Frontier 5: What is Frontier?


Frontier is an automated Content Management System, designed for technical users and website developers. It's the most powerful cross-platform website management system on the market.

Frontier is built around an efficient object database and integrated scripting language and an object-oriented website framework. A key component of Frontier is its built-in outliner. It's also a powerful multi-threaded runtime environment, with a comprehensive verb set, ideal for building server applications.

Frontier 5.0, which will be released on 1/28/98, is available for Macintosh OS (68K and native PowerPC) and Win32 (Windows 95, Windows NT).

Unlike competitive products, Frontier 5 benefits from integration of the database, outliner, scripting language and runtime environment. In the future we will provide the ability to run non-proprietary syntaxes such as Perl, Tcl and JavaScript; and will provide powerful connections to non-native database formats.

Also coming in future versions is more powerful text editing and site organizing capabilities built on Frontier's outliner, and in addition to supporting HTML-based sites, we will also add the most comprehensive XML support in the industry, working in conjunction with Microsoft and others.

Frontier 5 is a free product. With version 5.1, due mid-year, we will offer a commercial version and a free version.

The vision

Now, the vision...

On Wired's WebMonkey site, Jeff Veen explains object-oriented publishing on the web. He says "Building sites is not a redundant activity. At least it shouldn't be. If you find yourself spending countless hours building pages for your site, or copying text into templates, or trying to manage dozens of links, then you should be thinking about other ways to publish your content."

In a recent Sydney Morning-Herald column, webmaster Patrick Collins talks about the content management software they developed in-house. "Although our software is custom-built, a similar process of building Web sites is being used on many large Web sites on the Internet. They store their content in a database of some description in a raw text format. The database is then used to "publish" entire sections of the site by pouring that content into HTML templates. This allows the Web masters to change the look and feel of many pages by simply changing one HTML template and then re-publishing. The result is a professional-looking Web site."

Here's the scenario

A webmaster at a large university. Her public relations department insists on a standard look for pages, but they haven't decided what the look will be. The site presents the school's course schedule. A database of events that roll thru a home page. Sub-sites for each faculty member, written by the faculty member. Departmental home pages.

That's the market we hope to define. Large sites that are dynamic with lots of authors. A standardized look that's easy to change. Everyone uses their favorite text tools. The sysop has full control over the look and flow of the site. The links are correct without employing a small army of link checkers.

There are six key features that make this system work: rendering, glossaries, templates, macros, an object hierarchy and connections to standard tools. Each of them is a separate story, and they connect with each other.

Six key features

  1. Rendering. In Frontier, pages are rendered. The source text resides in Frontier's object database, and the rendered version resides on the website. Text and graphics can flow into Frontier from any number of sources: databases, text editors, word processors, email, page layout programs, photo editing programs. It's fully customizable thru scripting so you can make text and graphics move into Frontier anyway you like.
  2. Templates. A template defines the wrapper for each web page. It says what text surrounds the body of the page. This makes it easy to define a standard look for pages, and then change the definition later. To make a change, you change the template, and rebuild the site. Form is separated from content.
  3. Glossaries. Glossaries make link management work. A glossary is a simple lookup table. Each item has a name and a text value. When a page is rendered, any text inside "double-quotes" passes thru the glossary. If the term is defined, its associated text is substituted. The glossary is an elegant approach to link management.
  4. Hierarchy. Glossaries are hierarchical. The tables can contain a glossary that overrides the definitions in any higher-level table. In fact, Frontier implements a complete attribute system, with local overrides. This concept creates an object-oriented website which is the most powerful way to create and manage large websites.
  5. Macros. As long as we're passing text thru a page renderer, why not allow the full power of the scripting environment and all its connections to show thru? Macros give the sysop control of complicated pieces of HTML that must appear inside the document, or might change every time the page is rendered. All professionally-run sites need macros.
  6. Standard Tools. Frontier is built upon an open architecuture that allow developers to connect their tools to work in conjunction with Frontier. From browsers to email clients and databases, to web servers and FTP servers, Frontier can connect to anything thru open protocols.

It's cross-platform

Frontier 5 is available for Windows (95 or NT) and Macintosh. The Mac version is a "fat" app. That means it runs really fast on PowerPC-based Macs, but also runs on older 68000-based machines.

It's important to be on the Mac because lots of web development happens on Macs; and it's important to be on Microsoft plaforms because over time, more web development is happening there.

An integrated work environment

Frontier isn't just a scripting language or a database or an outliner or editors or debuggers; it's all of these things. It's an integrated work environment. Not cobbled together, there are incredible connections between each of the components that make up the Frontier environment.

Frontier's outliner makes it easy and fun to navigate thru object database structures: tables, scripts, complex templates and web pages, and menus.

It has a very fast, complete script interpreter that allows you to customize the environment. You can modify and enhance behavior that we include. Almost no decision is cast in concrete -- if you don't like the way something works you can change it!

Frontier is also a multi-threaded runtime environment with a comprehensive native verb set and integrated development and debugging tools.

Frontier 5 is for webmasters

Frontier is for webmasters, people who maintain sites with lots of authors, or people who manage lots of sites. It could be used for a marketing department in a company, a group of faculty members and grad students at a university, or for a web-based newspaper or a magazine. Consultants and agencies use Frontier to develop websites for clients.

The person who uses Frontier is someone who wants to create and then manage a rich web site, one that's easy to maintain and is automated (all the drudgework out of the way). He or she has users, people who use a word processor or email program to write copy; or use a graphic tool to create images or animations.

Even though Frontier 5 is designed for technical work, as Director or Photoshop are, we still believe that geeks deserve to have fun! So we've fussed over the user interface and added some great new bells and whistles in Frontier 5. We're going to keep improving the user interface to make it attractive to as many people as possible. We understand that people like eye candy. We do too!

A brief history of Frontier

The lead developers for Frontier are Dave Winer and Doug Baron.

Dave and Doug worked on outliners in the 80s, doing ThinkTank and MORE at Living Videotext (now part of Symantec). In addition to being a great website manager, Frontier is also a breakthrough in outlining software. We'll say more about that in future articles on this website.

Frontier started its life as a system scripting environment for the Macintosh. Version 1.0 shipped in early 1992. Version 2.0 won MacUser's Eddy award for best new development tool in 1992. Version 3.0 shipped in late 1993.

In late 1994, we turned to the web. In May 1996 version 4.0 shipped, the first version to include the website framework. We immediately began developing Frontier 5, implementing an outliner-based object database browser, and going cross-platform with both Mac and Windows versions.

Frontier 5.0 will ship in January 1998. Version 5.1 is slated for June 1998.

Frontier and the Windows environment

We plan to hook Frontier 5 into every realistic protocol on Windows, as we already do on the Macintosh platform. We're looking at Windows Scripting Host, DDE, COM and DCOM, even environment variables. Our focus thru version 5.0 has been to get the environment itself working on Windows. As we move forward, we'll add support for more protocols.

Frontier 5/Win will ship with integrated support for TCP/IP streams, both client and server. It's easy to build powerful Internet applications entirely within the Frontier environment in 5.0.

Frontier 5 is free

We don't believe people who say that the market for powerful web work environments will be small. We just don't believe that. It's like the people who said the market for mainframe computers would be under a dozen machines. When an important new technology comes online no one fully appreciates how big it can be.

We think the market hasn't really started yet. The technology has been lagging behind the market need. And the needs are just being realized, as sites grow in complexity, webmasters realize that they need to create automated systems for managing web content.

We've developed the ideal environment for web work. We're thinking long-term. This is the time for our market to grow, and for Frontier to lead the market. We want to get into all the nooks and crannies. Having a free product is the best way to do that.

We keep our costs down and use the web to communicate with cross-platform web developers thru Scripting News. We're going to win a large share of the market, and then grow our company into the market. By mid-year we expect to have a commercial offering, but we intend to continue to offer a free version.

There's already an enormous amount of web content being managed by earlier versions of Frontier. With Frontier 5 we lower the learning curve and are releasing a Windows version, so we expect to see a lot of growth in the immediate future.

Copyright 1998