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DATELINE: January 1999 Issue
Content-Management and Scripting Tool Still Teething
By Stephan Somogyi
UserLand Software’s Frontier started out as a scripting language, an alternative to AppleScript. Now, in version 5.1.4, Frontier has been reborn as a Web-content-management system. Frontier still houses the scripting language but also includes a lightweight Web server and numerous other features that can make it a Web-content repository, Web-site development environment, or Web-server back end.
It Slices, It Dices
For those familiar with previous versions of Frontier, version 5.1.4 is a relatively straightforward upgrade. But newcomers may find Frontier’s capabilities both powerful and unwieldy.
At the core of Frontier 5.1.4 are the object-database engine and the main database file, Frontier.root. Because storing all data in a single database can lead to corruption, Frontier 5.1.4 introduces the capacity for guest databases, allowing ancillary content databases separate from Frontier.root. This welcome addition drastically reduces the likelihood of crippling database mishaps.
Frontier’s new Web-centric identity comes from the concatenation of the system’s different capabilities. The database engine stores and delivers Web-site content, and the scripting language drives the Web-related features. Once a site is ready to go live, Frontier “renders” it, saving the pages that make up the site into static files. Alternatively, Frontier’s integrated lightweight Web server can deliver some or all pagesoften generated on the fly via UserTalk scriptsdynamically. Be warned, though: the built-in server is not intended for heavy loads.
Since many of Frontier 5.1.4’s Web features are implemented as scripts and attendant data, referred to as “suites,” it’s easy to change and customize much of Frontier’s functionality. Both UserLand and users can modify standard behaviors or post updates.
Frontier 5.1.4’s most prominent fault is a lack of coherent documentation. You simply download the product from UserLand’s site. The software is accompanied only by a basic tutorial that refers to online resources for further information. Although there is, indeed, a great deal of information available online, it’s woefully disorganized. For a new user, this can be a major setback.
If Frontier 5.1.4 were still a freeware product, many of these gripes wouldn’t be an issue; the Linux community is a perfect example of how an organic support structure works with ad hoc documentation.
Frontier’s abrupt transition from freeware to commercial softwarewith little change other than bug-fixesappears premature. Currently, Frontier’s price tags aren’t justified by the quality of the initial commercial release or by the resources and support UserLand provides.
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