CRUISING AT MOK 1.0

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NetObjects Fusion saves Web designers from HTML hell. By Sam McMillan

HTML is dead; the point and click Web site has arrived; Net-Objects Fusion is here. The $695 (suggested retail) software, from Redwood City, Calif.-based NetObjects Inc. (www.netobjects.com), delivers the goods: a highly visual, intuitive and extremely robust set of Web site building tools that is so simple a VP-marketing can build a site, create a look and feel, pour in copy, then publish it to an Internet service provider's host server in less than an hour.

And that's just for starters. Designers will love the way NetObjects Fusion protects them from HTML, providing a virtual page-by-page view of their Web site grid onto which they can build the elements of their Web pages. The ultimate in "what you see is what you get" Web design, NetObjects Fusion enables users to nudge, tweak and revise their work on a pixel by pixel basis.

The fact that creative directors, designers and art directors finally have a Web building tool to call their own should come as no surprise, considering that one of the founders of NetObjects and its chief creative officer is Clement Mok, a leading digital designer and information architect and the founder of San Francisco-based Studio Archetype (formerly known as Clement Mok Design). Known affectionately as Mok in a Box, NetObjects Fusion does a remarkable job of capturing Mok's architectural approach to site design, his design vision, as well as his insistence that designers be provided with a tool that works the way they work.

One of the unspoken truisms of software development is that end users don't just buy a tool, they buy a programmer's world view. For $695 you get a distilled version of Mok's, and that's a bargain. In addition to a vast array of predesigned, predefined templates called AutoSites-with which you can build a complete, ready to publish Web site with a single button click (just add your own text to personalize, or include graphics and logos)-you get Mok's rigorous, structural approach to creating sites.

As one of the foremost practitioners of Information Architecture (the practice of organizing information to heighten, clarify and reveal meaning), Mok's world view begins with a good hard look at the basic structure of the Web site. Click on the Site button, and you get an easy-to-use flow charting tool that jump starts the absolutely critical process of architecting your site. Thanks to the wonders of the object oriented code that works behind the scenes, the flow chart automatically creates Web pages, banners, buttons and hyperlinks. Revise your flow chart pages and the buttons, banners and links move with the pages.

Once the site architecture is in place, individual pages can be built using the Page tool. A virtual pasteboard provides designers with a familiar gridded approach to page design. A floating tool palette and click and drag functionality means that designers work in a visual, integrated environment. Virtually any content can be placed and sized on the page. Simply by clicking onto the page grid and drawing out a window, users can place art elements, create tables, draw their own shapes, or add text. NetObjects supports rich media like inline video and audio, interactive forms, Shockwave, JavaScripts and links to databases. An Image Map generator turns large graphics into a sophisticated menu of hotspots, enabling designers to provide a visual way to link graphics and pages.

With pages laid out, the Style button can apply a visual style to all of the site banners, navigational buttons, data list icons, even linked-text colors. A menu of more than 50 styles are available, including several from design luminaries such as Seymour Chwast, Michael Cronan and Michael Mabry. One button click and the design style is flowed through the entire site, automatically creating a consistent look and feel. With a click on the Preview button, designers can see their handiwork revealed in their browser of choice.

An Assets button provides designers with a simple way of managing their art assets, updating graphic changes throughout the site and automatically revising links. Now that all pages are designed and links are in place, the last step is to publish the site to the Internet, and NetObjects Fusion makes this extraordinarily easy. Click the Publish button and a dialogue window opens that walks users through the steps they need to transfer their site to their Internet service provider. With the information supplied from an ISP, users can key in the identities of their Remote Host, their Base Directory and CGI Directory. Enter name and password, and presto! Instant Web site. Now count the hits.

NetObjects Fusion is available for Microsoft Windows 95 or Windows NT 3.51 or later. A Macintosh-compatible version is expected to ship by the end of this year.

San Francisco-based Sam McMillan is an interactive scriptwriter and multimedia

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