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FrontPage was one of the first home web design toolsLast week, I attempted to unravel the mystery of how the once-mighty WordPerfect became a gibbering wreak of its former self. Today, the spotlight turns to another fallen hero - Microsoft FrontPage. Here's the sad tale of how the World's most popular Web publishing tool vanished into obscurity within just a few years.

The rise to fame

Believe it or not, FrontPage wasn't always a Microsoft product. It was actually first developed by Vermeer Technologies Incorporated, who in November 1995 released Vermeer FrontPage 1.0, one of the first ever distributed Web content authoring tools. Seeing that this kind of product might have a future, Microsoft snapped up Vermeer shortly after the launch of FrontPage 1.0, for $133 million. The Redmond company released FrontPage 97 in June 1996, when it was also bundled with the Microsoft Office suite. A stripped-down version, FrontPage Express was bundled for free in Internet Explorer from 1997, then came a Macintosh version, followed by four more versions between 1998 and 2003. At the height of the program's success, Microsoft announced that FrontPage was topping 1 million unit sales a quarter.

Why people liked it

The reason why people took to FrontPage in the first place, was that there was no product quite like it on the market. The Web was a completely new concept and most people didn't have the first clue about how to create pages for it. FrontPage's WYSIWYG approach made it simple for ordinary folk to put things onto the Web without having to fanny around with a text editor, or learn HTML. Templates were one of the most important elements within the application, allowing people to choose from a series of preset page layouts without having to design their own from scratch. FrontPage also had great interoperability with the rest of the Office range, so Excel sheets, Word documents and Access databases were easy to integrate into Web pages. The program also came with a simple built-in image editor called Image Composer, which would let you see how your graphics looked in different combinations of browsers and a different screen resolutions. Perhaps the overriding reason why FrontPage did well was the fact its workflow was so similar to other Microsoft products that the average user was used to. If you were proficient at editing a document in Word, you could pick up FrontPage and lay out a page without having to learn an entirely new interface from scratch. What's more, pages would render exactly as they were displayed in FrontPage when viewed in Internet Explorer.

What went wrong

In 2006, three years after the last release of FrontPage, Microsoft quietly withdrew support for the app, signalling the end of an era. In its place, the company launched two new products: Expression Web, a tool for professional developers who want to create high-quality, standards-based sites; and Sharepoint Designer, a business tool for building company intranets and workflows. These apps have proved fairly successful in the high-end development World, but have been largely shunned by home users. So, what was the big problem with FrontPage then? One of the main complaints about the app was its failure to embrace Web standards. Its WYSWYIG mode tended to generate non-validating code, meaning pages were only optimized for Internet Explorer. The bigger picture though, was succinctly illustrated by John McKown, President of Delware.Net, who picked out five reasons why Frontpage was shelved by Microsoft:

  • FrontPage was a beginner tool, that professional web designers shunned
  • Adobe Dreamweaver is now the defacto tool for professionals
  • Company Intranets became more critical to businesses, and yet most businesspeople are not web designers. So it made sense to make FrontPage into something even easier to use for web design newbies
  • Due to the last point, FrontPage because the built-in authoring tool for Microsoft Sharepoint (Microsoft’s limited Intranet product)
  • Professional web site design requires tools that generate standards-based code, which FrontPage could not do

Others pointed to the rise of the blogging culture, or even just a general bad feeling about MS products within the web development community, as the reason FrontPage was pushed into obscurity. Whatever the reason, I think it's a little sad to see a product which played such a big part in the rise of home Web publishing wither out in this way. If you fancy a trip down memory lane, you can still download FrontPage Express and have a stab at creating some pages with it.

Commented

  • WhatAre YouTalkingAbout |
    30/10/08
    WhatAre YouTalkingAbout

    Its now called SharePoint Designer

  • James Thornton |
    31/10/08
    James Thornton

    I know, that's why I wrote "In its place, the company launched two new products: Expression Web, a tool for professional developers who want to create high-quality, standards-based sites; and Sharepoint Designer, a business tool for building company intranets and workflows."

  • James |
    24/08/10
    James

    You should try getting your info somewhere else other than Wikipedia.

  • chrs |
    17/11/12
    chrs

    this is a complete waste of my time

  • JP |
    05/01/13
    JP

    The excuses this article gives are completely wrong. I'd venture a guess that you were not a Microsoft FrontPage user in the 90's What went wrong? Simply that Microsoft stopped selling it and supporting it.

  • Dena programmer |
    24/06/13
    Dena programmer

    I found FrontPage 2000 book while cleaning shelves at work and before I decided to toss it I thought: "Whatever happened to Microsoft Frontpage anyway?" After reading the article it all made sense. We've seen this before. When a software company decides to drop its product, regardless of reception, it goes down quick. No need for explanation.

  • katesisco@yahoo.com |
    29/06/13
    katesisco@yahoo.com

    Well, we've all discovered that the software previously used that produced your paper in a search is now confined to the particular 'corral' used by your company so is there any out there --free--that will allow your paper to come up in a search like google docs used to do before it was confined to drive and is sequestered to specific users?

  • geekgrrl |
    29/07/13
    geekgrrl

    I loved Image Composer. So much functionality and it came for free with FrontPage. Sad that this happens to so many products when a big company like Microsoft takes it over and then kills it. They could have improved it so that it generated standard code and they could have made the code that it generated less heavy. That being said, it was a good beginner's tool for home use. I think Netscape Composer's debut in 1997 had something to do with FrontPage's demise. It was better at generating clean code for a basic web page and you didn't have to pay for it. I learned HTML using Netscape Composer but I did use FrontPage too.

  • arendsa |
    01/04/14
    arendsa

    This is the second time I failed to understand why Microsoft dropped a program I loved. I am also still using Microsoft PhotoDraw which may be primitive by many standards but serves my purposes very well. Just have to keep a PC with Explorer 2003 installed

  • 2-Late-2-Matter |
    18/09/14
    2-Late-2-Matter

    After learning how to write hard HTML (not at all easy)and the only application I ever found in the real world for HS algebraic signs, I migrated easily into FrontPage. It was magic, easy-to-use and did a pretty good job unless you found out how those colors were interpreted in Netscape! Was sorry it was eliminated.

24/11/14
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