Yesterday, Microsoft announced that it's completely redesigned the next version of its Microsoft Office System Web authoring tool, Microsoft Office FrontPage 2003, to take advantage of new technologies such as XML, Web services, and data-driven Web sites. FrontPage 2003 maintains the same ease of use as earlier editions, the company says, but now includes advanced support for sophisticated Web site development that makes the tool suitable for developers as well as knowledge workers.

"We've completely reinvented and revamped FrontPage with this release," Rob Mauceri, a lead FrontPage program manager, told me this week. "It's come a long way and is a much more powerful product than before." FrontPage 2003 is the first commercially available Extensible Style Language Transformations (XSLT) editor, Mauceri said, and the product can now work with live back-end data from XML files, OLE DB connections, databases, Web services, and other sources, presenting live data in its WYSIWYG design and development environment. FrontPage 2003 can also elegantly handle conditional formatting and repeating data, for the first time making it truly easy to create data-driven Web sites.

In addition, Microsoft worked to ensure that FrontPage's oft-criticized source code editor won't damage code the way earlier versions have done. FrontPage 2003 now includes a Visual Studio (VS)-like editor, complete with professional developer features such as IntelliSense, which creates clean source code and doesn't change source code that the developer writes manually. "We've really worked hard to ensure that we generate clean, industry-standard code," Mauceri said. "It's completely transparent, with no more Web boots and no code hiding. We use the Visual Studio coding engine, so if you're familiar with Visual Studio, you can take advantage of some of the same tools."

FrontPage 2003 Beta 2 is available publicly as part of the Office System Beta 2 Kit, and Microsoft will provide a free downloadable update to that code through the Office System Beta 2 Refresh, due any day now. FrontPage 2003 will ship as a standalone product in late summer, the company says, and pricing will be available at that time.