What Was FrontPage’s Appeal?
In the early days of the web, most websites were created in text editors. But right at the turn of the 21st century, software companies began to develop What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editors, similar to basic desktop publishing applications.
FrontPage was a breakthrough product. It was popular in many circles, including with corporations seeking to develop their own intranet sites using departmental staff with no coding knowledge. Image courtesy of Microsoft.
For Microsoft, this was a no-brainer. The company already had Microsoft Office under its belt, and FrontPage was the ideal addition to the Office family.
Acquisition of a Company for FrontPage
Microsoft bought Vermeer Technologies Inc in 1996, specifically to get hold of FrontPage, which it rebranded and paired with Office.
The main advantage was ease of use; FrontPage required no knowledge of HTML to publish a website.
It also introduced the idea of templated design, making it easier for users to create consistent layouts. It even became popular as a corporate intranet builder: any staff person could learn to use it.
FrontPage Hosting Features
FrontPage allowed its users to publish dynamic content to a domain, hosted on either a UNIX or Window server. Basic animations, interactivity, and multimedia could all be added using the on-screen interface.
This was a powerful addition to the web designer’s toolkit, even though the results seem basic compared to the websites of today.
What Do You Get?
Specifically, FrontPage Extensions gave you:
- The ability to create an intranet or extranet website 100% in WYSIWIG
- Collaborative editing on the same website files and/or same web server
- Remote updating of websites and web content from any computer, anywhere in the world
- The ability to add forms and search boxes to a domain
- “Dynamic Web Templates” — users could duplicate a page design, speeding up site development.
- “Intellisense”– This was Microsoft’s nascent code completion tool, that would highlight code typos and suggest tags.
- Split pane view — WYSIWIG on one side, code on the other. (Introduced in 2003)
- The ability to count the number of page views and display that as a hit counter.
This sounds fairly tame by today’s standards, but without FrontPage, this was difficult to achieve if you didn’t code.
What Were FrontPage Server Extensions?
In the background, FrontPage required the web server to have IIS Extensions installed to power these interactive features. These extensions later became known as FrontPage Server Extensions (FPSE).
Image courtesy of Microsoft
Without them, a FrontPage website would not render correctly. FrontPage Extensions can be installed on Windows or UNIX servers, but they have been criticized for their security problems.
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FrontPage’s Ground-Breaking but Flawed Features
Some features were ahead of their time, despite being flawed. The accessibility checker in FrontPage helped designers to check that their code would run correctly.
The FrontPage accessibility detector. Image courtesy of Microsoft
Ironically, Microsoft has never had the best reputation for standards compliance, but this was a step in the right direction at least.
In its latter years, Microsoft FrontPage included support for ASP.net and VBA macros.
Microsoft FrontPage Alternatives
The best course of action is to:
➝ Stop using discontinued and deprecated Microsoft products, including FrontPage.
➝ Start using a modern hosted site builder.
However, I realize some readers may have a unique reason for needing a site builder and host that resembles FrontPage as much as possible. So here are 3 options for you:
Host Your Own Server
If you can’t find FrontPage support, you can support it yourself by hosting your own virtual server. In my opinion as a developer, this is the worst option.
The server extensions that are required to host a website that was built using FrontPage do not work with modern web servers.
This means that even if you have the technical skills to set up your own server, you’ll have to use old server operating systems. Your website will not be secure or high performance.
Microsoft Expression Web 4
Microsoft phased out FrontPage in 2006 and launched 2 alternatives in its place: SharePoint Designer and Microsoft Expression Web.
If you’re trying to create a new website, and are used to FrontPage, Microsoft Expression Web is the most natural alternative.
It’s free to download and works similarly.
In 2010 Microsoft added HTML5 schema support to Expression Web 4. Image via WhoIsHostingThis.
To publish a website or updates, you create an FTP account through your hosting control panel. Then plug those details into Microsoft Expression Web when you click the “publish” option in the software.
Following that, you can upload your website files to your domain through the included FTP program.
The downside is that Expression Web is not being updated any further, so again, you’ll be stuck in the situation of having obsolete software in the future. The good news is that no special server extensions are needed for Expression Web, so this is less of a big deal when it comes to finding hosting.
Microsoft SharePoint Designer — for Intranet Sites Only
This software shares more features with FrontPage Explorer than Expression Web, but it’s designed specifically to publish SharePoint sites, not general websites.
If you’re building an intranet instead of a web presence, it could work.
A screengrab from SharePoint Designer. Image courtesy of Microsoft.
Note: in 2015 Microsoft discontinued SharePoint public websites. On March 31, 2018, Microsoft will delete any remaining public SharePoint sites.
Your Best Option for Replacing FrontPage: A Modern Site Builder
If you’re willing to invest a bit of time learning, the best option for you is to:
- Find a web host that provides a site builder, or,
- Find a site builder you like that has hosting built-in.
Some examples of web hosts that provide site builders include:
iPage offers multiple pre-built site designs to get you off to a fast start. These are all customizable.
Site builders let you build and publish a site using a simple drag-and-drop interface. They’ll be much smoother and faster to use in the long run than FrontPage ever was.
A good one will offer you a templated modern design with a wide range of features, including e-commerce functionality and loads of pre-built components and features like:
- Pre-built design templates
- Pre-built Image galleries and slideshows
- A variety of ways to display your content
- Pre-built contact us pages
- Built-in SEO features
- Easy ways to customize the colors, fonts, logo, and other features of your site
- An easy way to create 301 redirects
- Animation – from basic to somewhat sophisticated
- DIY forms including appointment setters, travel booking, email newsletter sign-ups, and more.
WordPress With the BoldGrid Site Builder
WordPress is a free content management system (CMS) that can be intimidating.
Some hosts give you a free copy of BoldGrid, which essentially turns WordPress into a site that you can edit using a drag and drop interface.
You can easily choose a pre-built modern site template. And you can customize it as you like.
You can start with a pre-built BoldGrid theme template, then customize it. Image courtesy of BoldGrid
BoldGrid is compatible with any web host that meets modern standards for supporting WordPress.
It’s powerful, simple to use, and comes with plenty of professionally designed themes.
My Top 3 Host Picks
Here are 3 hosts that I recommend. You can use BoldGrid with any of these hosts. But you’re not restricted to using BoldGrid as a site builder.
Image courtesy of InMotion Hosting
InMotion Hosting is one of the few hosts that give customers a free copy of BoldGrid.
In addition, InMotion Hosting has 24/7 support, and a huge number of high-quality tutorials and help articles. If you run into issues, you can get find solutions.
Image courtesy of SiteGround
SiteGround is another web host provider with great support, they have an extensive knowledgebase full of guides. You can use BoldGrid with SiteGround. But SiteGround also offers their own custom drag-and-drop website builder, which is easier to use. You also get a free domain.
It’s worth noting that SiteGround is one of only 3 web hosting companies officially recommended by the WordPress organization.
Finally, the budget option is Bluehost. It comes with a free domain (and unlimited subdomain sites if needed) on every hosting package, as well as unlimited disk space and bandwidth on most packages.
You can install WordPress or another CMS using the one-click installation script tool in your host account. It also comes with the Weebly site builder, which is one of the best site builders out there. Like SiteGround, Bluehost is one of the 3 web hosting companies officially recommended by the WordPress organization.
Summary: Microsoft FrontPage Host Service Options Today
We referenced a Microsoft support article that summarizes the current situation with FrontPage Extensions:
- The company no longer supports FrontPage Extensions on Windows Server 2000
- It supported them on Windows Server 2003 but ceased support in July 2015
- Extensions on Windows 2008 are supported by a different company, Ready-to-Run Software
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a hosting plan that still supports Microsoft FrontPage Extension software. As far as we know, iPage was one of the last hosts to finally pull the plug.
Not sure which FrontPage alternative to choose?
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Other features in Tools
FrontPage Extensions Frequently Asked Questions
- What is FrontPage?
FrontPage was a web design and management application released by Microsoft from 1997 to 2003. Using FrontPage’s WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What You Get”) editor, you could design a website without any knowledge of HTML code.
- What are FrontPage extensions?
FrontPage Server Extensions were plugins that allowed FrontPage users to directly publish their web designs and content from FrontPage to a live website. The plugins needed to be installed on the web hosting server in order for FrontPage’s publishing tools to work.
- Does Microsoft still support FrontPage?
No, FrontPage has been discontinued since 2006, and is no longer supported by Microsoft. All official support for FrontPage provided by Microsoft ended by 2014.
FrontPage was replaced in 2006 with two separate Microsoft products. The first is Microsoft SharePoint Designer, which is a specialized HTML editor for creating Microsoft SharePoint (a web application framework and platform) sites, workflows and web pages.
The second is Microsoft Expression Web, which is intended for use by web design professionals. However, Microsoft Expression Web has also been discontinued. It’s still available as a free download, but there’s no official support available for it.
- What are the benefits of using FrontPage?
Frontpage was an ideal program in the early days of the World Wide Web for creating simple websites without any technical knowledge required, back when such technology was brand new.
- Are there any drawbacks to using FrontPage?
Yes: it doesn’t really work. FrontPage has been discontinued by Microsoft and is no longer supported by the company. FrontPage’s WYSIWYG editor creates websites with outdated code that doesn’t comply with modern web design standards.
- What are the pros and cons of FrontPage Server Extensions?
Frontpage Server Extensions allowed you to connect the FrontPage software directly with your web host server to publish your website, bypassing the need to upload your website manually using FTP or other means.
The plugins, however, were plagued with security issues, including the ability for anyone to easily access and change file passwords. Because of these security issues, and the software now being long outdated, many web hosting companies have disabled the use of FrontPage extensions in order to protect all of their customers’ data.
- What are some alternatives to FrontPage?
There are many modern alternatives to Microsoft FrontPage, and the right choice for you will depend on exactly what you would like to accomplish. If you need an easy way to create a simple website with no technical knowledge necessary, you might want to look into a modern CMS (content management system) such as WordPress or Joomla, or a website building tool and hosting platform such as Weebly or Wix.
If you’re looking for software for designing websites from scratch, you can give Microsoft Expression Web or Adobe Dreamweaver a try. Another option is Adobe Brackets, a free and open source HTML editor with the ability to make live updates to your website.
See our article: Alternatives to FrontPage.
- Is it difficult to migrate an existing website from FrontPage?
Migrating a website from FrontPage may be a time-consuming task depending on the size and complexity of your website, since it’s not possible to directly export and import your web design and content. Instead, the website must be re-created using your newly chosen software or platform, and your content migrated manually. The resources required to do so, especially for larger or more complicated websites, may be the reason why FrontPage, though long discontinued, still remains popular among a subset of website owners.
- How does Microsoft FrontPage compare with Adobe Dreamweaver?
Adobe Dreamweaver is a feature-rich software application intended as a tool for professional web designers to create design prototypes. It has advanced FTP and jQuery mobile support, can switch between design view (WYSIWYG editor) and code view, and can even be used to develop apps. Its abundance of features, designed for intermediate to advanced users, may be overwhelming to those used to FrontPage, and it can be relatively expensive. If you just need simple software to build a website, Dreamweaver is probably not the right choice for you.
- How does Microsoft FrontPage compare with WordPress?
There are two different versions of WordPress: the WordPress.com blogging platform, and the WordPress.org software, which you install on your own hosting plan. With WordPress.com, you give up a bit of control over your website for ease of use. WordPress.org requires a bit more technical knowledge, but gives you more control over every aspect of your website. Both versions are free, and WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems available for modern website creation, making support easy to find.
- How does Microsoft FrontPage compare with Weebly?
Weebly is a free drag-and-drop website building tool, hosting platform, and WYSIWYG editor that allows you to easily create websites, blogs, and ecommerce sites with no technical knowledge necessary. You can create and host a basic website for free, or purchase a paid hosting plan for more features. Weebly is a good choice for those looking for software to quickly and easily create a simple, modern website, and a great upgrade from FrontPage for non-technical users.
- How does Microsoft FrontPage compare with Wix?
Wix is another drag-and-drop website building tool and hosting platform that is a competitor to Weebly. Compared to FrontPage, Wix is also a simple and easy tool for creating simple, modern websites. However, with Wix you’re unable to edit the underlying HTML and CSS code of your site.
- What hosts support FrontPage Server Extensions?
Many hosts no longer support FrontPage Server Extensions due to the plugin software being out-of-date and a security risk to their servers and customer data. Some web hosting companies, however, do have FrontPage Extensions available from cPanel but don’t provide technical support for them. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find web hosts that do offer FrontPage Extensions, so you may want to look into updating your website to more modern, secure, and supported software.