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NetObjects Fusion 4.0

NetObjects Fusion 4.0

As I sat down with NetObjects Fusion 4.0 for the first time, I was curious to discover what it could offer a professional Web designer and host like myself. What I found was an impressive product for creating sophisticated business Web sites targeting electronic commerce.

NetObjects Fusion 4.0, which has been touted as "The fastest, easiest way to build business Web sites," really measures up. It enables you to build, manage and update Web sites immediately and efficiently.

Time is of the essence to Web designers. With increasing awareness as to what the Internet is and its incredible potential, more and more businesses are clamoring to go online. NetObjects Fusion's WYSIWYG environment lets you build a business site quickly. It automatically generates HTML and script code, which is required by a browser to display pages or to connect to databases and applications. The drag-and-drop SiteStructure Editor makes it easy for anyone to use. Rearranging, adding or deleting pages can be accomplished without the worry of broken links.

One of the toughest tasks faced when creating a Web site is producing a dynamic and interactive site that will peak the user's interest. NetObjects Fusion 4.0 addresses this with its smooth integration of third-party products and technologies within the new Java-based component architecture. The connectors that are bundled with 4.0 are iCat's Commerce, IBM HotMedia, Lotus Domino, Microsoft Active Server Pages and Allaire's ColdFusion. These connectors make it easy for developers to build an impressive site that includes e-commerce applications for ordering and payments. As a big advocate of Allaire's ColdFusion Application Server, I was especially thrilled to find this connector offering Web site dynamics without my having to spend hours writing complicated scripts. The same applies to the ASP connector, which forgoes the tedious script writing for Java-based wizards.

In reviewing Fusion 4.0, I built a test site in order to play around with it. The results were a very professional-looking business Web site created in a little over four hours of design time. I especially appreciated the new table tool, which offers HTML table specification while supporting my desire to customize the HTML for cells, rows and columns.

Another feature, which I was really pleased with, was the ability to drag and drop a database right onto the page layout for live connectivity. I also had full control over the database table by using the Properties palette. The ease of use coupled with user control, which NetObjects Fusion 4.0 renders, makes it a definite asset to professional Web designers.

NetObjects Fusion's five main functions are Site, Page, Style, Assets and Publish.

The SiteStructure Editor displays a tree structure and outline of your complete Web site (see Figure 1).

Dragging and dropping page icons allows you to add pages, insert templates or import an entire site or any portion of it to NetObjects Fusion.

The Page View feature lets you lay out pages in whatever mode you choose. For text pages, the text-based editor serves as a word processor. If hand-coding is required, HomeSite 4.0 is included for HTML integration. If a page is graphics-intense, the graphics editor is available with rules, guides, alignment and an intuitive interface. Graphics can be placed precisely where they'll appear on the page with pixel-level control.

The SiteStyle Editor offers programmers hundreds of professional-looking site templates. SiteStyle elements include Banners, Primary Navigation Buttons, Secondary Navigation Buttons, Mouseover Buttons, Backgrounds, Lines, DataList Icons, Text Color, Link Text Color and Visited Text Color. You can also customize a design or create your own.

The Assets Manager contains your image file indexes, which allow you to centrally manage the resources in your Web site.

The Publish feature permits you to upload your full site or just updated pages to any server with Everywhere HTML (see Figure 2). NetObjects Fusion generates HTML that can be optimized for browser versions 2, 3 or 4. For sites using DHTML, Fusion 4.0 creates code that works with both Microsoft and Netscape 4 browsers.

To make your Web site more profitable, NetObjects Fusion components enable you to build a site that works with turnkey e-commerce systems such as Breakthrough. New to 4.0 are e-commerce elements that drag and drop onto the Layout Editor. You can now link an iCat Commerce Online Server to your site or use the included IBM Media to create a powerful online shopping experience. Also available are forms for collecting customer information, which are constructed using a special toolbar for dragging and dropping buttons, text-entry fields and other components. Fusion 4.0 also offers a JavaBeans tool that gives you full control over its actions, and an ad banner tool for creating eye-catching rotating banners (see Figure 3).

With the release of Fusion 4.0, NetObjects launched a Web site to assist designers in utilizing the full potential of the program. EFuse.com offers Web site building tips, tricks, articles, discussion groups and much more. EFuse.com is a great forum for any designer building a business site.

NetObjects Fusion 4.0 is an invaluable tool for both novice and accomplished Web site designers alike. Its ease of use makes it possible for anyone to create a professional business site with the potential of realizing immense Internet success. As a Web designer and host, NetObjects Fusion's open site environment allows me to maintain the creativity and flexibility of site design that I want, while integrating the latest technologies to create compelling, dynamic Web sites. I look forward to utilizing NetObjects Fusion 4.0 in my pursuit of achieving an optimum Web presence for my customers.

More Stories By Shawn Cowman

Shawn Cowman is co-owner and senior Web developer
of intelistor, a Web hosting and design company
specializing in ColdFusion development. Shawn can be reached via e-mail at scowman@intelistor.com

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