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Where is web site authoring in Publisher 2010?

Today’s post on the reduction in web publication capability in Publisher 2010 comes to us from Jeff Bell. Jeff was the Group Program Manager for Publisher and Text Services during the development and release of Publisher 2010.

For a number of versions, Publisher has filled a gap as an easy-to-use web site authoring tool sitting between the template-based web-hosted offerings and the designer-oriented desktop HTML editors. With Publisher 2010, we sharpened our focus to deliver great experiences and results for print, PDF and XPS, and email output. As part of this focus, we have removed the ability to author new web sites from the Publisher catalog.

The web and print are different

Designing for paper and designing for the web are very different. When designing for paper, you know what size page your content will appear on, you know what fonts are available and where text will wrap and you can be relatively confident that colors will be consistent from one copy to the next. All of these things behave differently on the web. So an authoring tool that spans print and web has to do one or more of the following things:

  • Limit features to the common set across the two media.
  • Force a user decision about whether the output will be print or web and present different features and experiences for the two.
  • Gloss over the differences and do the best it can to render to the constraints of the eventual output format.

Publisher 2007 does some of each of these with the general effect that the web authoring experience is not as rich as what a web-specific tool could deliver.

The web has changed

The browser landscape, the available site authoring tools, and user expectations of an online presence have all changed greatly in recent years. It was time for Publisher to change as well.

One of the ways that Publisher versions 2002 – 2007 gloss over the limitations of HTML is with a technology called VML. Introduced in mainstream browsers around Internet Explorer 5, it allows absolutely-positioned drawing elements (lines, shapes, textboxes, etc) to be placed on HTML pages. This technology maps very well to the authoring model for print in Publisher. However, this technology hasn’t seen widespread adoption in browsers other than IE. For those other browsers, we have a couple of fallback options: write out large chunks of the page as images, or write a rough approximation of the layout in simpler HTML. The first sacrifices file size and text quality for predictability; the second does the opposite.

In planning Publisher 2010, it became clear to us that our web functionality needed a major renovation to keep up with changes to the web. However, even at Microsoft we have finite resources to invest in a product release. We determined that we could not invest enough to make Publisher the great web site authoring experience you deserve, since this would come at the expense of a great print publication experience. Staying true to Publisher’s core, we decided to focus our resources in core capabilities for Publisher 2010, such as better photo editing, new alignment guides, new user interface to make everything more accessible and more.

What about my current sites?

You can still open the .pub master files for your web site in Publisher 2010. Opening an existing web publication is now the only way to get into Publisher 2010′s web mode. In 2010′s web mode, you should still have all of the web authoring functionality of Publisher 2007. However, you won’t find new functionality in this area. You should also expect that web authoring functionality may go away entirely in a future release of Publisher.

Authoring pages of web sites

While we no longer encourage the development of web sites in Publisher, it can still be a handy tool for the creation of pieces of online content. Save as HTML remains in the product and we see this being used to create individual pages of web sites or emails to be uploaded to tools that accept HTML. Save as Picture will also remain a popular way to share on the web chunks of content built in Publisher.

Great alternatives

One of the simplest ways to get up and running with a web site is with an integrated hosting and authoring tool like can find on the Windows Web hosting Gallery. If you need more control over site design, the best option is likely to be a full-fledged HTML editor, such as Microsoft Expression Web. This is a big step up in terms of complexity from building web sites in Publisher, but it also opens up a lot more capabilities.

Moving forward

I know that this will be a disappointment for a number of loyal Publisher users, but this was a necessary decision that enables us to deliver even better on core features.

– Jeff Bell