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NetObjects Fusion 5.0Review: NetObjects Fusion 5
Product: NetObjects Fusion 5.0
Date Reviewed:
April 8, 2000 (updated June 10, 2000)
Full Cost:
$299.95
Upgrade Cost:
$99.95
Printed User Guide?
Yes
Order From:
Amazon.com
Webmaster Techniques Rating (1-10):
6.5

I am a long time user of NetObjects Fusion, starting years ago with NetObjects Fusion 2.0. An associate who worked for PC Graphics and Video magazine at the time introduced me to NetObjects. I was impressed with NetObjects Fusion over other products because it was aimed at Webmasters who wanted to focus on design and content creation versus programming. From that day on I was sold... well, that is until 5.0 was released.

The Product

NetObjects Fusion allows Webmasters to design Websites through drag and drop methods versus html programming. The product does all the programming for you. For example, if I wanted to insert text on a page, I'd just select the text tool, draw out a box and type in the box. If you want to bold a word you simply highlight the word and click the button to bold it. You don't have to code it (i.e. "[b]blah-blah{/b]"). The program is feature rich, making it easy to use and fun to design with. That's NetObjects Fusion in general. However, we're here to discuss NetObjects Fusion 5.0.

I found NetObjects Fusion 5.0 to be a mixed bag of blessings and frustrations. The blessings come from the program's ease of use and strong functionality. The frustrations come from the number of bugs in the program that are constantly annoying and sometimes impair your ability to properly design a Website.

Before NetObjects Fusion 5.0 there was NetObjects Fusion 4.01, a virtual bug-free and powerful Website building program that is a lot of fun to use. Webmaster Techniques Magazine was originally built with NetObjects Fusion 4.01 [which was later redesigned - on November 20, 2000 - in Dreamweaver 3). Version 4.01 is a blast to use because it allows all of your creative energies to go into the design of your site versus the programming of your site. However, 5.0 takes away a lot of that fun because of the bugs (and some of the functionality), which adds work. Some of the steps to accomplish tasks (i.e. publishing a site) have actually increased.

My review of NetObjects 5.0 is broken down into three areas below: Features, Functionality, and Final Conclusions. Hopefully this gives you a good idea of whether NetObjects 5.0 meets your needs.

Features:
NetObjects Fusion has always been rich in features and NetObjects Fusion 5.0 is no exception. From Master Borders to customizable navigation bars, the features of NetObjects Fusion make it a powerful tool for Webmasters. Here are a few of the features I like most about NetObjects Fusion 5.0.

1) Website Management. There is no doubt in my mind that NetObjects Fusion has one of the best Website management tools around. The product lets you easily (and visually) keep track of what page is where and gives you many features for organizing your pages. This occurs through the Site View (see image directly below). From here you have many additional options you can set by selecting a page and viewing the Properties (see second image). You can select when a page is done, whether or not you want to publish the page with the rest of the site, make comments about your site (i.e. "add CGI script for printing"), etc. It's fast, visual, user friendly, and very helpful for site management.

NetObjects Fusion Site Management Screen

NetObjects Fusion 5.0 Properties Box

2) MasterBorders. NetObjects best describes the MasterBorder feature (see image below) as follows: "A MasterBorder is the set of margins that surround your Layout. MasterBorders contain design elements that repeat across many pages, such as navigation bars and banners." It's a great way to describe it and it is an option I constantly use as an alternative to frames (which I dislike for many reasons). You can customize any set of pages to any type of repeating MasterBorder you want. It is quick and efficient and receives very high marks from me.

MasterBorders

3) Custom Navigation Bars. NetObjects 4.01 allowed the quick and easy creation of Navigation Bars that users use to navigate through your Website. The problem, however, was that the navigation bars weren't customizable. They were dependent on the way your site was laid out in the Website Management area. Not anymore! Version 5.0 allows you to customize the navigation buttons so that you can link the button to any page you want, even if it is an external page. This feature is very handy for me as I'll often build 2-3 Websites that represent a "portal." From the portal entry, I would like the navigation buttons to point to the external sites without having to build the buttons in PhotoShop. Version 5.0 let's me quickly accomplish this task. There's another great thing I like about customizable navigation bars in NetObjects Fusion 5.0. I can assign a button called "Contact" my email address and when a person clicks it, he/she can instantly email me.

Online Button4) Online Feature. NetObjects Fusion 5.0 has a new feature that I'm sure other software companies will be quick to copy - downloadable tips, links, and tricks for growing your Website. When you click the Online button on the right-hand side of the upper menu (see small image to the right), it downloads the latest update to NetObjects Fusion Online Features. The menu allows you to access areas Online Feature Screenimportant to Webmasters like Planning, Design, Build, Promote, and Grow (see image to the left). Every time you select an item, it instantly loads within NetObjects Fusion 5.0. This is a very powerful feature that NetObjects Fusion 5.0 has mastered and that other programs will likely copy.

5) Easy Component Implementation. NetObjects Fusion has easy drag-and-click components to allow the quick addition of media files, Java scripts, data lists, Active X, etc. These components each have their own Properties so that you can easily customize them (i.e. make a QuickTime movie Inline, with or without controls, automatic loop option, etc.).

6) Great Support for Internet Technologies. Whether you want to use Cascading Style Sheets or make your site compatible with older browsers, NetObjects Fusion 5.0 has is ready (even database tie-ins).

7) Styles. NetObjects Fusion has always been known for its ease in applying styles to your Website. Version 5.0 is no exception. Let's say you were just starting a site and wanted to have an organized look between the banner, buttons, background, etc. Simply go to Styles and view the dozens of various styles included with the program. If you want to change your site to a different style it's just a matter of one click (Set Style button) and you're whole site has a new style. You can even create your own styles.

8) Asset Management. NetObjects Fusion 5.0 Asset Management allows you to easily manage your Files, Links, Data Objects, etc. After I had finished building a site in version 5.0, I discovered that one of the URLs I had scattered through the entire site needed to be changed. On some programs you'd have to do this one by one (which could take hours). NetObjects Fusion 5.0, however, allowed me to go to the link's asset and make one change. The program then automatically changed the rest for me. I was done in 15 seconds.

Functionality:
It took me little time to find bugs in NetObjects Fusion 5.0. The first day I built and published my site, I noticed the program had renamed the URL of one of my pages. The name had been "content.html," but upon publishing the site, the name changed to "page10019.html". Upon contacting NetObjects, I was told that my site had become corrupted (already?) and I'd have to go through a recovery process to fix it.

Next, I created a Web page with a lot of text that I was planning on adding to from one of my Word files.. I copied the text in my Word file to add to the page. I went back to NetObjects Fusion 5.0 to simply place the text as I had effortlessly done with version 4.01. But 5.0 made it a chore because of another bug. When I double clicked the text box (where I wanted to paste the text), suddenly the paragraphs of text above that point highlighted and the position of the cursor jumped to the top of the page. I had to scroll back down and unhighlight the text before I could do my simple paste.

Next, I created a link. I then wanted to assign a specific color to that link, but NetObjects Fusion 5.0 wouldn't let me easily do that (version 4.1 did). NetObjects Fusion 5.0 wanted to keep the default link color without giving me the ability to customize it unless I created a variety of Styles and assigned each link a different Style. With 4.01 you just highlight the text and select the color. Done.

A quick Website that would normally take me an hour to build in NetObjects Fusion 4.01 was taking the better part of a day in NetObjects Fusion 5.0 and I was getting frustrated. But some cool new things helped ease the frustration just a bit...

Instead of having to click a Preview button and wait for Internet Explorer 5.0 to load a preview of my page, NetObjects Fusion 5.0 has a simple Page Preview tab. Clicking on it allowed me to quickly and effortlessly view the page I was working on without having to load a browser first (see image below).

You may notice that there is also a "HTML Source" tab. This allows you to view the HTML on the page. However, you can't edit it. You can, however, add custom HTML anytime to any page (in Page Design mode) through the page's Layout Properties. Because of NetObjects lack of HTML editing features, it isn't a program for people needing to do detailed HTML programming. There are many other programs for that. NetObjects Fusion is a program for people who like to design sites visually with little programming effort, lots of layout options, and great results.

Bugs aside, NetObjects Fusion 5.0 allows you to create very good Websites in a short amount of time. In fact, when publishing a Website in NetObjects Fusion 5.0 (NetObjects has a built in FTP program to do this) you can continue to work on your site while it publishes in the background. While a competitor is slaving away with detailed HTML programming, long steps for simple tasks, or waiting for an internal FTP session to end, NetObjects Fusion users are cranking out content. At last check, content was still king.

Final Conclusions: Overall NetObjects Fusion is a great product for visually designing Websites, which is why I use it on most of my Websites (I'm using Dreamweaver others). In my opinion, however, NetObjects Fusion 5.0 was released too soon. It appears that the product was rushed to the market (at the end of 1999) without thorough beta testing. As of this review (April 2000) NetObjects still hasn't released the first bug patch for the product (although it is expected by early May 2000). This, of course, has frustrated a lot of Webmasters, some who have gone back to NetObjects Fusion 4.01 or a competing product. (note: see my update at the end of this article).

Here are my recommendations to NetObjects regarding NetObjects Fusion:

1) Decrease the amount of steps it takes to accomplish a task (i.e. publishing). In the first image below (NetObjects Fusion 4.0) you can see that the selection process for what you want to do is just a click away. In the second image (NetObjects Fusion 5.0) an extra step has been added. You now have to access a scroll down window and highlight whether you want Entire Site, Site Section or Selected Page Only.

NetObjects 4.0 Publishing
NetObjects 5.0 Publishing

2) Change Layout Properties picture icons to text icons never make a user guess what a picture means. The picture directly below on the left is the Layout Properties box from NetObjects Fusion 4.0. Notice that the text on the tabs make it easy to know what you're selecting. The picture directly below on the right is the Layout Properties box from the upgrade, NetObjects Fusion 5.0. Notice that the text has been replaced by pictures, making it harder to understand what the tabs mean.

NetObjects 4 Layout Properties
NetObjects 5 Layout Properties

3) Add a function to edit HTML in the next upgrade. For the next upgrade a great new addition, which most other Website design products have, would be a function to edit a page's HTML. Many Webmaster select NetObjects Fusion because of its ease of use. A edit HTML function would help those Webmasters stick with NetObjects Fusion as their ability to design and manage Websites grow.

4) Thoroughly test the next upgrade of NetObjects Fusion before releasing it to the public. Some minor bugs are always expected in a new product, but not to the point where it drastically interferes with a person's ability to produce high-quality Websites in a timely manner. If the product has a list of "known issues" then don't ship it until those "known issues" are resolved.

5) Create more professional Styles. The use of Styles in NetObjects Fusion is one of the things that makes the program great. The product comes with many styles to select from, however most are amateurish in design. I recommend that NetObjects creates some styles that would appeal to more professional business sites. For example, NetObjects has a subsidiary company called GoBizGo that allows you to build Websites online (without a product like NetObjects Fusion). Some of the professional style options in GoBizGo which frame the site (top, right, left, bottom graphics) would be great additions to NetObjects Fusion styles.

6) Upgrade your Website with the new product first. When NetObjects Fusion is ready to ship the final version of NetObjects Fusion 6.0, I highly recommend that NetObjects first upgrade www.netobjects.com (or another important site they run) with the program and update the site regularly with it. This will give them a better appreciation of the frustration Webmasters have to go through when a product isn't ready to ship. If the site becomes unmanageable, due to problems, rest assured that the bugs will be quickly fixed since the corporate site is important for NetObjects to always have running smoothly.

7) Keep listening to customers. For the most part, NetObjects management is great at listening to customers. All messages sent to feedback@netobjects.com are read by management. When NetObjects Fusion 4.0 was released, it did not include a printed User Guide. This came across to users as a company cutting corners to make more money for itself while adding inconvenience to the customer who had to print the manual from the CD-ROM. There was an outcry from many users over this and NetObjects management listened. NetObjects first contracted a company to print User Guides for 4.01 that were sold at near cost - $15 each (for over 500 pages). Then NetObjects made sure to include a thick printed User Guide with all versions of NetObjects Fusion 5.0. This is impressive now days it seems that many company management people ignore consumers.

8) Always remember who your audience is. NetObjects Fusion is special because it is easy to use, feature rich, and it saves time. Yet with 5.0 it seems that NetObjects was trying to take the product a few steps closer to packages like Dreamweaver. In 4.01 a user could simply paste text into a text box without in being an issue. In 5.0 a user pasting text may be surprised to find the default settings create a table within the text box that stretches across the screen. If you don't know how to change this, it can be extremely frustrating. I recommend that NetObjects keep the functionality of 5.0, 6.0, etc. as simple as it is in 4.01. People buy NetObjects Fusion because it is easy to use and strong in features. Making it harder to use for people who are not programming savvy can quickly kill one of the leading benefits of the product.

I cannot, in good faith, recommend NetObjects Fusion 5.0 to anyone (yet) because of the amount of bugs that plague the program. I can, however, recommend NetObjects Fusion 4.1 if your interest is more towards layout design and less towards programming. NetObjects Fusion 5.0 is functional, but to accomplish tasks takes quite a bit longer than 4.01 because of the bugs.

My experience with NetObjects 5.0 has led me to register a new URL www.ebugreport.com. With this URL I plan to open a Website where any product user can list product bugs in an organized fashion that will be of assistance to companies working on patches. If this venture ends up being a great success then perhaps something good did come out of the buggy NetObjects 5.0 release.

Update: 6/10/00:
I've now had the opportunity to use NetObjects Fusion 5.0 with the patch for the past few weeks. While the patch does cure quite a few bugs, I still find NetObjects Fusion 4.01 much more usable and do not plan on "upgrading" any of my sites to version 5.0 except for those that I built in the program for the purpose of this review.

I don't know what NetObjects did with its text features, but text continues to be handled much better in NetObjects Fusion 4.01 (particularly when copying text from a program like Word and pasting it into NetObjects Fusion). I now await NetObjects Fusion 6.0 with a sincere hope that the majority of bugs will be worked out before its release via a thorough beta test program where all bugs found in the process are resolved before the product is shipped.

NetObjects Fusion has always been about making great Websites without a lot of hassle so that you can spend more time delivering content versus programming HTML. Surprisingly, however, NetObjects Fusion 5.0 increases the amount of time it takes to build a Website because of longer processes. There should be a rule at NetObjects that any portion of the program upgraded must decrease the number of steps versus increasing them. If I grab text from another program, I should be able to paste it without worrying about special format options that must be done to the text before pasting. I don't want a longer process to simply publish the site (why did NetObjects get rid of the radio buttons?) and I don't want to guess what graphic pictures mean in property boxes where text will quickly tell me.

I retain my rating of 6.5 stars for NetObjects Fusion 5.01.

--

Joe Tracy is editor of Webmaster Techniques Magazine and author of "55 Vital Web Marketing Strategies for Marketing Your Website"

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