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3/27/2006
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The Retirement of Frontpage Highlights the Evolution of the Intranet

Last month Microsoft announced the retirement of Frontpage, the WYSIWYG web design tool that has been around since the Internet became popular in the mid-90's. Microsoft is releasing two new products to replace Frontpage. They are Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007 and Microsoft Expression Web Designer.

Microsoft says Sharepoint Designer is "for building SharePoint applications and designing SharePoint sites" and that Expression Web Designer is "for designing dynamic, standard-based Web sites". I won't get caught up in the details about these products (I actually have not seen them nor read anything in detail about them) but the key point I want to make here is Microsoft's recognition that the needs of an intranet are different than the Internet. Sharepoint Designer is clearly intended for intranets (well, intranets based on Sharepoint) and Expression Web Designer is aimed at the professional web designer.

It may sound silly to say that an intranet is different than the public Internet but for how long now have many of us assumed that intranets are just a smaller form of the Internet? Although the technology may look similar their characteristics are totally different.

In my opinion intranets are about working together as a team, as an organization, as a company. IT should focus on websites or tools that help us work together more effectively. Although the Internet can be about working together (like in the case of working with other companies) most Internet websites are focused on attracting attention, selling a product, selling an image, being noticed. Intranets are about (or should be about) work, period. The Internet can facilitate working together but, more often than not, is about presentation and image.

Intranet websites should be functional, even utilitarian in nature. There is little need for sophisticated graphics or flashy intro screens. Intranets should also be about ease of use and sharing (not "publishing"). The job of a webmaster should be totally different on an intranet. Intranet webmasters should act more like coaches or coordinators, not a designer whose job is to publish web pages. Once an intranet website is up IT should not have to be involved. Actually, why do we need IT to create a website? Shouldn't that be easy too?

In other words, why were we using Frontpage for intranet web pages in the first place? Probably because we didn't know any better. I think we are starting to learn the true nature of the intranet and how it differs from its larger sibling, the public Internet. Maybe we should call it "Intranet 2.0". Quick startup, easy to navigate, simple to share and find information; all of these are characteristics found in a good intranet.

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