NetObjects Fusion has made a name for itself as the Windows web design program for people who don’t know anything about design, and who don’t want to get their hands dirty by learning how to code.
It provides a set of design tools that allow beginners to build sites using drag-and-drop, as if they were using a desktop publishing program, while at the same time handling all the site mapping and navigation – even including built-in widgets that offer genuine interactivity for things like forms, scrolling news, calendars, sounds, animations and e-commerce features. NetObjects claims that Version XII includes more than 300 enhancements, making it a substantial upgrade.
The program’s opening menu – called the Online View – lets you create new sites using a wizard or template, work on an existing site, access the NetObjects user communities for help and tutorials, or download free templates, site styles and stock photos. These options form the bulk of Fusion XII’s obvious enhancements – templates are sharper and more modern-looking (think WordPress), as well as being mobile-friendly, so they won’t send smartphone users running for the hills.
The program’s free photos are also excellent, and will go a long way towards helping many web builders get started with their sites – and NetObjects is currently running a joint promotion with the Fotolia image library, whereby new signups get 40 per cent more credits for the same money.
The new templates offer many of the visual and navigational elements users expect from a modern site, such as tabbed panels and drop-down accordions that allow you to pack more information into a small space without making the page look cluttered.
We also liked the so-called ‘Safe Site’ feature, which automatically backs up your project database either locally, or onto a network drive or host directory – but many of the other features that are labelled as new’ on the NetObjects site either aren’t (like the Site Wizards) or should have been there ages ago (such as the kind of descriptive URLs that Google likes, and Windows 7 compatibility). Elsewhere, most of the 300 enhancements’ are small technical tweaks rather than big whizz-bangs – worth having, but the sort of tidy-up you’d expect with any major new release.
Having said all the above, there are the things Fusion has always been good at – sussing out your installed browsers and letting you use any of them to preview web pages in different resolutions without having to leave the program, a fantastic drag-and-drop site map which makes it easy to organise large web sites, flexible layout tools for positioning objects on the page and a great working view which lets you look at the page, its assets and its place in the site map all at the same time. And, should you be more familiar with the traditional ways of web design, it’s also easy to edit the HTML code and CSS directly.
However, in the three years since the last release, cheaper alternatives like Xara Web Designer, with its intuitive and flexible layout controls; and Serif's WebPlus X4, which can also handle e-commerce, have come on in leaps and bounds.
Although it's more powerful than either of these, Fusion XII is also much more expensive. Thumbs up for extending the £86.00 upgrade offer right back to version 4.0 and the free Essentials version, though.