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Webmastering 101


By David Reilly

Webmastering 101 is a series of tutorials that teach people how to create their own websites, and how to promote them on the Internet. If you've missed any of the tutorials, you may want to look at the index, and start from the beginning.


Hello! In this lesson, we're going to evaluate a few HTML development tools. With the right tools, a webmaster can create higher quality sites, with less effort. Without the right tools, creating web pages can become boring and repetitive - and this isn't environment that is conducive to creativity.

Which tool should I use?

The choice of tool is really up to you. There's no right or wrong answer here - choose one you're comfortable with, and which provides you with the features you require. However, unless you're an experienced webmaster (in which case, you'll have already chosen a tool), the wide range of tools can be daunting. So, in this lesson, I'll discuss some of the features you should look out for, present a few tools to help you get started, and provide you with pointers to more information.

So what should I look for?

The first thing you'll want to check is whether an evaluation or shareware version is available. Before you buy any HTML tool, you must use it, and make sure that you'll be comfortable with its user-interface. Most good web tools offer trial versions for download, and this gives you the opportunity to see if the tool will suit you. Never buy a tool sight unseen - tools that boast hundreds of "cool" features aren't always designed with new webmasters in mind. Unless you feel comfortable using it, you won't find the process of creating pages natural, and that can be extremely frustrating. Plus, if you use evaluation versions, by the time you're ready to purchase a tool, you'll have learnt most of the features and be ready to start creating webpages.

Next, you'll want to see whether the tool gives you a WYSIWYG interface. WYSIWYG stands for What You See Is What You Get. If you've ever used a modern word processor, you'll have used a WYSIWYG interface. This type of interface shows you exactly what the printed page (or in this case, web page) will look like - as you type. If you change the font of a page, its updated instantly. Insert a new picture, the page will display a new picture. Tools like Microsoft FrontPage offer this feature, and for new users, it makes editing pages very easy.

WYSIWYG

In a WYSIWYG interface, when you change the font, you can visually see the effect

Of course, not all users need (or want) WYSIWYG interfaces. Many webmasters find working directly with HTML code is preferable for editing their pages. For years, I created whole sites using nothing but Notepad (a text editor for Windows), and working directly with HTML gave me a lot more control than a WYSIWYG interface would allow. If you're a code-warrior, you may prefer to use a simple text editor, or an advanced tool like HotDog from Sausage Software which helps you with some of the tricky parts of HTML.

So where can I find these tools?

Well, if you're happy enough to use a text editor, rather than a WYSIWYG interface, you may already have them! Your word-processor, or a text editor that comes with your system (such as notepad) will be all you need. Edit your pages using HTML, and then view them with your web browser to verify that it looks O.K.

If you want something a little more sophisticated, you could buy a fancy editor, such as HotDog. HotDog has a range of features, and is quite a good editor. You can find more information, and a link to download an evaluation version, from http://www.sausage.com

If you'd prefer a WYSIWYG editor, then your best bet is Microsoft FrontPage 98. FrontPage has all the advanced features you'll ever need, and has the simplicity of Microsoft Word. When you type your page, its just like editing a Word document. You can add pictures, add clipart. You can create new pages using templates, and create new websites using Wizards. FrontPage even has a feature called "Themes" which allows you to change the layout and color of your pages simply by clicking on different theme types - it edits your pages automatically for you. More information is available from http://www.microsoft.com/frontpage/

Before you go out and buy any tools, however, you'll also want to take a look at the HTML features within Microsoft Word (that is, if you already have this product). For earlier versions of Word, Microsoft offers patches that give it HTML support, and later versions of the product (Word 97 or higher) have automatic support. You can edit a document, and the save the document as a web page. All your pictures and text and tables will be converted into HTML for you! While not a professional editing tool, it does allow you to quickly convert existing documents, and could suffice as your editor until you're ready to use something more substantial.

If you're interested in trying a wide-range of tools, you might also want to look at shareware sites, which often have good resources. However, be careful before you buy any shareware - make sure you've used the software thoroughly, and that it will meet your needs. For starters, you might like to check out http://www.shareware.com/ or http://www.tucows.com/

The next step is to create a small web page. You don't need to create anything major - indeed it doesn't even need to be a site that you'll ever use again. The aim is to become familiar with the tool, and how it works, before you create "real" sites that others will see. Because you're all using different tools, I can't offer specific help on this one. You'll need to work through the documentation that comes with your tool, and any training/tutorial exercises it provides.

Task One - Select two or three tools that you think might suit you. You can look on shareware sites, download evaluation versions, or use your existing software (text-editor, Word, etc). Don't go out and buy anything yet, unless you're really sure!

Create a single web page, in each of the tools that you selected. The content doesn't have to be important, but try to use as many features of the tool as possible. Does it allow you to create tables? Does it allow you to change background and font colors? Does it support headings? Make sure you're familiar with what these tools can and can't do, before you settle on any one product.

I've picked a tool, what next?

Next, you need to practise with your tool. Unless you are already familiar with the product, it will take a while before you feel comfortable using it. Between lessons, create a few more pages, and try to use some of the features of your tool that sound exciting, or you are unfamiliar with. In the next tutorial, we'll show you how to place the pages you create onto a website, and how to promote your website through search engines.

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Contact David Reilly through email - dodo@fan.net.au

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