FrontPage was operated by Microsoft as a platform where users could create web pages without having to write in HTML. This is known as a WYSIWYG ('what you see is what you get') editor, because users can see the content as it will appear to viewers.
In the 1990s, when the Internet was only just getting to grips with the dazzling graphics of Microsoft’s first 32-bit Windows NT 4.0 version, FrontPage was a revolution.
FrontPage was designed to operate on Internet Explorer, offering Microsoft an edge in the browser wars that raged during the late 1990s. By opening up web content possibilities to the everyman, it opened the doors to the Internet itself.
FrontPage was launched in 1996, and ran until 2006. During this time, it underwent several incarnations.
The concept was coined by US company Vermeer, who recognised that the existing Internet roadway way inhospitable for many users. FrontPage was an ideal starter solution. However, it came with many rookie errors and coding problems, which made it incompatible with most browsers. This was partly due to the need for server-side plug-ins.
FrontPage was later replaced by SharePoint Designer and Microsoft Expression Web. Both have the same idea, but offer more efficient and robust coding.
Anyone using FrontPage today will likely be running the 2003 version. However, mainstream support was dropped in 2009, and extended support was terminated in 2014. Hosting companies have followed suit, with server extension support dropping like flies.
Nevertheless, Microsoft still has over 50,000 FrontPage customers. Most of these are successful blogs and local government sites.
The selling point of FrontPage was its WYSIWYG status. As a forerunner in that market, it allowed novices to take a bold step into web design.
However, the problem was in its coding. These were the early days of mainstream Internet, and everyone was looking for a one-size-fits-all solution. The issue for FrontPage was that its solution was perfect, as long as the environment was also perfect. Shift a little to the left or right, and the content would be littered with meaningless strands of broken code, fragments of disjointed syntax, and useless tags.
Microsoft recognised the futility of battling onwards with FrontPage. They shelved it in order to pave the way for the next generation of software.
In its heyday, FrontPage was “the” way to create high-quality, professional web content. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was something that everyone was using, topping an incredible 1 million unit sales every quarter.
This was partly because it had no competitors.
Now, of course, the story is very different.
The main downside to attempting to use FrontPage today is that servers no longer support the required extensions. FrontPage has earned a proud place in its highschool yearbook, but it’s sporting a haircut that has long since gone out of fashion.
If you want to experiment with FrontPage today, you’ll need to download a retro Explorer browser and the necessary FrontPage Server Extensions (FPSEs), and you can get advice on how to do that here.
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