The last version of Frontpage I used was Frontpage 2.0 back in... 1997? Lisa Wollin, a Microsoft programmer writer, nicely summed up some of my Frontpage complaints on her blog yesterday:

When I write code, I want it to look the way I formatted it to look because I did it ON PURPOSE. When I put in a line break, I want a line break. When I DON’T put in a line break, I DON’T want a line break. Very simple, but FrontPage just didn't get it. This, of course, is a very simplistic view of what previous versions of FrontPage have done to code. I've heard of situations where FrontPage would delete whole portions of code that would then have to be rewritten. Argh!!

Well said. This review brought back some other Frontpage complaints I used to have:

  • Many Frontpage features require Frontpage Extensions enabled on the server. This usually entailed using Windows NT and IIS, much buggier than Windows 2003 and IIS 6, which today are many times more reliable. NT and IIS weren't mature products and not very stable. And this was before security was on Microsoft's radar. Most web hosts also charged more for these Extensions.
  • Lots of useless <meta> tags baked into the HTML it generated. Not as fat as Office HTML, but I remember it bothering me a lot.

In short, Frontpage was for novices, and did a lot to annoy anyone who knew HTML.

One of the nice things about working at Microsoft is you can download and try out any software the company makes. So, I've had a chance to play with Frontpage 2003, and I love it. What a difference 7 years makes!

Things to stand out:

  • The HTML it generates is very clean.  In fact, the code is better than what I would write myself. For example, I always forget to close my </p>s.
  • Frontpage 2003 incorporated Visual Studio's wonderful IntelliSense. IntelliSense is smart code auto-completion. It's very helpful yet doesn't get in the way.
  • Speedy. I'm probably just as fast in Frontpage as I am in Notepad. The extra stuff doesn't get in the way or slow the program down.
  • Frontpage estimates download times at various connection speeds. I'm using DSL at home, but I can see right away how long it would take someone to download at 28k or 56k a page I'm authoring.
  • Very easy to add some canned DHTML effects.

My favorite Frontpage 2003 feature is the new Split View:

Like the name suggests, it splits the window in half.  Type code in the top pane and the bottom pane automatically updates to show what you've done. Or be super WYSIWYG in the bottom pane, like drag links and pictures around, and the code in the top pane updates instantly.

It does this all while respecting my changes; no unexpected code changes. Very cool.

I used to be a super "Notepad snob" (or actually a VIM snob), and I still prefer plain text when editing pages with heavy SSI (like my personal site) or pages with other server-side gunk like ASP.NET. But, for pure HTML, I can't imagine using a plain text editor anymore. I use Frontpage to author all these blog posts.

Anyone have other favorite HTML editors? I haven't used anything other than Frontpage or plain text editors to edit HTML in a while.