I’ve been playing around with Microsoft’s replacement for FrontPage today. I haven’t used FrontPage for a long, long time so I may not compare it with the latest version. I soon became too annoyed with the way that FP decided to insert items and reformat my page.
I’ve had a good day with Expression Web. It’s come a long way and it is a far easier program to use. You can tell that it has even taken some of the aspects from Microsoft Office…the squiggles under what it considers mistakes. This was generally a good experience as, if you hover over the squiggles, the system gives you a pretty accurate hint as to what it is complaining about and how to fix it. The pages will still run with squiggles, but usually you’d fix them.
The good aspects of the program were the generally flexibility of layout and the connection between html and css. When there is an css id specified on an item, the name of it is underlined, showing a clickable link to the location in the css file (or position in the page, if inline styles are used). This is great to be able to find your way around a heavy page. The only minor problem that I had was with a large page that had separate css files for the web page and the printed page versions. When I control clicked the link, I was taken to the print version. I haven’t find a way around that yet. The other problem I had was that creating new tags defaulted to inserting inline styles in the document rather than changing the current setting, or adding to the external css file. They have some default settings that could override that. Another bonus was being able to easily launch tests in the browser at different resolutions. A nice touch. It even has a built in server, so that ASP pages can be tested as well.
What did I miss? After using Eclipse for a while I miss collapsing blocks. When working on complicated pages, it would be nice to be able to collapse down the ‘div’ or ‘script’ sections for example. Colouring is good and flexible but hiding code away would make life easier. It crashed once and seemed to lose a few edits but that may be just because my machine was full to the gills of other packages at the same time. (I must listen to the Subversion webcast tonight). The views of the page showed margins and borders quite well, and have taken the ideas from simple tools like StyleMaster. I’ve used StyleMaster for a while, but its days may be numbered. The intellisense in the Expression editor seems to handle most situations just as well, if not better.
The pages didn’t really render correctly in the editing frame. I expected that browsing the page in Firefox and IE7 would have different displays, but I thought that one of them might match the display within the editor. I was using styles cut from a previous large page, so I shall go back and check tomorrow. (Edit – it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought, after simplifying the page a bit) I just had problems with div’s not being filled with the white background colour. The background image was showing through.
They have Dynamic Web Templates for normal html pages and they seemed to work well. I’m not sure that I’ll ever need them as most pages we produce are from database material. For my Microsoft developments I shall use the ASP Master pages system. Creating a few pages was really easy. We shall see how it fares when the pages become more complex, but the simple pages worked well. I also need to see how it fares when I read it into Visual Studio and add a few Ajax controls onto the pages.