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NOTHING.BUT.NET SITE REDESIGN SPECIAL WITH ERIK J. HEELS

Comparing Web Publishing Software

Want to update an existing site rather than create one from scratch? Here are test-drive results on three programs.

 

My Web site has had essentially the same look and feel since it first went online in 1997. Back then, there was little software for creating Web pages or managing Web sites. Today, Web publishing software is widely available. So I wanted to see if it was possible to use that software to redesign my site without having to hire a designer.

I tested three programs: NetObjects Fusion MX, Macromedia HomeSite 5 and Adobe GoLive 6.0. Since time is money, I gave each program only two hours to win me over—or not.

Before embarking on my site redesign project, I defined what I was trying to achieve and what I was trying to avoid.

• Portable. First, I wanted my site to be portable so that it could be managed and updated by another software package in the future. In other words, I did not want software that would lock me in to a particular operating system, vendor or technology. This eliminated, for example, Microsoft FrontPage, which requires you to install Microsoft-specific software (FrontPage extension) on your Web server. The ideal software would be platform independent and would run on Macintosh and Windows operating systems.

• Database-driven. Second, I wanted software that was database-like. Web sites are like a database; pages in sites are like records in a database; and HTML elements in a Web page are like fields in a record. Since most Web site pages have common elements, such as headers and footers, I wanted to be able to use intelligent functions—spell checking, link checking, searching and replacing, for example—across my entire site.

• Simple. Third, I wanted software that was easy to use. Changing the look and feel of a Web site should be as simple as changing the look and feel of a PowerPoint presentation. One should not have to read manuals or consult help files continuously.

 

Hardware Requirements

I’ve traditionally used a Macintosh to maintain my site—but I quickly discovered that very few of the most popular Web publishing programs are available for Macintosh and Windows operating systems. So I limited my test to Windows software. But before I decided which packages to test, I had to determine my computer’s capabilities. Unfortunately, determining details about my operating system, processor speed and type, RAM and hard disk turned out to be a lot harder than it should have been.

The System Information program included with Windows contains many details about my system. (From the Start menu, you navigate to Programs– Accessories–SystemTools–System Information.) But it does not provide a simple, intuitive way to save and print the configuration of my computer. Norton Utilities’ System Information feature is not much better. It does include an option for printing reports but not for saving or previewing those reports, so you never know what information you’re printing.

Fortunately, I found a free utility called Belarc Advisor (www.belarc.com). Belarc Advisor analyzes your system’s hardware and software, creates a detailed report, and saves the report as an HTML file that you can view with your Web browser. In addition to providing all the details I was looking for in one location, Belarc Advisor showed me that I had some old versions of software and obsolete printer drivers installed. This is one of those rare software programs that does exactly what you want it to do.

Having determined my system’s capabilities, I then proceeded to see if three Web publishing software packages would do what I wanted them to do.

 

NetObjects Fusion MX

NetObjects Fusion MX (www.netob jects.com) did not install in my Program Files directory by default. It added a desktop shortcut without prompting me, and it required restarting my computer. When I restarted and launched Fusion, I was immediately prompted to install an update from the NetObjects Web site. Attempting this caused my computer to crash twice. Cutting my losses, I opted to proceed without the software update. Installation took 20 minutes.

I then tried to import my existing site from the Web (by selecting New Site–From Existing Web Site from the File menu). Unfortunately, this import feature does not recognize virtual subhosting, which is a widespread practice that allows multiple Web sites to exist on the same physical server with the same IP address. So instead of importing my site, Fusion imported my Web hosting provider’s site. Luckily, I was able to import my existing site from the copy that I keep on my hard disk—and Fusion’s error checking even revealed that one file that was on my Web site was missing from my local copy.

The nitty-gritty. Fusion allows users to create Web sites without having to worry about the underlying HTML. Most page editing is done in a WYSIWYG environment. In Fusion, a page consists of a Layout area and a MasterBorder area. A MasterBorder contains objects that appear on multiple pages, such as navigation bars, headers and footers. A Layout area contains text and other elements that are unique to each page.

My site seemed an ideal candidate for importing into Fusion because there is a well-defined structure to each of my site pages. The footers are exactly the same, and the headers differ only slightly. (For example, the page titles are unique to each page.) I was hopeful that Fusion would recognize these similarities and put at least the identical items, such as the footer, into the MasterBorder area. But my hopes were dashed. Fusion put every element from every page into the Layout area.

So, in order to create a standard footer across all pages, I would first have to cut and paste my existing footer into the MasterBorder area on one page and then delete it from the Layout area on all of the other pages. I have 140 pages on my site, and I really did not want to make this change manually for all 140 pages. Also, though Fusion does have a spell-checker, it only checks one page at a time.

On the plus side, Fusion has 27 predefined styles, and it is easy to quickly change the look and feel of your site using these styles. Banners (for use as page titles) and navigation bars can also be added quickly to all pages by adding those elements to the MasterBorder. Overall, Fusion is a good choice for users who want to design Web sites in a friendly WYSIWYG environment.

Fusion is also well suited to novice users who want to create good-looking Web sites quickly but don’t want to get involved with coding. Its $89 price makes Fusion a good value as well. Its major downside—and a tradeoff for its ease of use—is that it creates rather messy HTML (lots of nested tables), which makes Web sites generated in Fusion difficult to edit with other software.

 

Macromedia HomeSite 5

My installation of Macromedia HomeSite (www.macromedia.com) went relatively smoothly and took just 15 minutes. The installation program did prompt me to install a program called TopStyle without explaining what that does, and I had to restart my computer after installing.

I then tried to import my Web site into Macromedia HomeSite (by selecting Open From Web from the File menu). I was able to import and edit my site’s home page but not the other pages. Tabs allowed me to switch from a browser view to an HTML view. After poking around for a few minutes, I realized that what I really wanted to do was create a new "project," which is a group of files. Every time I tried to create a new project, however, I encountered a "Class not Registered" error that prevented the project from being created. I thought that I had given my project a bad name, but changing the project name didn’t make the error go away.

I eventually searched the customer support pages on Macromedia’s Web site (http://webforums.macromedia .com/homesite) for "Class not Registered" and found more than 50 messages about this problem dating back to September 2001. The problem is caused by a known bug in Macromedia’s install program (which adds an extra space to one of the directory names).

The nitty-gritty. Unfortunately, of the two hours that I’d allocated to testing HomeSite, I spent the majority tracking down what turned out to be a known bug in the software.

 

Adobe GoLive 6.0

Installing Adobe GoLive (www.adobe .com) took only 10 minutes and didn’t require rebooting. I was able to quickly import my existing Web site from my hard disk (by selecting New Site from the File menu). And GoLive presented information about my site in a logical easy-to-use format. Different tabs in the Site view showed the structure of my site, relative links within each page, links to external sites and other site attributes.

The nitty-gritty. GoLive lets you save Web pages as templates and then apply the design of one page to your entire site. However, the package includes only eight predefined templates, only one of which seemed appropriate for a law firm. My attempts to apply this template to my Web site (by selecting Template– Apply Template from the Special menu) failed. That was because my site was not created with GoLive and did not contain elements that mapped properly to the supplied templates.

Of the three programs, GoLive was the only one available for both Macintosh and Windows. In addition, I liked the fact that GoLive let me spell-check my entire site. Also, anyone who has used Adobe Photoshop will recognize the familiar user interface of GoLive. It is a powerful—and, at $399, relatively expensive—piece of software. It would be an excellent choice for anyone creating a complex Web site from scratch.

 

FileMaker Pro: An Old Friend

I currently maintain my Web site in a FileMaker Pro database (www.filemak er.com). There are 140 records in the database corresponding to the 140 HTML files in the top-level directory of my site. Each record contains user-entered fields (such as Filename, Title, Byline, Date and Body), which correspond to the parts of each HTML file, and auto-generated calculation fields (such as Header and Footer), which give each page a standard look and feel.

For example, for each page the Title field is inserted into the tag within the <HEAD> section and into an <H2> tag within the <BODY> section. Similarly, the Description field is inserted into a <META> tag within the <HEAD> section and into an <H3> tag within the <BODY> section. In this way, I am able to make sure that the HTML across my site is consistent. And when I want to make a site-wide change (such as updating a copyright notice at the start of a new year), I can change the Footer field and each record in the database automatically inherits the updated data.</p><p>There are, though, limitations to my FileMaker-based method. For example, it takes two steps to publish a new HTML file on my site. First I have to export the record to a file, and then I have to FTP that file to my site. Also, there is no easy way to export multiple records to multiple files. To get around this, I can export all of the records’ HTML data to one huge text file and then split that file into 140 separate HTML files via a customized Perl script. Most importantly, FileMaker is not Web publishing software, so I lack the ability to add interactive elements, verify links and easily change the design of my pages.</p><p> </p><p><strong>My Redesign: Maybe, Maybe Not</strong></p><p>After my test runs, I’ve come to this conclusion: Unless I find Web publishing software that I fall in love with, I will likely continue to maintain my site in FileMaker Pro. I would like to find software that combines FileMaker’s powerful simplicity with real Web publishing capabilities, but none of the tested software convinced me to switch. Then again, do I really need to update my site? I certainly have grown tired of the site’s look and feel—but my Web site consistently generates clients, so perhaps my audience has not grown so tired of it.</p><p><strong>Erik J. Heels</strong> (info@heels.com) is a patent attorney and co-author of the ABA book Law Law Law on the Internet:The Best Legal Web Sites and More.</p><p> </p><p> </p><p><strong>SIDEBAR, page 9</strong></p><p><strong>Web Hosting Companies</strong></p><p>Do-it-yourself site builders typically need an outside company to host their Web sites. There are many choices. Type "web site hosting company" into your favorite search engine and you’ll get a boatload of results. But here’s just a small sample of the many site hosting companies, taken from 10 Best Web Site and Domain Hosting Services, at www.10-best-web-site-and-domain-hosting-services.com. It provides reviews and ratings of services based on independent testing. You can also check out sites like FindYourHosting.com and Webspace.net. (The latter bills itself as the largest searchable guide to free Web space providers.)</p><p>Note that the following are included as samples only and do not reflect Law Practice Management’s stamp of recommendation.</p><p>For tips on selecting a Web hosting company (and information on the popular provider NTT/Verio), see Michael Tamburo’s "DIY Web Sites,"on page 35.<br/></p><p>• Feature Price: www.featureprice.com</p><p>• iPowerWeb: www.ipowerweb.com</p><p>• Site & Sites: www.siteandsites.com</p><p>• Apollo Hosting: www.apollohosting.com</p><p>• Web Site Source: www.websitesource.com</p><p>• Jumpline: www.jumpline.com</p><p>• Catalog.com: www.catalog.com</p><p>• Blue Domino: www.bluedomino.com</p><p>• BackBone Internet: www.backboneinternet.com</p><p> </p><p><strong>SIDEBAR, page 12</strong></p><p><strong>E-DISCOVERY CASE LAW</strong></p><p>Check into the following on-point cases to get the gist of how things are progressing:</p><p>Electronic Evidence Cases</p><p>• In re Prudential Insurance Company of America Sales Practice Litigation, 169 F.R.D. 598 (D. N.J., 1997).</p><p>• Danis v. USN Communications, 2000 WL 1694325 (N. D. Ill.).</p><p>Scope of Electronic Discovery</p><p>• McPeek v. Ashcroft, 202 F.R.D. 31 (D. D.C., 2001).</p><p>• Byers et al. v. Illinois State Police et al., 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9861 (N.D. Ill.).</p><p>• In re Bristol-Myers Squibb Securities Litigation, 205 F.R.D. 437 (D. N.J., 2002).<br/>Use of Experts</p><p>• Playboy v. Terri Welles, 60 F. Supp. 2d 1050 (S.D. Cal. 1999).</p><p>• Rowe Entertainment, Inc., et al. v. The William Morris Agency, Inc., et al., 205 F.R.D. 421; aff’d 2002 WL 975713 (S.D. N.Y. 2002).</p><p>• Murphy Oil USA v. Fluor Daniel, 2002 WL 246439 (E.D. La.).</p><p>• Tulip Computers International B.V. v. Dell Computer Corporation, 2002 WL 818061 (D. Del).</p></td></tr></table></td></tr></table> </div> </div> </div> <!-- SiteCatalyst code version: H.22.1. Copyright 1996-2010 Adobe, Inc. 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