Web pages for do-it-yourselfers
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1996. First
published in Computer Player, August 15, 1996
reviews of HTML Assistant Pro, Microsoft Front
Page, and Teach
Yourself Web Publishing with HTML 3.2
Estimates vary widely both for how many people are
surfing the Internet,
and how many Web pages have been placed on the Net, but some estimates
suggest that there are currently about 50 million of each. And the two
phenomena are linked?the more information available on the Web, the
people are going to want to access it, and as more people check out the
Net, more people and businesses are going to want to put a piece of
Part of the reason for the explosion of Web pages is
that they can actually
be created quite simply by people with little background in programming
or even traditional page layout. For instance, you can create the
real Web page, using as simple a piece of software as Windows Notepad
the Mac?s SimpleText or any other basic text editor? but if you insist
on using a real word processor, be sure to save as a plain text file).
Simply type the following, and save it with a name
<title>My first Web page</title>
<h1>Look Ma! I?m on the Web!</h1>
I never thought it would be this easy to have a page
on the Web<p>
Open that as a local file in Netscape Navigator,
Internet Explorer or
the Web browser of your choice? and it should appear just like another
of those 50 million Web pages. Add a line like this:
somewhere in the body of your code, and (assuming
there?s a graphics
file by that name), your picture will appear on the page.
Certainly much simpler than writing one of those
classic ?Hello World?
programs in C++.
But if you?ve been paying attention so far, you may
have noticed that
your Web code consists of your content, along with style tags? those
inside the angle brackets, telling your browser how to treat that bunch
of text. It?s those style tags that change your plain text into a file
formatted as HTML, the HyperText Markup Language that?s used throughout
And while it?s (relatively) easy to get started, HTML,
like other programming
languages, can be fussy. Type <H1> instead of </H1>
end of your heading, and your next paragraph.? in fact, all your text
end up looking like an extended headline.
So while you can create sophisticated Web pages using
like Windows Notepad, hardly anybody wants to. Instead, a growing
has evolved for HTML editors? programs to help would-be Web-writers
with those HTML tags, letting them concentrate instead on their page?s
Many of these programs are available as shareware, and
so can be tried
for free? but to have access to technical support and updates (and of
to get that warm and fuzzy feeling), users who really expect to use a
program should pay the author?s registration fee.
HTML Assistant Pro?made-in-Canada editor
The first category of Web creation programs are HTML
programs show you your HTML code on screen, but include menu items,
icons, and other aids to make it easier to create properly formatted
code. A good example of such a program is HTML Assistant Pro, from
Brooklyn North Software (Suite 1703, Box 55, 1969 Upper Water Street,
NS, B3J 3R7; 1-800-349-1422; www.brooknorth.com).
It?s a powerful, but modest program, shipping on a
single floppy disk,
and running under your choice of Windows 3.1 or Win 95.
Start with a basic outline of a standard HTML page:
Type or insert your desired text within the pairs of
tags? to add other
HTML features, click on the appropriate toolbar icon. Dialogue boxes
it easy to insert graphics, or links to other Web pages, both your own,
or sites halfway across the world. Even complex features like tables
forms are relatively simply created, with the aid of the program?s
(There?s also a Page Creator Assistant if you want hand-holding to get
started from scratch, and a Background Assistant to help with those
tiles and coloured backgrounds that are all the rage).
Just as when you?re working in a plain text editor
like Notepad, however,
what you get to see on screen is your HTML text; like working in
Reveal Codes mode, you don?t directly get to see how your page will
on the Web. For that, you can click on a toolbar button that loads your
page into the browser of your choice.
HTML is changing daily, as new versions of browsers
from Netscape and
Microsoft continue to add features. HTML Assistant allows you to add in
your own custom tools? if you see a feature on the Net that you like,
the page, and view the HTML code? once you?ve seen the tags that create
that effect, it?s no big deal to add them to HTML?s tool box.
The program can also work in reverse?stripping out
HTML tags to produce
readable text from downloaded pages. The multple-document interface
it easy to cut and paste between multiple files, or work on all the
on your site at once.
The program comes with a reasonable user?s guide and a
of which introduce the user to both the program and to the HTML
Users also get the promise of email help, and the ability to subscribe
to an email newsletter. The company has released a freeware version
widely available on the Net, and offers enough features for many users,
but leaves out support for forms, tables, and other advanced features.
The Pro version, costing $99 US, adds a spell checker,
the wider range
of tools and Assistants, along with support and documentation.
Microsoft Front Page?Word for Web?
Software giant Microsoft was a latecomer to the role
of Internet evangelist,
but like many latecomers, it?s taken up the role with a passion.
busily created their own browser, Internet Explorer, and writing
allowing their Microsoft Office programs to work with HTML files?all
for free. For creating HTML files, and managing simple Web sites, they
bought an existing program, FrontPage from Vermeer. FrontPage works in
an opposite manner from traditional HTML editors like HTML Assistant
Assistant Pro shows your raw HTML code, and runs your
browser to allow
you to see how your code will look. FrontPage, by contrast, lets you
with your page the way it will look in a browser. In fact, if you do
to see your actual HTML code, FrontPage will load it into Windows
for you. Working with FrontPage feels more like working with a desktop
publishing program?when you make a headline, it looks like a headline;
when you insert a graphic, you see the graphic. In fact, you can import
graphics in a wide variety of formats? FrontPage Editor will
convert them to the GIF or JPEG formats supported by most browsers.
As a result, FrontPage is a bigger program, requiring
resources. It ships on 5 floppies, which expand to take up over 10 megs
on your drive. As a 32-bit program, it requires Windows 95 or NT.
In addition to the WYSIWYG FrontPage Editor, the
program also installs
FrontPage Explorer? this tool graphically shows the connections between
Web pages, and allows users to test links, and rebuild connections. It
also includes a series of templates, allowing users to build
of Web pages for discussion groups, customer support, establishing a
presence, or for personal use.
Opening FrontPage Explorer automatically loads
FrontPage?s simple Web
Server. Together, they make it easy to create a set of Web pages that
together as a Web, and simplify the task of uploading them to an
Service Provider or to a corporate Internet. The server presumably
be used for a basic intranet for a small number of users.
The program includes a series of ?Web-bots?, tools to
tasks, such as creating a dynamic Table of Contents. Unfortunately,
are not compatible with the more common CGI tools, and may not work on
many Web servers. Equally disappointing to me is the lack of printed
The program installs an on-disk tutorial, which will walk the beginning
user through the process of getting started, but there is literally
in print?nothing that a user can refer to away from their workstation.
Web designers who have become comfortable with HTML
code may find this
program making them uneasy? it keeps them too far from the actual code.
But new would-be page designers will find the program?s WYSIWYG
more familiar, and easier to get started with. I just wish it were
documented. (If, like me, you wish there was printed documentation, you
may be interersted in McGraw Hill-Osborne?s Web Publishing with
FrontPage, by Martin S. Matthews. $27.95 (US$)? fills in the gaps).
Beta-versions of this program were freely available on
the Net, and
you may still be able to find Vermeer?s free demo version, but the
release version of this program is on sale for about $200 (CDN) from
places that distribute Microsoft software.
Microsoft is rumoured to have big plans in store for
FrontPage? it is
expected to show up as part of the next version of Microsoft Office,
integrated into NT Server version 4.0. Look for other WYSIWYG Web page
creation programs from other companies, in the near future, including
Home Page, expected this Fall in both Mac and Windows versions. A beta
of that program can be downloaded now from www.claris.com.
Teach Yourself Web Publishing
HTML Assistant comes with a modest, but useful printed
Front Page comes with no printed documentation at all. Those of us who
are comfortable with the printed page, even in the age of the
document, may want to take a look at Sams.net Publishing?s Teach
Web Publishing with HTML 3.2 in 14 Day, by Laura Lemay.
At over 1000 pages, it is carefully designed as a
tutorial, and could
teach an awful lot about Web publishing in two weeks, to readers
to work through two chapters of text and exercises each day. Topics
basic, with discussions of links and text formatting. Soon, readers are
adding images, then external multimedia files, and learning to judge
good and bad design. Tables and forms lead to CGI scripting, and to
files online and setting up a Web server. Finally, the tutorial works
control. There?s even a chapter looking at popular HTML creation
for PCs, Macs, and Unix, including both HTML Assistant and FrontPage.
Java, and Microsoft?s
new ActiveX and Visual Basic Script. An enclosed CD-ROM disc includes
from the book, along with images, icons, and utility programs, for both
Windows and Mac enviroments. As well, the book is supported by a web
www.lne.com/Web/ aiming to keep it up to date. (A former edition,
with last year?s HTML?2.0, claimed to only take seven days? another
of the growth in complexity of the Web and its tools).
At a list price of $81.95 (CDN), it seems expensive,
but it provides
a valuable resource for anyone wanting to work with Web pages. There
lots of free guides to HTML on the Web itself, but this volume provides
a depth and clarity that they lack?as well as the portability that
text still has over even the best computer equivalents.