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The Personal Web Site of Ben Margolis

 Information Architect, Database Engineer, and CGI Illustrator

A Short Review of NetObjects 12.0


NetObjects Fusion 12.0 is an absolutely wonderful program for creating a new web site! That being said, it is an absolutely horrific program for updating an existing HTML web site.  But that may have been my fault. The HTML web site I was trying to update was pretty much of a mess.  But I digress, let’s start at the beginning:

NetObjects 12.0 in an absolutely wonderful program for creating a new web site!
I mean look at this web site, look at it! It’s absolutely beautiful.  The program comes with many pre-made templates that are simply some of the most professional web publishing I’ve ever seen.  Wonderfully subtle color combinations and nice clean layouts that don’t scream “I’m a template!” 


NetObjectscreenshot1

Get it? It’s meta.  - Placing pictures and captions is very easy in this interface.

Look at the graphical headline banner at the top of page, it does that itself based on the page title.  The same with the button bar down the left side.  All automatic!  I used to do that myself in Photoshop.  Sure, it only took a few seconds to make a banner, or a button. But twenty banners and fifty buttons? That adds up.  And the results of the automated system are so nice and clean and professional, that it makes me feel like an idiot for wasting my time in Photoshop for all those years.

Plus, I have much more control than I’ve had in any other web publishing program.  I have pixel by pixel control over where I place a picture or a headline or a column of text.  It’s much more like using a publishing program then a web site program.  How is NetObjects 12.0 able to do this?  A regular HTML editor (like SharePoint Designer) is translating everything you type into HTML in real time. This means that you add things, remove things and move them around, it might leave little scraps of code here and there.  Over time, that can make a webpage very, very difficult to edit.

Netobjects is different.  It’s like a desktop publishing program (like PageMaker, or CorelDraw).  It stores


This is an “Image Placeholder.”  Look at the lovely shading. They put that much artistic effort into an F.P.O. blank square. Like I said, the program is beautiful.

the entire web site and its own internal format (a .NOD file)  and then generates fresh, clean HTML every time you go to publish (or preview) a webpage.

There are all kinds of fully automated “components” that you can add to a web site for completely professional features.  Dynamic graphics, reader response pages, FAQ, automated e-mail, automated forms, all very easy to install and setup. If you run the “New Site Wizard” it will actually write copy for you. (Some of it pretty good, too. See “Our Values” here )  It has some new concepts to get used to, like the “Master Border”  (that’s a common shared border between multiple pages) at first it seemed a little restrictive, but as I got used to it I realized that it’s what I really needed to do all along. And the result is, like I said a really, really professional web site.

As you can tell, I’m really quite impressed with the program.  However…

NetObjects 12.0 in an absolutely horrific program for updating an existing HTML web site! 
With all these new fully automated banners, borders, and components and all these new ways to store and think about things, what should you do if you already have several hundred web pages?  That’s a very good question.  The trouble with NetObjects is there isn’t much you can do. 

True, they have several different ways to import HTML directly.  But like I said, chances are your HTML code is already a bit of a mess, and if you use any complex table structures or Javascript, well, the best you can do is hope that it just comes across in one piece. 

But even if that works, you lose all of the advantages of NetObjects. You no longer have pixel by pixel control for individual boxes of text and pictures when you import them as a lump of HTML. The existing non-automated side bars and navigation controls have to be deleted.  If you have used CSS on the old web site, you probably have to delete that.  Chances are your fonts and font sizes are wrong anyway.  And this page by page reformatting just goes on forever.

And then, infuriatingly, after I’ve spent an hour cutting and pasting this admittedly sketchy HTML code into my new NetObjects web site, the program would hang and crash, and I would lose my work.

Was it crashing because the code I was pasting was sketchy?  Was it crashing because the app is less than stable?  Or was it because of repeated a clipboard use with other programs?  (I’ve certainly seen that before.) Whatever the reason, creating new pages in NetObjects was a breeze and trying to import existing pages was hell.

As a result, my attempt to update my web site just kept getting stuck.  I’d start, get a couple of pages done, the system would crash, I would get frustrated, and stop.  This went on for weeks, months, actually, on and off for a year and a half.

I didn’t want to add any new content to my old web site, my new web site was unfinished and (at least partially) because of this damn program I disappeared from the Internet for over a year!

Finally, I decided I had to do something.  So I published everything that I had finished from the new site and just made links to any old pages that I haven’t been able to import from the old site, in the old format.  It’s a little abrupt, as users click on a link and suddenly find themselves in my old web site.  I’ve done the best I can do to stitch the navigation systems together.  And that will have to be it.  As you can tell, this is less than a ringing endorsement of this product.

At least I can get back to adding new content. The new pages will certainly be in the new format and someday I may reformat the old pages, or not.

There are a few other “cons” to NetObjects. The all-your-eggs-in-one-basket .NOD file is one weakness. If it gets corrupted you’re sunk. (Autosave would help.) There seems to be no facilities for version control or collaboration. (The .NOD file cannot be moved or shared on the local network and only the HTML output is sent to the web server.) You can get around that by saving the entire web site “As a Template” which makes a .ZIP file. Then another user can make a new site “From Template” and pick up where you left off.

But the speed, ease, and control you have in creating and editing pages, the artistic quality of the templates, and the professionalism of the finished web site outweigh all of that. But just barely. Long story short, NetObjects is a wonderful program for one person creating new web sites, but a lousy one for recreating them, or working in teams.

If you are considering remaking an existing web site with NetObjects, I would seriously recommend you consider some sort of “merging strategy” with the old site like I had to. It will save you a lot of aggravation.

OK, maybe that wasn’t such a short review after all.

 


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