Web Development Series

Mike Lawson • Technology • July 1, 2003

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For the past few years this technology column has provided guidelines designed to turn readers like yourself into Webmasters. This has proved to be a reliable source for how to use most appropriate software to help you master the Web and build your own unique Web site.

Prerequisite: HTML Editing Techniques

Knowing how to create and edit Web pages in HTML is a good Web design prerequisite because whenever there is a problem, it’s nice to be able to fix it by hand with HTML code. HTML is a unique marking code because it displays equally well on the Internet for both Mac and PC platforms so projects display consistently well over the Internet. GUI (Graphical User Interface) or WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) software applications are slick to use but unfortunately fixing a problem can be a chore. But some products will display Web pages both in HTML and GUI, or a combination of both, so you have the best of both worlds. You may already own Microsoft Office 2000, or the 2002/XP family of products. These allow you to compose into your familiar application (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.) and then convert directly to HTML. FrontPage 2002, Dreamweaver and Go-Live are fine GUI/WYSIWYG Web applications that produce graphic documents with the option of fixing them in HTML or GUI. In either case, you can create and edit your Web pages more quickly and with more user-friendliness than by doing them in HTML.

Entry-Level Web Development Software Solutions

For those who are not particularly computer savvy or don’t have much Web development experience, I recommend using a word processor with HTML conversion capabilities to create your Web page in a word processing environment. It’s a great way to start generating some good layout. With the finished product saved to an HTML file format, you can edit it for posting on your school Web page. The three major word processors, Corel WordPerfect, Lotus’ Word Pro and Microsoft Word 2002 have the tools for generating Web pages quickly and easily. Word processors offer several advantages over traditional HTML-specific authoring tools. First, you’re already comfortable with your word processor. So, your word processor gives you a single tool to do it all. Word processors include rich text-editing tools, such as spelling and grammar checkers, auto-correction, and complex formatting capabilities. Word 2002 is so good because it has HTML authoring tools built in and is integrated through Office 2002 Suite with true WYSIWYG editing of HTML features, such as background and marquee text. It has a Web page wizard that lets you create a variety of pages, including Web pages, calendars and forms, and can toggle between viewing an HTML document and its source code. PowerPoint also has immense value for producing slideshows that can be displayed as Web pages with integrated graphics, photos and sound.

Microsoft Office 2003 System Suite will be released this fall. It is no longer a suite of applications, but rather a comprehensive, integrated system building on the applications you use today. For Web use, it is more user-friendly for sharing information on the Internet incorporating Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Web services. It does this by breaking new ground in the creation of XML-based solutions, which streamline the process of gathering information, allowing you to create dynamic forms, complete the forms and submit these forms to the XML-enabled systems. This XML integration extends throughout the core Microsoft Professional Editions 2003 applications. XML support in Word 2003, PowerPoint, Excel and Access 2003 allows you to move data between enterprise data stores or Web services.

Full-Service Web Development Graphical Editors

Once you have a working knowledge of HTML, the advantages of a graphical editor are obvious. You don’t have to type and edit all those crazy codes. Nearly all graphical editors let you lay out your page with tables, create framesets or even add some JavaScript. At the high end, a graphical editor can enable you to work with complex style sheet configurations and CSS positioning or other DHTML procedures. Best of all, you’ll generally do less editing of elements and tags by hand. There are four major full-service Web development graphical editors I recommend you check out to see which one best fits your needs. These primo products are Netscape Composer, Adobe Go-Live, Macromedia Dreamweaver and Microsoft FrontPage 2002. I will attempt to outline their strengths and weaknesses for you. Soon you’ll be designing and finishing Web pages quickly and, in most cases, painlessly.

Netscape Composer. Although Netscape Composer doesn’t compete in the same class as the other graphical editors, it’s worth covering because it’s free. Beginning with Netscape 6.x, Composer turns in a decent performance. It’s part of the standard Netscape distribution which now incorporates all the modules (Web browsing, e-mail, newsgroups and Composer). It is ultra simple to use. Just choose File, New and edit form, Blank Page to begin working with Composer. You can download load it from http://channels.netscape.com/ ns/browsers/download.jsp.

Composer features a number of different modes that are great for the Web developer who is learning HTML code. The Show All Tag mode can be used to quickly see which elements are being used on a particular page. This mode enables you to see potential mistakes such as elements, and double-click an element to change attributes or add inline style or JavaScript event handlers. Composer offers two other modes: HTML Source and Preview. The HTML Source mode is useful for seeing the source that Composer is developing, and for making alterations yourself when necessary. Preview mode is useful because it can show you exactly how the page will look.

Composer has some limitations since it isn’t really an XHTML tool, although it generally will create pages that validate to the HTML 4.01 standards. For those who may be confused with HTML and XHTML, XHTML is version 4.0 XHTML and has a few minor differences from the first three versions of HTML. So HTML and XML standards are not quite compatible with one another. For example, closing tags are often optional in HTML, but are always required in XHTML for any tag that enclosed some content. In HTML, tags can be uppercase, lowercase or a mixture of both. In XHTML, all tags must be lowercase. HTML tags that don’t enclose any content must now contain a slash. This tells XHTML interpreters not to expect a closing tag (now must be written ). Composer is designed primarily to edit individual pages. Pro-level editors tend to help you manage an entire site, including uploading and downloading the site. Thus, Composer is really a page editor, leaving most of the site management up to you.


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