Product review: FastSite offers easy intranet publishing

Even with Web page editors like Microsoft's FrontPage at your disposal, the thought of putting material on your company's intranet can be intimidating. Not only must you know HTML (HyperText Markup Language), you face tricky problems converting existing documents. It's no easy task to create consistent file names for all your pages. And whenever your documents change, you're faced with the whole weary job again.

If you'd rather not deal with these details, try Lotus Development's FastSite 2.0. Introduced as part of the Lotus SmartSuite Millennium edition in June, FastSite has been upgraded and released as a stand-alone Web publishing tool. Importantly, it now supports Microsoft Office, WordPerfect Office, and other key applications. It's available now for a 30-day free trial at the Lotus Web site.

Created with novices in mind, FastSite does away with the tedious task of HTML tagging. Instead, the program converts your existing documents into Web pages with just a few clicks. Simple dialogue boxes guide you through the basics of Web page design, including setting up a home page, adding site sections and hyperlinks, editing your pages, and publishing them to an FTP or HTTP server.

FastSite 2.0's main window is split into two panes. The right pane lets you choose the tasks you want to execute -- such as creating a site or converting files -- and preview your pages before you post them. On the left, a site hierarchy gives you a visual directory of the pages you want to put on your site and shows you where they are in relation to each other. Once you've added files to the directory, you can reorder them by simply dragging and dropping.

I tested FastSite using Microsoft Word and Excel 97 documents. To save disk space, I chose to create shortcuts to these documents rather than make copies of them. The only drawback with this method is that if I move those files they won't appear on my site.

The true joy of this program is that you don't have to worry about naming your files: FastSite makes sure they're named and linked correctly. You include files are by browsing your hard drive via a dialogue box. Sections are added to a site in the same way you'd add a folder in a Windows directory. You can add internal and external hyperlinks by clicking a page or section, or typing in a Web address.

The Web SmartMaster Look feature provides 34 colour and button schemes to apply across your home page and section pages. These no-frills choices aren't inspiring or original, but they do give a site an aura of consistency and professionalism that might be important in a work environment.

You can tinker with background, bullet, and font colours, as well as add logos or customised buttons, such as a Mail To button. Keep in mind, however, that if you want fancy graphics and borders you'll need to use an HTML editor in conjunction with FastSite, or graduate to a more complex program. Note that if you do use an external HTML editor, you lose the ability to edit your FastSite pages through the Web SmartMaster Look dialogue box.

Once you've added the files you want on your site, it's time to convert them to HTML format. This is as easy as selecting the files and clicking a button. SmartSuite or Office 97 files convert to SmartSuite/Office HTML without opening their original applications. Documents created in other applications can be converted using a Verity tool. Document conversion to the Java-based code jDoc is also available for those who install Allegis' jDoc viewer, which is bundled with SmartSuite Millennium.

The Word and Excel documents I converted appeared as neat Web pages with their original formatting intact.

Before publishing your site, be sure to preview your pages in one or more browsers, so you can make sure your site is viewable no matter what browser your audience is using. You can then post your Web site to any Web server or Lotus Domino server; just enter the path of the server in the appropriate field of the Post to Server dialogue box.

In short, FastSite 2.0 is useful for people who want to post documents on an intranet in a neat but plain fashion. Pages are easy and quick to publish, manage, read and navigate.

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