Building powerful, attractive Web sites
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1998. First
published in Toronto Computes,
At last count, there were umpteen million Web pages
posted, along with
countless more on local Intranets. Where do they all come from?
Despite appearances, Web pages are not like pet
gerbils or coat hangers,
that simply multiply overnight when no one is looking. Instead, people
have to write them.
And that means dealing with HTML code.
HTML is not as peculiar as, say, Morse code or 8086
Some people create Web pages using nothing fancier than, say, Windows
or Macintosh Simple Text? anything that can create a plain text file.
that?s all that HTML is?plain text, with tags embedded like this:
this in boldface</B>, which you can verify in most browsers by
a menu option like Internet Explorer?s View/Source.
Still, many of us would like to be able to create Web
fussing with actual HTML code. As a result, a number of programs exist,
aiming at a sort of Holy Grail of Web Page Creation?to allow users to
Web pages just like they create word processor or (better yet) desktop
publisher documents?graphically. Two of them have released new and
Up until January, this was Claris HomePage, from
Apple?s software division.
But Apple reorganized the company, taking back most of the Claris
line, leaving HomePage and the FileMaker Pro database software to the
FileMaker company. So it?s now FileMaker HomePage 3.0.
No matter whose name is on the box, HomePage is
available in virtually
identical Mac and Windows 95/NT versions? in fact, while the outside
claims that you?re buying a Mac or Windows version, inside it?s
only one version of the documentation, and the CD has both Mac and
HomePage is among the easiest graphical Web page
editors around? if
you?ve used a word processor, you can learn to use it quickly. The new
version offers tie-ins with the FileMaker database, making it easier to
make online forms that are linked to database content. (FileMaker Pro
A collection of Assistants make it possible to almost
create Web sites for school, personal use, newsletters, presentations,
reports, and more. 18 styles make it easier to keep a consistent look
pages in your site. A Frame Assistant simplifies the sometimes complex
task of creating a frame-based page (something that was possible in the
previous version, but poorly documented).
There?s a new Site Editor, outlining your site?s
contents and links.
It can be used to verify and repair broken links and anchors, and to
package all your graphics and other files, ensuring that everything you
need gets properly uploaded to your Web site.
Other features now allow better preview of frames, and
the use of multiple
browsers, making it easier to check how your pages will appear in, for
example, both Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer. Ironically,
doesn?t seem to have been used in creating the Home Page web site,
many pages simply failed to appear when I used Internet Explorer.
Text wrap around pictures and tables has been
enhanced, and tables can
now include coloured cells and backgrounds.
The product comes with 2,000 clipart images and
templates for 45 sites
and sells for US$99. A 10 meg free downloadable beta version is
on the Web at: www.clarishomepage.com/
Microsoft Front Page 98
Front Page 98 is more ambitious than the Claris
product. If you?re prepared
to do it the FrontPage way, you can quickly produce a multi-page web
with graphics and animations, search tools, discussion forums, site
tools, and more.
It supports most of the new high-end HTML tools?from
Java to frames
to dynamic HTML to Microsoft?s Channel Definition Format for instant
content (though Netscape?s equivalent is, not surprisingly,
However, to make the best use of this product, you
have to work its
way. You shouldn?t try to start by editing a page, then creating
then linking them together? instead, start with the FrontPage Explorer
site manager, and map out your prospective site. That will let you
the Front Page Editor, to start building the individual pages. Dragging
pages around the Explorer tree diagram automatically changes the links
on the actual pages. Any of 50 graphic themes can be applied to all the
pages in your site with the click of a button.
A particularly nice feature appears when working with
a frameset?a click
on a tab switches you to the view that will appear to a user with an
browser, incapable of viewing frames. I?m also a fan of the
generated navigation bars.
It?s easy to create a form in HTML?virtually all
software supports that.
The problem, however, is how to do something with the information from
the form. In most cases, this is handled through custom CGI (Common
Interface) programs, installed on your Web server. FrontPage provides a
range of server-side extensions, now in two formats: native FrontPage
and the slower but more commonly used CGI scripts. As well, a new
Results in E-mail feature automatically can send a form?s contents as
Frames and tables are both better supported than in
the pencil tool to draw tables will be familiar to users of Microsoft
97. Graphics tools make it possible to flip and rotate, crop, or
images right in the program. By resizing or resampling graphics, you
significantly improve the time it will take to download your pages.
For now at least, FrontPage 98 is only available in a
version (for US$149). There is a Mac version, but it?s now two
behind the Windows product.
Both products are significant improvements over their
HomePage 3.0 remains easier to use and quicker to get up and running
is recommended if you?re already working with FileMaker Pro databases.
FrontPage 98 offers more power?especially if you want to manage a
large site, or deal with input from forms or setting up discussion