TECHNOFILE: NEW LOOK FOR AUTUMN

In celebration of its first year in this form, Technofile comes over all self-referential, revealing an ambition to conquer the Antarctic, and getting excited about the search engine that appears both to have the powers of prescience and to have created an imagist poem to the page
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The Independent Culture
Putting websites together fills the hole shaped like an Airfix kit in the life of a certain kind of grown-up, and the beginning of Technofile's second year in its current format offered an ideal excuse to give the Web pages a much-needed makeover. I used version 3.0 of a program called NetObjects Fusion, which is designed for building business websites. This was rather like using a cruise missile guidance system to find one's way to the corner shop, since the Technofile pages are pretty near as simple as hypertext gets. There's no call for Dynamic HTML or Cascading Style Sheets, though I dare say I'll come up with a justification for them some time. Christmas, maybe.

Even so, I was impressed with NetObjects Fusion's approach to business. It has several features which make it a very attractive package for an organisation that wants to create and maintain a smart, orderly site with a minimum of fuss. The most important of these is the SiteStructure Editor, which is the starting point for a new site. Here a family tree is grown, by labelling pages and shifting them around until the desired arrangement is achieved. This places the process of site construction on a different footing from that of other Web authoring programs. Instead of focusing on each page in turn, and then linking them together, it asserts that what matters most is the site's structure as a whole.

Once the user has devised a map, NetObjects Fusion translates it into a set of pages. It then takes care of subsequent changes, as well as providing a facility that configures the pages so that they look the same in both Netscape and Explorer, and in different versions of the browsers.

As well as automating much of the drudgery, Fusion offers a short cut across the creative process, in the form of some 150 SiteStyles that give your site instant off-the-peg design (the one I chose for the Technofile pages is called "Elasticity"). Of course, it's not the same as sewing on all the sequins yourself, but it could put an effective Web presence within the reach of many small outfits which can't afford to hire designers. Although the manual's cheery invitation to "build a site in 10 minutes" does not apply to the real world, a couple of evenings' work ought to be enough to provide a small business with a simple site that looks good and doesn't have any loose ends. Fusion is serious software, and not as straightforward to use as other Web-making programs, but easy enough to grasp nonetheless. In DIY terms, it's only the equivalent of wiring plugs.

The one vexing behaviour it displayed during the Technofile overhaul was a petulant phase of Quitting Unexpectedly. There is also a Militant Minimalist Tendency on the Net whose approach to band width resembles that of the Ministry of Information during the World War II, campaigning to stamp out the Squanderbugs, and demanding "Is Your Graphic Really Necessary?" Some even carry a torch for Lynx, a venerable browser which only displays the text of Web pages. I can't really offer any excuse for the wall-to-wall graphics; I just think they look cool. The minimalists may find some consolation in Fusion's Text Mode feature, which promises to code "ultralean" pages.

! NetObjects Fusion 3.0 for Windows 95/NT and Mac is available at a recommended retail price of pounds 199 (excluding VAT). Registered users may upgrade to Version 3.0 for pounds 65 (excluding VAT)

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