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NetObjects Fusion 11 review


New support for modern web technologies can't hide the fact that NetObjects Fusion is showing its age

Review Date: 4 Aug 2008

Reviewed By: Tom Arah

Price when reviewed: £130 (£150 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
3 stars out of 6

Features & Design
3 stars out of 6

Value for Money
2 stars out of 6

Ease of Use
3 stars out of 6

These days, every business is expected to have some sort of web presence, but the average user can't be expected to get to grips with mark-up languages such as HTML and CSS, let alone recent web technologies such as Ajax and XML. This is where NetObjects Fusion comes in.

Around ten years ago, NetObjects Fusion's clean interface - clearly split into separate task-based views, each offering just a couple of large graphical commands - was a model of streamlined simplicity. Nowadays, that simplicity has been lost, obscured by toolbars, tabbed panels, smaller icons and more.

Worse, whenever you load the program, you're now greeted by the ugly Online view, which is primarily designed to promote domain, hosting and marketing services. Ignore the hard sell and you can get underway by hitting the Site Wizard button, which lets you choose from a range of 68 preset designs. However, many haven't been updated for years. If you don't want your website to have a retro 1990s feel, you'd be well advised to check out the range of more modern online Web Templates - each of which costs $30 (£15).

Once you've chosen your basic design, you structure your site in Site view. This has always been one of NetObject Fusion's greatest strengths, as it lets you add and organise the pages of your site visually, leaving the program to create all the necessary navigation as text links or graphical rollovers. To reorganise your site, simply drag-and-drop your page icons and the navigation automatically updates.

Once you've finished with Site view, double-clicking on your icon - or now multiple icons - opens your pages as tabs in Page view ready for editing. Creating a layout is simple, as you just drag out text boxes onscreen as you would in a wysiwyg DTP app, leaving the program to take care of the necessary code when you come to publish.

The downside of this approach was always that it inevitably led to some ugly and inefficient code reliant on nested tables and transparent GIFs. Disappointingly, it still does - at least by default. However, there's now a new option to take advantage of CSS-positioning and semantic XHTML during output - though this is so well hidden that most users are unlikely to come across it. The resulting code isn't just cleaner, more accessible and quicker to render in modern browsers, it's also more search-engine friendly.

After you've created the basic layout for your page, formatting your text is simple, using the Word-style toolbar or Text Properties panel. You can also quickly add images with the Picture tool, converting to JPEG or GIF, resizing and cropping as necessary.

Layout, text and images remain the foundation of each page but, over the years, NetObjects Fusion has added support for a host of other web objects through its component framework. Some of these, such as guest pages, password protection and video holders, are clearly useful on occasion, as is the new support for Google Sitemaps and Analytics, and the ability to incorporate RSS feeds. However, NetObjects seems most excited by its new range of tacky Flash components, which include animated pseudo-3D letters, numbers and symbols.

Thankfully, NetObjects Fusion 11 provides a far more practical and subtle example of components and dynamic handling in action with its new Ajax support. Using the new Multi-Layout Region tool, you can now add accordions, tabbed panels and toggle panes that the end user can interact with. Ajax represents the current state-of-the-art and, being able to produce such interactive pages without having to touch the JavaScript, CSS and XML on which the technology is built, shows how far a code-free approach can go.

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