New Claris Home Page the easiest way to
make your Web pages, at least for now- Jan 7 1997

In theory, you don't need much to create a page in HTML format--pages in the HyperText Markup Language that appear on the Web, and are read in browsers such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. In a pinch, you can write Web pages in a simple text editor such as Windows Notepad or Apple's Simple Text--if you know enough about HTML tags.

But while a few macho Web designers (of whatever gender) may actually design pages that way, for the rest of us, it's a crazy way to do it. It's too difficult to remember all the complex tags that insert graphics, create links, format tables, forms and frames, and more. So designing programs that simplify the creation of Web pages has been a thriving cottage industry ever since the Web became trendy.

But while the first generation of HTML editors helped, they were still anything but intuitive. Typically, they showed the user a page of more or less raw code, maybe with a toolbar to help generate HTML tags. To see how the page would ultimately look, users would need to load it into a real Web browser.

Increasingly, standard productivity applications are giving users the option to save their files in HTML format--either as a built-in option, as in the new version of Corel WordPerfect, or with the help of a free add-on, as with the various Microsoft Office components. While this option makes it easy to create an HTML page, it's hard to make use of many of the more sophisticated features of HTML that way. And the code that's created is often not really ready to put onto the Web, so it's back to editing that raw HTML code.

A new generation of Web editing software has arrived, aiming to give users the sort of power that we now take for granted in word processors and page layout software--the ability to work with pages the way that they will actually look when published. But Netscape Navigator Gold and Adobe PageMill both lack many advanced HTML features, and Microsoft FrontPage is quirky and poorly documented, and is overkill for simply designing attractive pages.

Meanwhile, Claris, Apple's software division, has quietly been making a series of products that work identically for both the Mac and Windows. They purchased a cross-platform product in development, Loma Prieta (named after the 1989 California earthquake) from San Andreas Systems, and have turned it into Claris Home Page, now available in both Mac and Windows 95/NT versions for about C$140.

Home Page lets you start off with a blank page, and import text that is automatically reformatted into HTML. Or, you can just type your text in as you would in a desktop publishing program, and you'll find a toolbar with icons to change the text's appearance. You can change your font size or style, make a bulleted list, and more.

Tables, forms, links and anchors, and even frames can be created visually, with simple toolbar and dialogue box actions, with immediate visual feedback.

Graphics can be dropped onto your page from another application, with BMP or PICT graphics automatically converted to HTML-standard GIF format.

Within the program, the graphic can then be made interlaced, have a colour set transparent, or be turned into an image-map, where clicking on different parts of the picture connects to different links.

Another toolbar click moves you from the standard visual-editing mode to working with the raw HTML code; this lets the power users strut their stuff, inserting trendy Java applets, for example.

An especially nice feature is the Document Statistics dialogue box. Among other things, this reports an estimated time to download the page on 14.4 and 28.8 modems. (Too many page designers never take the majority of modem-connected Internet users into account.) With Claris Home Page, they have one less excuse for creating pages that take forever to download.

Like the Internet itself, the program is still evolving. While version one was only released a few months ago, Claris already has version two out the door. If you bought the previous version, there's a free patch to upgrade it, from Claris on the Internet.

HTML is funny stuff--it allows many sophisticated effects, but lacks the precision that page designers have been taking for granted for years. Despite this, it seems more and more likely to become the universal file format--with both cross-platform and cross-applications capability. This time next year, I suspect most every application will simply save as HTML. But for now, Claris Home Page is the closest yet to providing a simple, visual way to use all of HTML's power, and produce classy pages for the Internet or intranets. Check out*

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan