From the June 2001 issue of MSDN Magazine.
FrontPage 2002: Build Database Connectivity and Office XP Collaboration Features Into Your Site
|This article assumes you�re familiar with Web Design|
|Level of Difficulty 1 2 3 |
|SUMMARY FrontPage 2002 is packed full of improvements and new features, and includes tighter integration with Microsoft Office. The result is that documents created in Word and Microsoft Excel drop right into your Web site. Tools such as the clipboard, context sensitive search, and advanced copy and paste features have been introduced. Improved views and editing features make content creation faster and easier. Enhanced publishing features give you finer control over what is published, and reports detail publishing and usage statistics. There are also many new wizards to help you fly through tasks such as database connection. This article looks at these and other important features you'll want to explore. |
|lexibility and ease of use are qualities that Microsoft® FrontPage® has been delivering to users since its first versions. As Web sites demand more and more complex functionality, FrontPage answers with more powerful features. One of the most powerful features introduced is the Database Interface Wizard in FrontPage 2002. This feature makes connecting to an ODBC data source such as Microsoft SQL Server™ as easy as filling out a Web registration. Along with the wizard, there are new reports that tell you exactly what was published to the Web and site usage reports that allow you to measure the ways in which your users are interacting with your site.|
FrontPage 2002 offers users more guidance when something goes wrong. For example, let�s say you�re publishing an existing Web site to a FrontPage 2002-based Web site. You might see a message that tells you that the default code page on the current Web (which is probably set to None) is not supported on the Web you are trying to publish to. The message will tell you how to fix this problem: "Go to the Tools menu, select Web Settings and then select a different default page encoding" (such as US/Western European). After you make this change, the next time you select Publish, FrontPage 2002 remembers which files you had selected to publish and what Web you were going to publish to, so you don�t have to go back and start from scratch. There are little goodies like this everywhere. Here are some examples:
- You can now rename a page and change its title in Folder view. When you paste content from the clipboard, you can choose to retain the existing format or have the clipboard content reformatted to the style of the current document.
- A new Picture Options button on the Save Picture window lets you set properties on the picture (such as GIF interlaced, GIF transparent, or JPG) as you save a newly imported file.
- Informational notes appear almost everywhere telling you how to accomplish the task at hand.
Core Components—Office Tools In keeping with the Microsoft commitment to interface consistency and usability throughout Office, the core tools in Office XP are now the same in almost all of its applications. For example, when you insert a hyperlink, you will be using the same Insert | Hyperlink window in Word and FrontPage. The new task pane, clipboard pane, and search pane are also the same or virtually the same throughout Office XP. The Table Border box from Word now appears in FrontPage 2002—a timesaving improvement over digging through the Table Properties windows to set simple borders.
Along with this core of easy-to-use tools comes a subtle but very potent context sensitivity. For example, Enhanced Drawing Tools and WordArt are everywhere in Office XP. You can copy a drawing you made in PowerPoint® and paste it in a Web page, and the tools take care of the details. Whether you are adding a flow chart to a Word document or a PowerPoint slide show to a Web page, the workflow is smoother. If you are copying text from a Word doc and pasting it into a Web page, you can choose how it�s going to look after it�s pasted. These tools always look the same to the user while presenting a simple set of tasks and hiding all the complexity.
Office Documents Integration and collaboration are two very important themes throughout Office XP and FrontPage 2002. In fact, it�s almost impossible to talk about FrontPage 2002 without mentioning how easy it is to incorporate Word, Microsoft Excel, or PowerPoint documents into your FrontPage Web site—either in native format or in HTML. For example, you can paste pivot tables and charts right from Microsoft Excel onto a Web page in the FrontPage 2002 editor. You can save a PowerPoint file as a set of linked HTML pages and publish them directly from PowerPoint to a shared (Web) document folder or FrontPage 2002 Web site—all in the same step. If you are using SharePoint® technologies, you can save Office documents in native format to shared Web folders on your FrontPage-based Web site and allow your users to edit them or have discussions about them without copying them back to a local hard drive.
This new online discussion capability is made possible by SharePoint Team Services, which provide an additional set of Server Extensions that integrate into the FrontPage Server Extensions on the Web server. SharePoint Team Services add a whole new level of collaborative and interactive functions to the Web site—functions that require only a browser to set up and use.
These services give your private FrontPage-based Webs the same type of high-end functionality previously found on large-scale hosting sites like the MSN® eCommunity Webs. The difference is you control your user�s roles in a private Web site. I will talk more about SharePoint Team Services later in the article.
There are far too many new items in FrontPage 2002 to discuss them all in one article, so I have organized them into some general areas: new views and improved editing features, styles and themes, new graphics features, new publishing and reporting features, and seriously cool stuff.
New Views Figure 1 shows several of the new views in the UI that help make management and creation tasks easier. Notice the new, flatter menu tabs across the bottom of the Folder List and document panes. The document window now sports tabs across the top that give you quick access to your open pages.
The new Navigation view shares the pane with the Folder List, as shown in Figure 1. This figure shows all your navigation bars and your Web site navigation structure. It is now possible to define multiple navigation Link Bars, each with a different root. I�ll discuss these further when I talk about FrontPage Web Components. So, if your Web site has a traditional FrontPage navigation structure that flows from the home page, the Navigation Pane will show that structure. If you are using the new, flexible Link Bars that let you add any links you like to the navigation bar, the Navigation Pane will show you the pages you have linked under each navigation bar as well. So it is possible to have several different navigation structures for any given Web site and to manage them all from the Navigation Pane.
Figure 1 New Views in FrontPage 2002
A new feature you�ll find throughout Office XP is the Task Pane. This pane appears at the right side of the working window and offers three views: the New Page or Web view (shown in Figure 1), the new and improved Clipboard (shown in Figure 2), and the new Search functions. It can open automatically at program startup and it disappears when you open pages for editing, giving you more space to work. You can bring it back at any time by clicking View | Task Pane. In addition to giving you easy access to your most recently edited files and the options and templates under the File | New menu, it also puts the Photo Gallery Wizard and the Database Interface Wizard within easy reach.
Figure 2 More New Views
As I mentioned earlier, the new Office XP clipboard (shown in Figure 2) offers control over how you accumulate and manage content on the clipboard. When you�re pasting content from the clipboard into a new page or document, you can keep the existing format or have the clipboard content reformatted to reflect the style of the document you�re pasting into. This is very handy when you are copying text from, say, a Word document to paste it into a Web page; you can keep the original formatting or have it take on the style of the current page.
If you want to search for text on your page, or search for a picture on your computer or on a Web folder, or if you need to do a search and replace on some text in the HTML of all the pages in your Web site, you can do it all from the Find and Replace view.
Working with Style FrontPage has always shipped with a good assortment of themes—and FrontPage 2002 is no exception. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that several features that had never been available in FrontPage 2000 are now available in FrontPage 2002. First, the Apply using CSS checkbox that was (almost) never available in FrontPage 2000 is now almost always available. If you select this checkbox, FrontPage 2002 will create a version of your page complete with a link to your theme�s style sheet and any custom styles that you have defined on the page. When you create a new theme of your own, you can still choose to have FrontPage 2002 apply your theme using style sheets instead of directly.
Second, Microsoft theme styles that couldn�t be edited using Modify Themes can now be edited in the theme designer. You can apply Microsoft theme styles right from the format dropdown on the toolbar, as shown in Figure 2. I do miss being able to right-click on the page in the editor and access the Theme and Shared Borders. However, you will find these options under the Format menu in FrontPage 2002.
In addition to top, left, and bottom, you can now have right Shared Borders. Shared Borders now allow you to define a background color or image for each shared border. As a result, you can create some very interesting page effects by just clicking on a checkbox. For example, Figure 2 shows the top and left borders with a solid color background.
Graphics There are several new options on the Insert Picture menu. Office XP and FrontPage 2002 are expected to include a second CD full of new clip art when the product ships. It�s worth mentioning that the new Search Pane (shown in Figure 3) provides a whole new way to find and organize your pictures, clips, and other multimedia—another example of the context sensitivity I mentioned earlier. There is also a new Insert Pictures window that will let you preview one file or present thumbnails of all the media files in the directory.
Figure 3 Dropping in a Picture
Three of these options, New Drawing, AutoShapes, and WordArt, are powerful tools in FrontPage 2002 that may not be immediately obvious to you. First, the Drawing option and AutoShapes are the same familiar tools you use in Word and PowerPoint. They let you plunk down a callout box or a flow diagram anywhere on the page—even in front of a picture (see Figure 3). Consider how impressive this is, since it�s HTML you�re working with, not rich text. Also remember that this is drag and drop DHTML—no coding required. FrontPage 2002 hides all the messy positioning code. That doesn�t mean that you will have instant success when you start dropping dynamically positioned graphical elements onto your pages. You will still need to understand absolute and relative positioning to keep the bubbles above the woman�s head when users start resizing their browsers, but it�s a major improvement over hand-coding DHTML positioning.
The New Drawing option opens the Office drawing tool. My favorite is AutoShapes, which I used to draw the bubble shown in Figure 3. The green dot above the bubble lets you rotate and skew it, and the yellow square below the small bubbles lets you anchor the little thought bubbles to a location, either absolute or in this case relative to the woman�s head.
It is now easier than ever to embed video files in your Web pages to be played by Windows Media™ Player. The video appears as a picture placeholder in the FrontPage editor; in the browser it expands to its full size.
Another bit of graphical fun is the Photo Gallery, a wizard-based component that is a real timesaver. It allows you to populate it with images, select any of four layouts, and automatically creates the page for you. Each layout is a bit different. Figure 1 shows the Photo Gallery Slide Show Layout. When you click on one of these images, it appears full-sized and centered on the same page. Its title and caption appear beneath it. Other layout choices are Horizontal, Montage, and Vertical (see Figure 4). When you click on an image in these layouts, the image is displayed by itself in the browser.
Figure 4 Photo Gallery Properties Layout Choices
One of the neatest things about this component is that you can change your layout without disturbing your pictures. For example, load the page in the FrontPage 2002 editor and right-click anywhere on the Photo Gallery. Select Properties, then the Layout tab. Choose a different layout and click OK. The beauty of it is that you don�t need to play with tables or spacing.
Figure 5 Photo Gallery Pictures Properties
You can arrange your pictures in the order you want in the Photo Gallery Properties window shown in Figure 5. You can resize, rotate, and crop your pictures by clicking on the Edit button. You can also add a caption and a description for each picture. The way these are displayed depends on which layout you select. When you have finished, the Photo Gallery Wizard creates the thumbnails of all your images and stores them in a Photo Gallery directory.
New Publishing and Reporting Features With the new Publish window you don�t have to wonder what the system has in mind when it publishes, because the files that the system thinks are out of date (and need to be published) are clearly marked. You can control which files will be published on a file-by-file basis. When you go to publish a Web, if the Web you are publishing to doesn�t exist, FrontPage asks if you want to create it.
The new Publish window gives you both a condensed view, showing only the files in your current Web site, and a new To and From window that lets you compare each file from your current Web site with the files in the Web site you are publishing to. The expanded view of the Publish window shows the status of each file in the publication list. Checkmarks next to file names indicate that the system plans to publish them. If you right-click on a file, the popup menu allows you to publish only a subset of the selected files or to mark a selected file so that it is not published. The only thing I was not able to do was to select a group of files all at once and select Not Publish. In the beta you had to set files to Not Publish one at a time.
FrontPage 2002 also generates a report that lets you know exactly what was published, updated, deleted, and so on. You have the option to view this report when publishing is complete as well as to view the published site. If something happens to interrupt the publishing process, FrontPage 2002 not only remembers things it already did, it remembers which Web site you are trying to publish to, and if you like, it will also remember your ID and password.
Figure 6 Reports Menus
In addition to these publishing reports, FrontPage offers an impressive set of site reports. Some of these are shown in Figure 6. Usage Analysis is available if you use either FrontPage 2002 Server Extensions or SharePoint Server Extensions. The server extensions collect the log data for the Web site and generate the reports. It also sends out an e-mail notification to the e-mail address you specify every time the reports are run. The rest of the Reports menu is native to FrontPage 2002 and it is impressive—especially the Workflow menu, which supports improved project change and revision management features.
Seriously Cool Stuff The Web Components window has so many great new items that I can�t cover them all, but here are a few highlights.
FrontPage 2002 uses the Microsoft Index Server search engine that installs with Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS). It will run comfortably with either Microsoft Index Server 2.0, which installs on Windows NT® 4.0 with Option Pack 4 or Microsoft Index Server 3.0, which installs with Windows 2000 and IIS 5.0. The Web Search component allows you to insert a search form into any page or Shared Border, shown in the right-shared border in Figure 7.
Figure 7 The Web Search Component
The Search Form Properties | Results tab gives you new options that allow you to set the scope of the search to the entire Web site, meaning the entire domain, the Web site you currently have open in FrontPage 2002, or a specific directory in the current Web. You can set the maximum records per page and specify additional information to be displayed in the search results. You can still select the old search page with all of its instructions, but this component makes it easy to drop a search field in a header or shared border for quick searches. This local search component can be combined with the Search the Web with MSN component (also shown in Figure 7), to broaden the scope of your search.
Bars with custom links and bars with back and next links are two new features of Link Bars in FrontPage 2002. These Link Bars require the FrontPage 2002 server extensions. If you are working on a Web site that does not have FrontPage 2002 Server Extensions installed, FrontPage 2002 will present a message in the description area of the Component window telling you that they are required for this feature. The Link Bar based on navigation structure is the same as earlier versions of FrontPage, so you shouldn�t have any problems with backward compatibility.
When you select a new Link Bar with custom links from the Insert Web Component window, you will be presented with the Link Bar Wizard to set up the hyperlinks on the Link Bar, and you can choose the style of the link. The Link Bar with custom links properties is shown in Figure 8.
Figure 8 Custom Link Bar
In FrontPage 2002, you can create any number of custom Link Bars in your Web site. All you have to do is click on the Create new button on the Link Bar Properties | General tab shown in Figure 8.
Your Link Bar can use the button or text styles of your current theme or any other theme you have defined. So, you can define multiple Link Bars—each with its own interface in the same Web site. For example, my fp10topics Link Bar uses the graphical style based on the Pixel theme shown in Figure 9 even though the Web site uses a custom-built theme called Southwestern. This feature allows you to create your own custom menu styles and use them whenever and wherever you need—from any Web site.
Figure 9 Link Bar with Graphical Style
If you insert a Table of Contents Web Component on your page, you can have it show contents of the site or it can be based on files of a certain category or combination of categories. So if you were to add a category called Help, you could create a table of contents for all your help pages. You can also have the listing sorted by document title or the date it was last modified. The Included Content Web Component gives you access to the FrontPage banner, Substitution (displays author, description, last changed, or URL information), and Scheduled pages and pictures.
You can drop dynamic Web components into your site from bCentral™, MSN, and MSNBC. These components can include items such as news headlines and weather forecasts (see Figure 7) to Web searches using MSN and dynamic hit counters from your bCentral subscription. In the beta, I found that it�s easier to delete a Web component from the page and recreate it than to move it from one location to another without breaking it; this should be fixed in the final release.
Database Interface Wizard Interacting with a database in the FrontPage-generated Web site has been streamlined and simplified by the new Database Interface Wizard. The process of creating results sheets, the addition of forms, and the ability to edit the database from a browser is now combined in this new tool. You still have the ability to insert results based on filtering or a custom query via the Insert | Database menu exactly as you did in FrontPage 2000. The database region is complete with field selection, filtering, and sort options.
If you want to use an existing database, you need to first import it and define it in the Web site. If it�s a Microsoft Access database, you can select File | Import then browse to your database. You can also import an existing database by selecting Tools | Web Settings | Database. If you use the Web Settings window, select the type of database you want to use. Once you have defined the database connection, the database name (Database1 is the default) will appear in the Database connection list on the Database tab. Initially it will have a question mark in its Status column. Highlight the database name and click Verify to ensure that FrontPage is really connected to the database. Once you see the green check mark in the Status column, then you can proceed to the next step.
You can select the Database Interface Wizard from either the "New from template" section of the task pane or from File | New Page or Web option. (The Database Interface Wizard is actually a type of Web site template in FrontPage 2002.) When you select it, you can create a new FrontPage subWeb for your database forms and views, or you can choose the Add to current Web option. The wizard allows you to create a new Microsoft Access database based on the form or view template that you are about to design, or you can select an existing database connection. For this example, I will choose the sample database connection (Northwind). Click Next to select the table or view that you would like to use. In this case, I chose the Customers table.
Now the real fun begins. Text types from the database appear as Memo types in the wizard and the Text Area field is the default form field assigned to collect and display this data. You can select any field and modify the type of form element that will be used to display the contents of the field. You have the choice of Drop-Down Box, Option Button, Text Area, or Text Box.
Next you select the interface pages that will be generated for you (see Figure 10). For this example I have selected the Database Editor option as well as the Submission Form and the Results Page. If you select the Database Editor you will be given the opportunity to provide a user name and password to protect your database. Next, the wizard provides a summary page telling you the pages it will generate and where it will put them.
Figure 10 Selecting Database Interface Pages
Once you click Finish, the wizard creates all necessary directories and creates the pages. When it is finished, it displays the new pages in the editor, as shown in Figure 11.
Figure 11 Displaying New Pages in the Database Editor
You can create form sets for any tables or views in your database. FrontPage 2002 will store each in its own subdirectory under the Sample_interface directory, as shown in Figure 11. Figure 12 shows the page in the browser.
Figure 12 Database Editor in the Browser
SharePoint SharePoint Web technology doesn�t require FrontPage, but when you install the SharePoint server extensions on your Web server, your FrontPage-based Web site can take advantage of all of the SharePoint features, like Usage Analysis, top-10 navigation lists (a top-10 navigation list is shown in Figure 7), and Lists, Links, Contacts, Events Calendar, Surveys, and more. The difference is that with FrontPage you, the FrontPage administrator, get to pick and choose which features you will incorporate, and you control who can edit what or contribute to what. The SharePoint features are listed in the Insert Web Component window and under the File | New menu.
The Microsoft SharePoint technology allows you to launch collaborative infrastructure to support group activities on the Web. You will find most of this interactive capability in MSN eCommunities and Yahoo�s eGroups. The SharePoint technology includes lists, document directories, and delegated administration. Browsers (that�s the term for a user) can subscribe to discussions or event lists so that they will receive e-mail notification when that item changes.
The SharePoint Team Services are ideal for small corporate groups who need to work on a collaborative project from disparate locations. It extends the potential boundaries of your file system and collaboration capabilities to Web-based shared document folders. SharePoint Team Service provides several types of interactive functionality on your Web site—discussions, contact lists, events calendars, announcements, and much more (see Figure 13).
Figure 13 Collaboration Elements
The SharePoint Team Services technology ships with FrontPage 2002 and Office XP. The SharePoint Team Services Server Extensions can be installed on either Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000. It requires the Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE) or SQL Server 7.0 to store discussions, lists, and contact information.
SharePoint Team Services are a technology add-on for IIS, much like the FrontPage Server Extensions, that can create its own collaborative Web site, or can add lots of interactive collaborative features to a FrontPage-based Web site.
SharePoint Team Services provide a rich set of intelligent, easy-to-use interactive features that support collaboration on the Web, such as announcements that automatically go away when their end dates occur, online surveys with graphical results that are updated automatically whenever someone participates, events that populate an HTML Calendar, assignable tasks, and a team contacts list that can be imported or exported to Outlook® and Microsoft Excel. SharePoint Team Services add a whole new dimension to a FrontPage-based Web site—and users only need a browser to author and participate.
SharePoint Team Services allow nonprogrammers to participate with assistance from a FrontPage Administrator. This technology will allow you to broaden your role as site admin while relieving the network and systems administrators of various time-consuming tasks such as adding users and controlling permissions on lots of little Web sites.
Delegated administration in SharePoint allows the site owner to add and remove users and assign role-based permissions to these users via an HTML interface. As a result, the site owner doesn�t have to have FrontPage and, in fact, doesn�t even have to be a content author. The site owner can add and remove features; adding and administering users and their rights can be done by a site owner using only their browser.
SharePoint technology supports role-based permissions that are much like role-based permissions in FrontPage. The basic roles are: Browser, Contributor, Author, Advanced author, and Administrator. Browser, Advanced author, and Administrator are the same as the FrontPage Browser, Author, and Administrator. The Contributor role includes the right to view pages and documents. The SharePoint Author role has the right to change pages and documents. They can create new lists as well as contribute to them, but the SharePoint Author role can�t change themes or borders or recalculate hyperlinks. The SharePoint site administrator can create new roles and user accounts.
The difference is that the SharePoint Web site owner can modify the roles. This allows groups to control who can participate, and allows the site administrator to tailor the rules governing that participation. The SharePoint Web site comes ready to use, right out of the box.
Systems and IIS administrators will be delighted with this technology. It�s easy to install. Setting up the SharePoint Team Web is similar to setting up a FrontPage-based Web site. A server using host headers can have the FrontPage Server Extensions on some Web sites and the SharePoint Extensions on others. Once you have created a Web Administrator for the site, the admin can take over the task of creating and managing the user accounts for that Web site. If necessary, you can limit the number of accounts that can be created for the Web site. To work with SharePoint you�ll need IIS 4.0, Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 6a, or IIS 5.0 as well as Windows 2000, MSDE, SQL Server 7.0, or SQL Server 2000. You�ll also need Index Server and a properly configured SMTP server to send e-mail notifications. Once installed, the administrator can install and configure the SharePoint server extensions on any virtual server from the IIS Administration console. Once SharePoint is provisioned on a Web domain, the FrontPage author or SharePoint Administrator can create SharePoint subweb or SharePoint Team Web sites right from FrontPage. You can use some or all of the SharePoint features in your FrontPage-extended Web site.
Conclusion Some software tools can actually make your job enjoyable—even fun. I think FrontPage 2002 is one of those tools. The new interface presents a clearer, more helpful workspace than ever before. I felt right at home from the first time the FrontPage 2002 interface opened. Whether you are experienced in the use of FrontPage or are just discovering the product for the first time, this new version puts most of the features you need where you need them, when you need them. It makes sophisticated tasks like editing and viewing databases simple and robust, with no programming required. While I have tried to cover the big changes in Beta 2, there are many more cool features such as multilanguage support, and voice recognition in Office XP that I�m sure you�ll enjoy exploring on your own. Have fun!
| For related articles see:|
Microsoft FrontPage 2002 Product Guide
For background information see:
| Marnie Hutcheson is president of Internet Development Associates (Ideva), a firm in Ocala, Florida, that specializes in Internet and intranet Web application design and development. She has published a variety of technical papers and books on various computing topics. You can reach her at email@example.com.|