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OY2K Integration Anxiety

By Dale Dougherty
Web Techniques Magazine
April 1999
Volume 4, Issue 4

We were wrong," said Microsoft FrontPage 2000's product manager, Priscilla Mistele. Microsoft thought that most people would not care about seeing HTML, even less editing the code. When they surveyed over 1100 customers, 80 percent told them that hand-coding HTML was important. Microsoft changed FrontPage so that the new version, which is now targeting professional and office users, is happy to show you the HTML it produces. Like Dreamweaver, FrontPage lets you edit the HTML directly and it promises not to garble the code. What Macromedia calls "round-trip HTML," Microsoft calls "HTML preservation."

A Microsoft engineer who worked on the HTML preservation feature presented FrontPage 2000 at David Coursey's Showcase '99. Coursey commented that he couldn't understand why people want to hand-code HTML. He couldn't understand why, when he prepared documents for his conference Web site and gave them to his staff to put on the site, they promptly stripped out all the HTML he had created in a visual editor and started hand-editing it themselves. Jokingly, he called them morons.

Are we morons for wanting to stay so close to the code? It's a basic rule of Web pages -- it doesn't matter how great your page looks in an authoring program. It's the code that matters. HTML authors belong to the coalition of coders. On our resumes, we cite our proficiency in writing code, not in using authoring programs.

We don't want to be separated from our HTML because HTML means independence and interoperability. HTML lets us choose among authoring systems or use none at all. It lets us move from one operating system to another. It lets users choose the browser they want. Proprietary formats limit choices, and malformed HTML saved from a program like Word is just about as bad.

At Showcase '99 I got a preview edition of Office 2000 that included FrontPage 2000, so I installed it back at the office. I wanted to see if its HTML output was really improved. Supposedly, an Office document saved in HTML contains information in XML that lets you bring it back into Office without degrading the code. I also had a sample project I wanted to test it on: creating slides and printed notes for an upcoming tutorial. It's a problem to produce print and Web output effectively in the same program. If you create slides in PowerPoint 97, then save the presentation as HTML, each slide is saved as a GIF image. This means the slide can't be edited easily in HTML or indexed for searching. If you create it directly in HTML, you have to create JavaScript controls for a slide presentation and worry about the print output.

Unfortunately, I never got to use Office 2000 for that project -- things just didn't work out. I like Office for Word and PowerPoint, and I use Outlook to manage my calendar and contacts, which I sync up with my Palm Pilot. I don't use Outlook for email, and that's the OY2K problem. I use Eudora. I don't like Outlook mail, or Express, or Exchange, or any of the number of confusingly different ways that Microsoft seeks to provide me with email services.

I wanted Eudora and Outlook to work together. I would like to click on a name in my contacts list in Outlook and send email using Eudora. Messaging Application Program Interface (MAPI) is an interface that's supposed to allow different email programs to work under Windows. Unfortunately, Eudora and Microsoft each have their own MAPI program. If you choose to run Eudora's, then Outlook won't run; if you choose to use Microsoft's, then Outlook and Eudora will coexist but they can't work together.

Soon my system was as confused as I was. I was getting MAPI errors in various programs, but Outlook Express seemed to be the problem. "I don't need Express for email," I thought. "It's just a lite version of Outlook for IE. I'll remove it." I did. Then when I launched Outlook, I got "Microsoft Outlook Express is required to run Outlook. Install Outlook Express by rerunning Office 2000 setup." Oh BOY2K. I don't want to count how many times I rebooted.

So, I wanted to tell you more about FrontPage 2000, but I have been going crazy with OY2K problems. My email is messed up, my Palm III won't sync, and I'm trying to get my desktop back in order. This is the problem with relying on a single big vendor to provide your desktop software, your operating system, or your Web development platform. That vendor can promise tighter integration among all the components but, increasingly, you become dependent upon the vendor to supply each component, and each one must be as good as all the rest. You ought to be able to remove a component -- for example, if Outlook Mail is a weak offering -- and replace it, but NOY2K.

Tight integration is Microsoft's greatest strength but also its greatest weakness. Some people choose to build a Microsoft Web development solution because it appears that all the components -- Windows NT, IIIS, ASP, SQL Server, and so on -- are so well integrated. Some people choose not to use Microsoft products because they believe in doing the integration themselves and being able to choose all the components, now and in the future.

Thus informed by experience, I went back to Word 97 to prepare the notes for my Open Source Web Publishing tutorial.


Dale is the editor and publisher of Web Review and editorial director of Web Techniques. You can reach him at dale@webreview.com.


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