When Fusion first arrived on the scene, NetObjects promised designers the kind of control over their Web sites that they had over print pages, but the company couldn’t deliver. Although version 2.0 made great strides, it’s only with version 3.0 that NetObjects has delivered a versatile Web development tool. Now sporting flexible page and site editors and strong support of Dynamic HTML features, Fusion has come of age.
Ahead of Its Time
Fusion’s pasteboard has always been one of the program’s killer features. With a pasteboard-layout metaphor, you create complex Web pages simply by dragging and dropping text and images on a page. Fusion generates the HTML code when you’re ready to put your page on the Web.
Previous versions of Fusion use complicated grids to replicate a user’s designs within the limitations of HTML. You can now also choose to use Layers, a new feature supported in version 4.0 and later browsers, to draw pages without the hidden complexity of grids. (The older, table-based system remains if you need compatibility with older browsers.) Fusion 3.0’s layout editor now supports a large number of Dynamic HTML behaviors, such as animated images and rollover effects, that are on a par with those in GoLive’s CyberStudio and Macromedia’s Dreamweaver (see Reviews, September 1998).
But not all pages really call for a drag-and-drop design approach. It’s much easier to treat pages with long streams of text as one large text block, rather than as several smaller layout elements. With version 3.0, Fusion’s page editor allows authors to create pages (including those with in-line graphics) entirely within a word processor-style interface, similar to that of competitors CyberStudio and FileMaker’s Home Page. You can also opt to use the contents of a hand-coded HTML file as the body of a page (using Fusion merely to generate navigational elements), add custom HTML tags within pages, and add externally generated HTML pages to the site structure.
The Site’s the Thing
Fusion’s other claim to fame has been the program’s integrated site-management tools. Since the entire structure of a Web site is saved within Fusion, the program can automatically generate navigational buttons and links on every page of your site as well as frame sets for those navigational items. Once a site’s ready to go online, Fusion automatically generates all the appropriate files and can optionally upload them to a Web server.
In previous versions, users had little control over how Fusion organized the HTML files. But with Fusion 3.0’s Publish window, you can specify exactly where you want every file on your Web site to be placed and what you want each one to be named.
FileMaker Enters the Picture
For some time, the Windows version of Fusion has been able to automatically generate pages based on the contents of an external database; the Mac version finally catches up in version 3.0, letting you create pages from FileMaker Pro.
You can place a table on a Web page that contains selected fields from a selected FileMaker database, one row per record. Clicking on a row’s link takes you to a detail page for a particular record, which lists other selected information extracted from FileMaker. This information is static–it doesn’t update when you change the FileMaker database, but rather when you reexport HTML.
Although it’s encouraging to see this feature finally come to the Mac, limitations hamper the feature’s usefulness. For example, the record table follows a particular format that is impossible to edit, and you can’t do very much to customize detail pages. Furthermore, the database-publishing feature is unstable: Fusion crashed several times when I tried to publish pages generated from FileMaker, and sometimes it took as much as a minute to generate a custom page.
Fusion’s lineage as a port from Windows has always been a big problem, especially the program’s non-Mac-standard interface. Although Fusion still won’t win any design awards, its collection of floating palettes, window tabs, and dialog boxes has been streamlined.
Fusion lacks printed documentation; NetObjects provides a 146-page Getting Started guide, but I constantly had to refer to the program’s full documentation–a 500-page PDF file.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
With NetObjects Fusion 3.0, you can quickly create attractive Web sites without learning HTML or slaving to make sure your site’s navigational elements are up-to-date. Professional Web authors and Webmasters will probably still prefer to design their sites using tools such as CyberStudio or Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit, both of which create pages directly in HTML rather than exporting the result. But Fusion 3.0’s improved flexibility makes the program a powerful, easy-to-use tool for creating and managing Web sites. After two years of trying, Fusion finally lives up to its advance billing.