Expression Web versus FrontPage

By Cheryl D Wise, MS MVP Expression

NOTE: Recently Cheryl posted this in response to a question on the FrontPage List. Permission has been granted to publish her response to the post and as such has been edited for inclusion on this blog. Links have been included within the post for clarification.

The FUNDAMENTAL difference between FrontPage and Expression Web is far more important than style vs format tags. FrontPage by default (and it can take a lot to overcome the defaults) is Internet Explorer output. Some of the code created by FrontPage will never display properly in any other web browser, nor will it display properly in IE 8 and sometimes not even in IE 7.

It has nothing to do with the ASP.NET controls, the AJAX controls, common PHP code that can be inserted from the Insert menu, the database connections to MySQL as well as Microsoft databases. It has everything to do with being a responsible web designer who creates content that works correctly in every major and any standards claiming minor browser out there.

Go to Internet Explorer Application Compatibility VPC Image and you may also need the free Virtual PC application available from Microsoft.

Now go launch the preconfigured windows virtual pc with IE 8 in it and go visit your sites. What happens? Bet you see problems, this is the future. You may see the problems right now with your sites if you use Firefox 2, Safari or Opera.

It is all about standards, cross browser, cross platform (which includes mobile since I get 20% of my clients now asking “how will my website look on my phone” [iphone usually but maybe others.]

While Expression Web is not that difficult to use, for a FrontPage user you need to make some fundamental adjustments in how you work. First, using the format toolbar – don’t except for selecting structural mark-up (use the dropdown to apply headings, lists, and other structural mark-up), or for adding bold/em. You do not use them to edit styles and you should not use them to create styles or you will end up with .style1, .style2, .style3 which mean nothing and give you no assistance in editing. Those .style(x) will be added to the head section but if you create your styles using the correct workflow you choose where they go and can write them directly into your external stylesheet and chose the name at the same time. Expression Web doesn’t presume that you want to edit an existing style unless you select it and choose to edit.

To edit styles you either right click on the style in the Apply Styles or Manage Styles Task Pane or better yet if you know what you are doing with CSS you use the CSS Properties Task Pane in the lower left section of the default Expression Web layout. (Space shared with Tag Properties, check which tab is active.)

If I were to address all the differences with FP then I would be writing another book so I’ll just hit a few other issues.

  1. Styles: The tools there are top of the line and have virtually replaced TopStyle Pro as my CSS editor. I say virtually because I still use TopStyle when working in Dreamweaver and I tend to run Stylesweeper when I am finished to reformat my rules how I like since it is better at that than Expression Web or Dreamweaver.
  2. Inserting video: The single most common problem I see is when people are trying to work strictly in Design view they don’t have selected what they think is selected (hint look at the breadcrumb at the top of the design window) and have a paragraph or div selected instead of having the cursor at an insert point. Working in split view it is easy to see what is selected. This is readily apparent when people are trying to bold or italicize one word and the whole paragraph or div changes. If you have a block selected and insert media it will replace the content of the selected block.
  3. Preview pane: The preview pane in FP shows you more or less how IE 5 would render your page. It is not how IE 6 or IE 7 in standards mode, Opera, Safari or any real browser would render your page. Design view is vastly improved in Expression Web over anything you would ever see in FrontPage. To get “preview mode” simply turn off design aids and everything except your active content will be much closer to what you see in a real browser with FP’s preview pane. Better yet, hit f12 and preview in your default browsers.
  4. Expression Web comes complete with a light weight web server named Cassini that will allow you to run all the active content in your page, that includes php content and content not just JavaScript (note that if you want to use the built-in web server to preview plain html pages you will need to check the box under Site > Site Settings > Preview tab to preview all pages in using it.) You can also preview your page in every browser you have installed on your computer in two clicks either using the preview dropdown on the standard toolbar or using right click, preview in all browsers on the page in the Folder List.
  5. Expression Web v2 has includes back in natively, they just aren’t on the insert menu by default. Right click somewhere in the menu bar and select “customize” select “Insert” from the left column and scroll down until you see include page in the right pane. You can then add it to the insert menu and/or the standard toolbar.
  6. Call MS product support and ask them why they are not giving a free upgrade to V1 users. If enough people complain MS may change that and MS also has the ability to make exceptions if you have a bug in v1 that is resolved in v2 but you may have to be able to document that it is a bug and resolved. I don’t know because I haven’t tried since there are enough new features in V2 to make it worth upgrading for me. The two “bug” fixes that are in v2 from v1 that I consider essential fixes are the BOM (Byte Order Mark) problem for those who use server side includes or work with PHP files and the userid/password not being remembered in the FTP client but your mileage may vary.

Conclusion: If FrontPage does what you want, then stay with it but don’t trivialize the differences between FrontPage and Expression Web. Despite my having been a MS MVP in FrontPage for years and having taught it, and having written a book on it, FrontPage was never used for more than 10-15% of my real work. I only used it when clients wanted to maintain their own sites with the least amount of learning curve possible. Since Expression Web came out I use it as much as I use Dreamweaver. Note, as of the last format of my computer I don’t even have FrontPage installed and have no intention of reinstalling it. I do however have both v1 and v2 of Expression installed since I support both of those (v1 with my book and v2 when we relaunch classes later this year.) FWIW, we haven’t taught a FrontPage class in 18 months and have no intention of offering one again.

Cheryl D Wise, MS MVP Expression

Author: Foundations of Microsoft Expression Web
Adobe Community Expert – Dreamweaver

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