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<NetObjects Fusion 3
The way to the web>

By Daniel Will-Harris 

5-11-98 - Web page design has gone a long way since it was basically just text running from one side of the screen to another. The latest additions to the HTML standard, plus the dynamic additions from Netscape and Microsoft now give web page designers the ability to do almost anything--if they can figure out how. Some designers are under the impression they need to hire a hacker to do it for them. These people obviously haven’t used NetObjects Fusion.

Unlike most other web programs, Fusion looks and feels as if it was designed for designers, rather than programmers.

Fusion has always been revolutionary in that, instead of taking a single page “word processor” approach to the web, it combines true site management with true WYSIWYG page-layout-program-like control. The new version uses the power of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and Dynamic HTML to allow any designer to create complex page layouts, complete with overlapping elements, and dynamic interaction with the user--with no programming required. The program handles all technical aspects, from building intricate tables, to writing reliable cross-browser JavaScript. It does all this while retaining its beautifully-designed site creation, organization and management features, along with its automatic navigation creation. All this, and priced at about half of what it originally cost.

>From Site to Stage

Fusion is divided into five basic modes: “Site,” where you organize and build a site by simply creating an organization-chart.

Fusion-siteview 

    Fusion isn’t just a page editor, it helps you organize and create entire sites. The siteview map makes it easy to organize, and re-organize sites. It also serves as the basis for building automatic page navigation.

“Page,” the area where you lay out web pages with the kind of pixel-precise accuracy formerly reserved for PageMaker or Xpress. You can create multiple versions of each page for design purposes, keep notes on pages and mark them as in-progress or complete, so you can quickly see what’s done and what isn’t on your site.

“Style,” gives you a choice of scores of professionally-designed templates or allows you to build your own by specifying your own custom graphics for basic elements such as site banner, primary buttons, secondary buttons, lines, bullets, backgrounds, etc. You can choose any font on your system for navigation buttons and it’s automatically applied to navigation and converted to graphics. Because the style features are centralized, you can change your web’s style once and the entire site is refurbished.

Two additional modes are used for production purposes. “Assets” lets you keep track of the individual elements used in the site, and “Publish” lets you stage (for testing) or publish (for viewing on the web) your site.

>Pixel-precise page layout control

Designers will be impressed by the hands-on precision of the “PageDraw” page layout mode. You lay out the page as you would in a page layout program, and Fusion converts even the most complex page layouts into HTML3 tables so that what web viewers see is exactly what you designed. Fusion can also lay out pages using CSS placement, if you choose (of course, only IE3 and 4 and Navigator 4 will correctly view these pages).

fusion-stokes-layout 

    Unlike most other web page creation tools, Fusion works like a page layout program, not like a word processor. This means you can position any element freely on the page, without having to worry about the technicalities behind it. Fusion just makes your design work--no matter what your design is. This can radically change the way you visualize web pages--and make your web pages look less like web pages and more like professional publications and multimedia titles.

Fusion’s DHTML control is impressively simple, yet effective. An “actions” dialog lets you select what happens when the user’s mouse is over, off, or clicks any object). Objects can interact with each other, appear and disappear, fly on and off the screen. If you’ve ever used PowerPoint, then you’ll know how to do all this almost immediately. (The JavaScript Fusion writes to perform these tasks could take years to learn how to program.) Fusion’s Dynamic pages work the same on both Navigator 4 and IE4, even though these browsers can each require different HTML and JavaScript code to perform the same tasks. This means that you only need one version of your site to support both major browsers. Even these complex pages “degrade” well on older browsers, so that those visitors still see something readable.

fusion-actions-in-action-small 

The only other program that can handle DHTML with such aplomb is Macromedia Dreamweaver, and while that’s a fine program, it only creates individual pages and has no site management capabilities.

That said, while Fusion can handle these difficult tasks, it still doesn’t support CSS style sheets for text formatting. This means that while you can have things flying around a web page, you still can’t set leading. NetObjects says that this will be supported in the next interim release of the program.

What is vastly improved is Fusion’s ability to mix text and graphics. Previously, since everything was in its own box or frame, you couldn’t automatically wrap text around an image. Now, “containers” can hold both text and graphics so that it’s easier to create pages that flow when content is added or removed, or when viewed with different sized fonts. Fusion is now much smoother at handling HTML files created by other programs.

CGI, Java, JavaScript, ActiveX and VB Script are all supported, as are all popular audio and video formats. New multimedia types can be added without upgrading Fusion.

>Automatic navigation

The real backbone of Fusion is its automation. When you create a site map, navigational headers and footers are automatically generated for each page. If you rearrange the site (by simply dragging org elements), the navigation is automatically updated and regenerated. This means that even complex sites can be managed and updated visually. No link checking necessary. Add new sections, and new navigation buttons can be generated by the system and automatically placed on every page. Remove a section--those buttons disappear.

This site, the Wire, is produced using Fusion. Each time I archive an issue, it’s automatically added to the archive page, automatically. Fusion handles the navigation creation, automatically. This saves a lot of time and lets me concentrate on content and design, rather than on technicalities.

All this gives you the ability to create an entire site in a fraction of the time it takes to build it using tools that create individual pages, like FrontPage. It’s also easier to customize this automatic navigation. FrontPage requires you to use a separate “theme” tool, but changing these auto navigation graphics in Fusion requires only  a double-click.

Fusion’s clever navigation includes a special Java applet called SiteMapper, which displays an org-chart like view of the entire site for visual navigation that’s always up-to-date.

>Database driven

Fusion’s automation extends to its ability to create pages based on database content. Create a template page, link it to a database, and new pages are automatically made for each matching record--this means catalogs, parts lists, even company directories can be generated with exceptional ease. No programming is required, no special server extensions are needed. Fusion supports desktop databases including Access, dBase, Excel, FoxPro, Lotus 1-2-3, Paradox, and SQL through OBDC.

Normally, these pages are not created on the fly. Fusion generates a site when you’re ready to publish (post) it, so a Fusion-generated site doesn’t change when your database does, unless you regenerate and re-post the site. NetObjects Fusion3 can be connected to Allaire’s Cold Fusion to create true database driven sites.

>More direct control

One of the things about Fusion that HTML hackers hated in the past was that it simply wouldn’t let you edit the HTML of pages. Fusion now comes with a copy of Allaire HomeSite 3 for editing HTML directly, and it easily handles pages created outside of Fusion. Fusion’s import of existing sites is also vastly improved, and requires far less tweaking. You also have more control over how your directories and files are created.

>Good Examples

While I’ve used all the major HTML creation programs, I personally use Fusion for all my web site designs. I use it because it lets me do better work than the others--and in less time.

Here are a few of my latest site designs, created with Fusion:

Adam Stone, Artist - This site, in the final testing stages, uses Fusion’s freeform layout abilities, and organizational prowess to create a complex site that could have been a nightmare using another program.

Brian Stokes Mitchell - This award-winning Broadway performer’s site combines a freeform home page with more traditional text-heavy inside pages.

Fritz Theyer Executive Search - This site uses a simple, very fast design with some subtle GIF animations. It also takes advantage of Fusion3’s ability to create easy JavaScript mouse-over actions

Manka’s Inverness Lodge - This graphically heavy site shows how Fusion’s automatic navigation can be completely custom--in this case it takes the form of rustic signs on a tree.

Wordsleuth - An excellent example of Fusion’s freeform layout in action. I wouldn’t have designed a page like this if I had to think in terms of the normal “word processor-like-table” approach most web page creation programs take.

>State of the Art

Since its introduction, NetObjects Fusion has been one of the most sophisticated web creation programs around. By listening to their users,  NetObjects has polished rough edges, added powerful new features, and created what is, quite simply the state of the art in site creation and management tools. Company: NetObjects

 

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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the web’s only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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Copyright Daniel Will-Harris, 2001, All Rights Reserved