By Mark Daoust
In webmaster circles, fessing up to being a FrontPage user is akin to inviting your mother as your date to your senior prom: you just don’t do it. In fact, admitting that you simply use a WYSIWIG editor can often be enough for experienced webmasters to quietly chuckle, look at you with a “someday you’ll learn” look, and give you a nice pat on the back encouraging you to keep learning. ‘Real’ webmasters know three things: 1) Hand coding is the only way to make a website look nice, 2) The more your web programming looks like the screen from “The Matrix”, the better your website will be, and 3) that FrontPage was actually programmed by Beelzebub himself.
The stigma that has been placed on WYSIWIG editors, especially FrontPage, is not without cause; there are legitÃ¯mate reasons to avoid these web design programs. But the hatred for these programs is also largely unfair and website owners who are using these programs should not necessarily be ashamed to admit that they did not take the time to pour through the W3C’s lengthy, and frankly quite boring, recommendations for proper HTML coding. There are, dare I say, legitÃ¯mate times when using an editor like FrontPage is the best option.
Hand Coding Is Actually the Best
Now that I have ventured out on a limb and actually admitted to there being legitÃ¯mate reasons a person could use FrontPage or any other WYSIWIG editor, let me add an absolute necessary disclaimer. All this talk about creating W3C compliant code, learning proper CSS and HTML, and learning how to separate the design of your website from the HTML of your website is valid. In fact, it should ultimately be the goal of every website owner to have their website validate with W3C standards (Why? ChÃ«ck out the web standards movement to see why it is so important).
Here is the real letdown: there is virtually no way that you will create a W3C compliant website using FrontPage, and it is doubtful that any WYSIWIG editor will achieve this for you. Dreamweaver has made tremendous strides in the past year in creating more compliant code, but they are not perfect yet either. If you are going to reach that Shangri-la of web development, hand coding and learning HTML and CSS are the only paths that will lead you there.
The funny thing about all this is that once you become adept at designing websites using nothing but a hand-coded website with your design controlled by CSS and the structure handled by the HTML, you may just find that hand coding a website is actually much easier than fiddling around with a FrontPage or Dreamweaver. In fact, you may just become one of those webmaster ‘snobs’ who looks sympathetically at all the poor FrontPage-handicapped website owners.
Your Website is More Than a Website
Very few web businesses are actually about the website. Sure, the website is an integral part of your business â€“ possibly an absolutely necessary part of your business. Ultimately, however, your website is a tool of your business. Amazon.com, as an example, is known for their website. But when we describe what Amazon.com does, the typical response is to say that they sell books. Google is known for being a website. But when asked what Google does, the typical response is that they help us find websites that we are looking for. Site Reference is inseparable from its website, but when asked what we do, our response is that we publish articles and provide forums to help website owners succeed in the online world (OK, the last example is not in the same class as the first two…we’re getting there).
The point of all this is to emphasize that ultimately we are running a business, and a business, no matter how web-centric, is going to have more needs than just those of the website. As a web business owner you are inevitably faced with many different aspects of your business which you need to pay attention to, and it is possible that creating a W3C compliant website is not as important as finding the monÃ«y to pay last years taxes, or handling a consumer issue, or developing that new product which is projected to double your online salÃ«s.
We would all love to say that every part of our business is done with meticulous detail and that even our office spaces would pass a white glove test, but that is just simply unreasonable. The truth is, however, that sometimes we just need to get things done. And with a web based business, often times just getting a good looking website up is what we need, and then we need to focus on another aspect of our company that is crying for attention.
I have a very good friend and occasional business partner who has become quite successful as an Internet entrepreneur. He owns a very successful web hostÃ¯ng company, a quickly growing software company, and has launched several websites which have seen a healthy level of success. As much as it pains me to witness it, he has done all of this using FrontPage as his web design tool of choice. The simplicity with which it allows him to get something published in short order fits his needs perfectly, and although I still preach to him the need to learn HTML, it is hard to argue with someone who is currently more successful than I am.
Recognizing FrontPage for What It Is
If you are a FrontPage user, inevitably at some point you are going to come across another webmaster who, upon learning of your WYSIWIG addiction, will scold you for using a program that publishes what is generally considered to be ‘ugly code’. When you hear this retribution, be sure to accept it for what it is â€“ encouragement to take your website to ‘the next level’.
FrontPage, or any WYSIWIG tool, is a ‘quick and dirty’ way to get a website published in a relatively short amount of time for those who do not know HTML or CSS. That is its purpose, and it fulfills that purpose well. Ultimately, however, websites whose goals include wide-accessibility, easy management, low bandwidth consumption, faster load times, multi-browser computability, higher search engine rankings, and an image of being taken care of by a company who has the resources to manage a professional website, will ultimately need to go the route of being hand coded.
Using a tool like FrontPage is not something you should have to apologize for, but it also may not be the best long-term plan for managing your web based business â€“ especially when the web industry is setting standards that FrontPage refuses to meet.
At some point, bringing your website up to date with industry standards is a goal that will (or should) cross your to-do list. When it does, you may decide that taking the time to learn HTML and CSS is not the best use of your time and that outsourcing development is the best direction for your company. Or you may be someone who likes control of the important aspects of your business and may want to learn HTML and CSS to make sure that it is done correctly. Whatever you decide, making the move towards a website that meets industry standards will certainly be a plus for your business.
About The Author
Mark Daoust is the owner of Site Reference.