Monday

Are You A
Closet FrontPage User?



In webmaster circles, fessing up to being a FrontPage user is
akin to inviting your mother as your date to your senior prom:
you just don't do it. In fact, admitting that you simply use a
WYSIWIG editor can often be enough for experienced webmasters to
quietly chuckle, look at you with a "someday you'll learn" look,
and give you a nice pat on the back encouraging you to keep
learning. 'Real' webmasters know three things: 1) Hand coding is
the only way to make a website look nice, 2) The more your web
programming looks like the screen from "The Matrix", the better
your website will be, and 3) that FrontPage was actually
programmed by Beelzebub himself.

The stigma that has been placed on WYSIWIG editors, especially
FrontPage, is not without cause; there are legitimate reasons to
avoid these web design programs. But the hatred for these
programs is also largely unfair and website owners who are using
these programs should not necessarily be ashamed to admit that
they did not take the time to pour through the W3C's lengthy,
and frankly quite boring, recommendations for proper HTML
coding. There are, dare I say, legitimate times when using an
editor like FrontPage is the best option.

Hand Coding Is Actually the Best

Now that I have ventured out on a limb and actually admitted to
there being legitimate reasons a person could use FrontPage or
any other WYSIWIG editor, let me add an absolute necessary
disclaimer. All this talk about creating W3C compliant code,
learning proper CSS and HTML, and learning how to separate the
design of your website from the HTML of your website is valid.
In fact, it should ultimately be the goal of every website owner
to have their website validate with W3C standards (Why? Check
out the web standards movement (http://www.webstandards.org/) to
see why it is so important).

Here is the real letdown: there is virtually no way that you
will create a W3C compliant website using FrontPage, and it is
doubtful that any WYSIWIG editor will achieve this for you.
Dreamweaver has made tremendous strides in the past year in
creating more compliant code, but they are not perfect yet
either. If you are going to reach that Shangri-la of web
development, hand coding and learning HTML and CSS are the only
paths that will lead you there.

The funny thing about all this is that once you become adept at
designing websites using nothing but a hand-coded website with
your design controlled by CSS and the structure handled by the
HTML, you may just find that hand coding a website is actually
much easier than fiddling around with a FrontPage or
Dreamweaver. In fact, you may just become one of those webmaster
'snobs' who looks sympathetically at all the poor
FrontPage-handicapped website owners.

Your Website is More Than a Website

Very few web businesses are actually about the website. Sure,
the website is an integral part of your business – possibly an
absolutely necessary part of your business. Ultimately, however,
your website is a tool of your business. Amazon.com, as an
example, is known for their website. But when we describe what
Amazon.com does, the typical response is to say that they sell
books. Google is known for being a website. But when asked what
Google does, the typical response is that they help us find
websites that we are looking for. Site Reference is inseparable
from its website, but when asked what we do, our response is
that we publish articles and provide forums to help website
owners succeed in the online world (OK, the last example is not
in the same class as the first two...we're getting there).

The point of all this is to emphasize that ultimately we are
running a business, and a business, no matter how web-centric,
is going to have more needs than just those of the website. As a
web business owner you are inevitably faced with many different
aspects of your business which you need to pay attention to, and
it is possible that creating a W3C compliant website is not as
important as finding the money to pay last years taxes, or
handling a consumer issue, or developing that new product which
is projected to double your online sales.

We would all love to say that every part of our business is done
with meticulous detail and that even our office spaces would
pass a white glove test, but that is just simply unreasonable.
The truth is, however, that sometimes we just need to get things
done. And with a web based business, often times just getting a
good looking website up is what we need, and then we need to
focus on another aspect of our company that is crying for
attention.

I have a very good friend and occasional business partner who
has become quite successful as an Internet entrepreneur. He owns
a very successful web hosting company, a quickly growing
software company, and has launched several websites which have
seen a healthy level of success. As much as it pains me to
witness it, he has done all of this using FrontPage as his web
design tool of choice. The simplicity with which it allows him
to get something published in short order fits his needs
perfectly, and although I still preach to him the need to learn
HTML, it is hard to argue with someone who is currently more
successful than I am.

Recognizing FrontPage for What It Is

If you are a FrontPage user, inevitably at some point you are
going to come across another webmaster who, upon learning of
your WYSIWIG addiction, will scold you for using a program that
publishes what is generally considered to be 'ugly code'. When
you hear this retribution, be sure to accept it for what it is –
encouragement to take your website to 'the next level'.

FrontPage, or any WYSIWIG tool, is a 'quick and dirty' way to
get a website published in a relatively short amount of time for
those who do not know HTML or CSS. That is its purpose, and it
fulfills that purpose well. Ultimately, however, websites whose
goals include wide-accessibility, easy management, low bandwidth
consumption, faster load times, multi-browser computability,
higher search engine rankings, and an image of being taken care
of by a company who has the resources to manage a professional
website, will ultimately need to go the route of being hand
coded.

Using a tool like FrontPage is not something you should have to
apologize for, but it also may not be the best long-term plan
for managing your web based business – especially when the web
industry is setting standards that FrontPage refuses to meet.

At some point, bringing your website up to date with industry
standards is a goal that will (or should) cross your to-do list.
When it does, you may decide that taking the time to learn HTML
and CSS is not the best use of your time and that outsourcing
development is the best direction for your company. Or you may
be someone who likes control of the important aspects of your
business and may want to learn HTML and CSS to make sure that it
is done correctly. Whatever you decide, making the move towards
a website that meets industry standards will certainly be a plus
for your business.
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