FrontPage is Microsoft's website development software package that allows users to create and set up their own websites either on a server they have actual access to or on a server that only allows them to upload content (such as commercial ISPs). The program resembles Microsoft Word as far as editing goes and includes the toolbars from the word processor. The software comes with Microsoft's FrontPage Extensions package which allows websites created in FrontPage to do special things, such as hit counters, search engines of the website, and other things. Using these extensions is optional, as FrontPage is more than capable of churning out stand-alone web pages that can be uploaded via FTP at a later time. The software is considered a part of the Microsoft Office family, although the two are not sold in the same package. FrontPage sells for around $250 off the shelf, but like most Microsoft programs it's available under academic and corporate licenses which enable the buyer to pick up a nice discount.

The first version of FrontPage arrived as FrontPage 97 for the Microsoft Windows platform. Many users despised this version as it naturally assumed that it knew more about web development than everyone else and would tweak and rewrite HTML to a format that it thought was better. As such, it would often steamroll over any type of HTML that it didn't understand. The software also assumed that the only web browser anybody would be using to view the website under construction was Microsoft Internet Explorer (which, of course, is a required part of the software). Therefore any web content inserted into the pages that was not understood by IE was scrapped automatically. The scaled-down freebie version of the software, FrontPage Express, suffered from the same problems. Microsoft heard the complaints from users of the software and introduced an upgrade to the program, FrontPage 98, a year later. This new version added some bugfixes and a new interface which divided the program into two parts, Editor (for working on pages) and Explorer (for uploading and organizing them), but the core underlying problems still remained. Web components in these versions include roll-over buttons, (easily broken) search engines, hit counters, mailto functionality (yes, FrontPage actually would rather you use its own built-in mail CGI than the "mailto:" tag). A Macintosh version, FrontPage 99 also exists.

Microsoft went back to the drawing board for the next version of the program, FrontPage 2000, and seemed to actually listen to the users this time. The program no longer replaced outright sections of HTML, although it could learn your styling of creating pages and "correct" any mistakes you might make with what it thought you should have typed. This feature can be disabled, however. The new interface from FrontPage 98 was also scrapped and replaced with a single Editor (which split in the editing window into three sections: "Normal" for a Microsoft Wordish interface, "HTML" for a plain spot to type in HTML, and "Preview" for checking new pages in IE), although one new feature of this version was the ability to generate reports on design and usage of the website to point out broken links and unlinked content. Unfortunately Microsoft required that the server running the FrontPage Extensions be running Windows 2000 or Windows XP in order to generate these usage reports. Attempting to generate usage reports under Windows NT resulted in a "please upgrade" error message. This version of the software also introduced the required online registration that was introduced with all of the Microsoft Office 2000 products, plus it began allowing use of mailto and the ability to save files directly to the server without having to upload them separately later (although, of course, doing so is still possible).

FrontPage 2002 is the latest version of the software as of this writing and is considered part of the Microsoft Office XP family (despite it not carrying the XP name). It builds upon FrontPage 2000 and adds the ability to create vector graphics right in the editor itself. New web components include the ability to place links on one's website to access content from Expedia and MSNBC. Like its predecessor the user can tell it to leave all the HTML alone and not mess with it.

Web designers have argued for years on the merits of FrontPage. Some consider it a great tool with many uses, while others consider it the spawn of Satan himself. Like all software, FrontPage is only as useful and helpful as we want it to be. Don't buy into all the negative hype: it is possible to build and maintain a website with FrontPage. As a web designer who has had to squeeze all the usefulness out of the FrontPage family ever since FrontPage 97, I've learned that the software can be tweaked and cajoled into turning out useful output.