Website Pros NetObjects Fusion 9 review

£116
Price when reviewed

Fusion 8 was billed as ‘the smart way to build websites’. Fusion 9 continues the theme, being tagged as ‘still the smartest way to build websites’. There’s no denying that the DTP-style site design that its predecessors have taken is quick and simple to use, but like many, we’re going to need some convincing that it’s actually the best way.

Website Pros NetObjects Fusion 9 review

It’s as well, then, that first impressions are good. We’re big fans of Fusion’s navigation tools, which make it virtually impossible to build a poorly structured site. There’s a whole module devoted to the site tree, showing how each page leads off from the others, and updating the links on-the-fly as you drag them around the branches.

Inside the pages themselves, the most fundamental layout tools such as boxes, text and image handles work like their DTP equivalents, with the border and layout spaces defined by tabs on the rulers. Dynamic guides appear when you drag assets over the page, so you know when they’re lined up with each other – a touch we found particularly handy when matching headings to fields in a form.

Familiar components are stacked in a palette for dropping onto the page, so you need only define where they’ll sit and fill in a dialog, and Fusion will hard-code them into your site. We set up a three-ad rotating banner in less than five minutes, which would have taken a quarter-hour of head-scratching in any other unfamiliar suite.

The guest book is also first-rate, letting you define compulsory fields and set up a password-protected admin space without resorting to third-party tools. The same ‘requirement’ settings can be applied to forms so that visitors can’t submit them with empty fields, and with support for ASP you now have a wider choice of platforms on which to roll out your site.

Version control is excellent and, as a bonus, doesn’t require a WebDAV server. A dedicated Versions Manager tracks changes and saves roll-back points. More importantly, though, it ensures that every member of a multi-user team will be working on each page in its current state. We saved version data about our test site on an FTP server, switched to a new machine and changed the Fusion work file. Reopening the local file on our original machine prodded the server, retrieved the latest version, tracking data (which had changed when we’d played with the file on our second machine) and gave us the option of an automatic update to suck in those changes. We could then review them and, if we didn’t approve, roll back to an earlier version. Pinging the server every time you open a local file like this does slow things down a touch, but it’s well worth the payoff.

At the same time, though, some basic elements are complex. A form’s action is defined using a palette of variables that will fox a novice and lacks some basic tools, like browse buttons for server paths to comma-delimited text files.

The amount of raw code you can edit is also limited, and even simple tasks such as changing a page title must be done through the Fusion dialogs, as that line is greyed out in code view. Experienced designers will inevitably find this restrictive.

They might also be disappointed by the way its output doesn’t always conform to W3C standards. Its style sheets were perfect, but we found our pages strayed from HTML 4 transitional, with the pre-defined templates throwing up multiple warnings. The bundled Tektagon Sunset theme invoked 28 such warnings in its default state, Champion Rust produced 34 and Artemis Blue, one of the corporate themes, an even 30. None of these would trip up a modern browser, but professional designers do take pride in having fully validated code.

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