One of the notable features of FrontPage is its built-in support for automated web templates. The main distinction between these templates and HTML templates generated by other products is that FrontPage templates include an automatic navigation system that creates animated buttons for pages that have been added by the user. It also creates a multi-level navigation system on the fly using the buttons and the structure of the web site.
FrontPage was initially created by the Cambridge, Massachusetts company Vermeer Technologies Incorporated, evidence of which can be easily spotted in filenames and directories prefixed _vti_ in web sites created using FrontPage. Vermeer was acquired by Microsoft in 1996 specifically so that Microsoft could add FrontPage to its product line-up.
FrontPage's initial outing under the Microsoft name came in 1996 with the release of Windows NT 4.0 Server and its constituent HTTPd server Internet Information Services 2.0. Bundled on CD with the NT 4.0 Server release, FrontPage 1.1 would run under NT 4.0 (Server or Workstation) or Windows 95, and was aimed at providing server administrators with a tool to deliver rich web and intranet content in a package as easy to use as Microsoft Word.
FrontPage used to require a set of server-side plugins originally known as IIS Extensions. The extension set was significantly enhanced for Microsoft inclusion of FrontPage into the Microsoft Office line-up with the 97 release and subsequently renamed FrontPage Server Extensions (FPSE). Both sets of extensions needed to be installed on the target web server for its content and publishing features to work. Microsoft offered both Windows and Unix-based versions of FPSE. However, newer versions of FrontPage also support the standard WebDAV protocol for remote web publishing and authoring.
A version for Mac OS was released in 1998; however, it had fewer features than the Windows product and Microsoft has not updated it since.
In 2006, Microsoft announced that FrontPage would eventually be superseded by two products. Microsoft SharePoint Designer will allow business professionals to design SharePoint-based applications. Microsoft Expression Web is targeted for web design professionals who create full-blown web sites. Both are partially based on FrontPage. Microsoft announced that they will be discontinuing Microsoft FrontPage by December 2006.
Some features that are part of the last version of FrontPage include:
- Help navigating through your site, and seeing your file structure, visually
- Built in image editor (MS Image Composer)
- Point-and-click functionality for common tools, like mouseovers, e-mail forms, and hit counts
- Simple to use with previous knowledge of Office products
- Integrated data display with Office products like Access and Excel
- Support for CSS-based themes (like ASP.NET master pages)
- When you change the URL of a page, all the links to that page are dynamically changed
- Task-assignment for team projects
- Content is editable from anywhere with FrontPage (password is needed)
- Support for rich clipboard data import (i.e. copy/pasting data from Internet Explorer into FrontPage 2003 will automatically download media resources such as images and save them locally)
Some criticism of FrontPage include:
- In previous versions, the WYSIWYG mode tended to generate non-validating HTML, resulting in pages that were optimized for Internet Explorer. However, FrontPage 2003 is capable of generating valid XHTML if the author requires it.
- In some cases, HTML that is manually changed in FrontPage's code view can revert back to incorrectly generated markup after making even slight changes in WYSIWYG mode.
- Because of the way it manages content as live resources, FrontPage is generally not well suited for administering medium to large corporate websites.
The final version of FrontPage is Microsoft Office FrontPage 2003. The company has introduced two new products to replace Frontpage called Microsoft Expression Web and Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer. Previous versions include:
Vermeer FrontPage 1.0
- 1995 Microsoft FrontPage 1.1
- 1997 Microsoft FrontPage 97 (version 2)
- 1997 Microsoft FrontPage Express 2.0 (free stripped-down version came with Internet Explorer, and could be found online from numerous "download" repositories
- 1998 Microsoft FrontPage for Macintosh 1.0
- 1998 Microsoft FrontPage 98 (version 3)
- 1999 Microsoft FrontPage 2000 (version 9) included in some Office 2000 editions
- 2001 Microsoft FrontPage 2002 (version 10)
- Microsoft Office FrontPage 2003 (version 11)
- Notice: There is no official version 4 to 8, because after Frontpage was included in some Office editions, the Frontpage version numbers followed their Office version numbers. Nonetheless, version numbers may appear in the meta tags of HTML code generated by these versions of Frontpage.