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Teach Yourself HTML 3.2 in 24 Hours

Teach Yourself HTML 3.2 in 24 Hours


Hour 23

Web Site Authoring Tools

At the beginning of this book, I encouraged you to start creating HTML pages with the text editor or word processor that you are most familiar with. Now that you've got HTML under your belt, however, you should consider switching to one of the many software packages especially designed for creating Web pages. This chapter helps you choose the software that is best for you, and introduces some of the best and most popular HTML authoring tools.

There are essentially four types of HTML authoring tools:

Which software you should use depends on the size you expect your Web site to be, and the number of people who are working with you to create it. It also depends somewhat on your personal tastes and skills. This chapter gives you the information you need to make an informed decision on which software is worth evaluating for yourself.

Text Editors Versus Graphical Editors

"What-you-see-is-what-you-get" (WYSIWYG) Web page editors like Netscape Composer (formerly known as Navigator Gold) incorporate a Web browser that attempts to show the Web page with graphics and special formatting as you build it. (See Figure 23.1.) The attraction of this sort of editor is that you theoretically don't have to even learn HTML to create Web pages.

Figure 23.1. Netscape Composer is a Web browser with a built-in Web page editor (or vice versa, depending on how you look at it).

Most Web page authors, however, prefer using a text editor that shows the actual HTML commands. Any word processor or text editor will do, though specialized HTML editors, such as the HTMLed program in Figure 23.2, offer convenient buttons and menu commands that can save you a lot of typing. Some HTML editors also automatically highlight HTML tags, which makes them easier to read.

Figure 23.2. With HTMLed, you edit the HTML source code for a Web page directly.

Why would you want to type HTML commands yourself instead of letting a graphical editor like Netscape Navigator Gold write them for you? There are at least five good reasons:

Graphical WYSIWYG editors are best when you only need very simple pages--or if you are a very slow typist! The next generation of graphical editors, however, promises to offer more complete support for all HTML options and more efficient user-interfaces. You may want to have a look at new graphical editors as they come out, but meanwhile I recommend that all serious Web page authors stick to "the real thing"--straight, unadulterated HTML text. To Do: You'll find objective and thorough reviews of all the major Web page editors at The Ultimate Collection of Winsock Software (TUCOWS) at:

http://tucows.mcp.com/

HTML Support Within Applications

If you already use a word processor or page layout program, you may not have to switch software to get the convenient HTML shortcuts that a specialized HTML editor provides. The latest versions of almost all business software include support for HTML, and even older word processors can be enhanced with add-ons for building Web pages.

All the applications in the Microsoft Office 97 suite, for example, include the ability to open, edit, and save HTML pages. Microsoft also offers a free add-on for Word 7.0 (and other Microsoft Office 95 programs) called Internet Assistant. You can download this add-on at:

http://www.microsoft.com./msword/internet/ia/

As Figure 23.3 illustrates, Internet Assistant allows you to create HTML headings, lists, and other Web page formatting commands by selecting from pull-down lists. You can also make hypertext links directly within Word, as shown in Figure 23.4.

Figure 23.3. Internet Assistant adds drop-down lists for most HTML tags to Microsoft Word.

Figure 23.4. Internet Assistant also lets you create hypertext links within Microsoft Word.

Internet Assistant for Word 7.0 (and Office 7.0) includes a built-in Web browser, as shown in Figure 23.5. Though this browser does a good job of showing basic HTML text and images, it doesn't support many of the advanced features of standalone Web browsers. For this reason, other applications and add-ons prefer to rely on Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer for viewing Web pages.

Figure 23.5. Word with Internet Assistant, like many Web-enabled applications, includes a built-in Web browser.

Though specialized Web editing programs are still the most popular choice among Web page authors, the trend of the future is definitely toward HTML-enabled applications. Expect upcoming versions of your favorite software to meet or exceed the Web page editing capabilities of today's standalone HTML editors.


Time Saver: HTML-enabled applications and add-ons are especially useful for converting existing documents into HTML. In many cases, you can simply open a document and choose an "export as HTML" option to add HTML paragraph breaks, text formatting, and sometimes even image tags. This can be dramatically faster than adding all those tags by hand.

Web Site Management and Authoring Tools

All of the options discussed so far in this chapter are intended to help you build Web sites one page at a time. But planning, implementing, and managing a large Web site today can involve far more than writing HTML. For help with higher-level tasks like organizing your pages, automatic link verification and testing, multi-author version tracking, and multimedia Web publishing, you'll need to turn to more complex software tools.

To help you understand what these tools can do for you, let's take a look at two of the most popular site management and authoring packages, Adobe PageMill and Microsoft FrontPage.


Just A Minute: I chose PageMill and FrontPage as examples in this chapter because they are two of the most popular and capable tools currently available, and they are simple enough for beginners to use. Don't take that as a recommendation against competing programs that may be as good or better for your needs. There are also more advanced products available such as Macromedia Backstage and NetObjects Fusion. These are billed as the "ultimate" complete site production solution, but are far too complex to cover in this book. Other products, such as HomePage and PageMill's "big brother" SiteMill, offer many of the same features as FrontPage, plus bells and whistles of their own. More promising Web site authoring packages are appearing on the market almost daily, so look around on the Internet and evaluate the latest before you invest in one.

The line between an "editor" and a "site management tool" can't be sharply drawn, and Adobe PageMill is a good example of a software package that straddles the line. Its primary function is similar to Netscape Composer: a graphical Web browser that lets you build and edit pages as you view them (see Figure 23.6).

Figure 23.6. At first glance, PageMill is just a graphical HTML editor like Netscape Composer.

PageMill offers a number of features that help you quickly edit multiple similar pages and get an overall picture of how a page fits into your site. These include the Pasteboard, color palette, and Inspector windows shown in Figure 23.7, among other features.

Figure 23.7. PageMill offers a number of bells and whistles that go beyond what you'd expect from a simple page editor.

To really get a handle on major site development, however, you need to move up to a product such as Adobe SiteMill or Microsoft FrontPage. By providing a visual overview of your entire site, these programs can help you understand and control how the Web components are associated and linked. Icons are generally used to show relationships between pages and to indicate if there is a problem, such as a broken link.

The Explorer module of FrontPage (see Figure 23.8), for example, is closely integrated with FrontPage Editor. You can do things like moving files between directories while automatically modifying all links for all pages affected by the move.

Microsoft FrontPage also includes Web wizards and Web templates, which guide you through the creation of a complete Web site based on a pre-designed "standard" format. You get to pick which parts of the design you want to include in your Web site, and provide the actual graphics and text to implement the pages. Figure 23.9 shows one of the dialog boxes you would encounter when using the Web wizard called Corporate Presence.

Figure 23.8. Microsoft FrontPage Explorer gives you a birds-eye view of your entire Web site.

Figure 23.9. Microsoft FrontPage's Corporate Presence Web Wizard lets you specify the main components of your Web site all at once.

Though its emphasis is on helping you produce a professional-quality site quickly, FrontPage offers some more advanced features, such as integrating databases and multimedia into your pages. FrontPage also provides some fairly simple tools to aid you in administering your own Web server.

If cutting-edge features are your top priority, you should probably look beyond tools like FrontPage toward more powerful (and expensive) packages, such as Macromedia Backstage or NetObjects Fusion.

It would take us far beyond the scope of this book to delve into these advanced packages, but they essentially enable you to make your site look different for every visitor. Macromedia Backstage gives you powerful tools for accessing databases, managing online discussion groups, and building interactive animation, sound, and video into your pages. NetObjects Fusion includes many similar features, but places more emphasis on advanced page layout and interactive site management tools.

If you'd like to see some of what's possible with these cutting-edge tools, check out the Macromedia site at:

http://www.macromedia.com/

and the NetObjects site at:

http://www.netobjects.com/


Just A Minute: The kind of dynamic, interactive, individualized Web sites that high-end tools can create are an exciting glimpse into the future of the Web. However, even with the fanciest tools, you'll still need to make a significant investment of both time and money--maybe even involving a development team rather than an individual author. Since you've just learned HTML, you may not be quite ready for the Web site of the future. The chapters in Part V, "Interactive Web Pages," can show you how to use good old HTML tags to add some interactivity to your site.

Coffee Break: I didn't use any advanced tools to develop the 24-Hour HTML Café site, so you won't find a cafe23.htm version of that site for this chapter. However, you might like to compare the completed 24-Hour HTML Café (http://www.mcp.com./sams/books/235-8/cafe.htm) to sites built with the big tools. You might find out that the "plain-old HTML" covered in this book can do everything you need and more.

Summary

This chapter introduced the four basic types of HTML editing and site management tools. With Netscape Navigator Gold, HTMLed, Microsoft Internet Assistant, Adobe PageMill, and Microsoft FrontPage as examples, you learned what each kind of tool can do to speed up your Web page development.

Q&A

Q If interactive, dynamic sites are the wave of the future, am I wasting my time learning plain old HTML?

A
Absolutely not. Even the most advanced interactive sites use HTML to glue everything together. The hype on some Web page development software packages may claim "no HTML experience required," but ask any Web site developer using those tools and you'll hear a different story. A solid working knowledge of HTML will continue to be a strong advantage and practical pre-requisite for developing Web sites far into the future.

Q Technology is changing so fast. How can I find out about the latest tools?

A
The Web itself is by far your best research tool if you're shopping for Web development tools. For example, try the Yahoo! list of World Wide Web software companies at:
http://www.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/ 

Companies/Computers/Software/Internet/World_Wide_Web/
or the official World Wide Web consortium list of HTML tools at:
http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/Tools/

Quiz Questions

1. Do WYSIWYG HTML editors actually produce pages that look exactly the same in a Web browser as they do in an editor?

2.
What is the biggest advantage of text-based HTML editors, as compared to graphical editors?

3.
What is the biggest advantage of graphical editors over text-based editors?

4.
Do advanced site development tools actually do anything that you can't achieve with HTML?

Answers

1. No. At least none of the current versions have delivered on this promise yet (especially since HTML can look quite different in various browsers anyway).

2.
Text-based editors give you more complete control over the HTML that goes into the document.

3.
Graphical editors make it easier to tell approximately what pages will look like, even if you're not versed in HTML.

4.
Yes. No matter how well you fine-tune your HTML, you simply can't implement some advanced interactive features without programmed "objects" or special server enhancements.

Activities