldn't encompass the rows when the the mouse was dragged down.
  • Dreamweaver doesn't always update links in pages and text fragments when they are copied/cut and pasted to another page in another folder. Same for when I cut-and-paste files to another folder. This is very rarely or never a problem in Front Page 2003.
  • Cannot drag-and-drop files between folders in the file/folder list
  • The program takes a while to start up (a minor issue)
  • In the design view the table info tags get in the way. I don't know what they are actually called, but I am referring to the bars across tables that show the table width. With these displayed, they sometimes cover up the row below, and that row or cell cannot be selected directly in design view. I have to go click somewhere else, then come back to click inside the cell.
  • The program freezes up regularly, and sometimes subsequently crashes. I have almost never had Front Page freeze or crash (with the exception of Front Page 2002)

The features I like best about Front Page:

  • Include files - these are the equivalent to "Library items" in Dreamweaver.
  • Maintaining links within the site: Front Page does an excellent job of this.
  • Program starts up very quickly.
  • The Format Painter, which works just like the same tool in Word and Excel.
  • It's easy to have several sites open at once.
  • Spell checking as you type; right-click to see a list of suggested changes - select one instantly. This can be turned off if you find it annoying.

Ares in which I think Front Page 2003 still needs improvement:

  • The feature that Dreamweaver has whereby when you want to create a link to a file within your site, you simply drag from an icon to the desired file and "presto" the link is created. Very nice feature of Dreamweaver!
  • The HTML it generates is still messy, not nicely laid out and indented in a consistent manner
  • A feature that would highlight invalid or unmatched (open) tags. Dreamweaver has this and it is very nice.
  • When you go to add a hyperlink, the files list box that comes up should be in the typical "tree" format. It's not.

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