For Web page tools, change is the only constant

Getting to the Web

















If the move to the Web and PCs from electronic data interchange over legacy
systems had a sound, it would be the roar of a tidal wave.


The Web’s ubiquity, flexibility and low cost all combine to make its use seem
inevitable. But building a site is only the beginning. Keeping it working right presents a
much greater challenge.


At the dawn of the Web era, no more than a few years ago, tools for Web development
were primitive. Designers had little more than sticks and clay tablets—dumb text
editors and dull layout programs—to establish a Web presence for their government
offices. With such meager tools, it took a lot of effort to create a Web site that offered
simple, static pages.


These first-generation tools kept Web page authors, editors and designers isolated from
their co-workers. Typically, authors extracted and reworked text from paper documents.
Designers or webmasters had to format individual pages to set up a Web site. Managers
needed several utilities to handle file maintenance and Web site housekeeping.


Of course, change is rapid on the Web and in everything related to it. Web tools are
becoming more powerful and better integrated. Web site authoring tools surveyed less than
a year ago [GCN, Aug. 10, 1998, Page 59] have new versions either available or soon to be
released. The second- and third-generation programs take more of a sitewide approach.


This Web tool overview will describe how Web applications are evolving to keep up with
the changing ways people work the Web. The accompanying chart, left, can help you compare
representative Web applications from low end to high end, from personal Web page editors
to Web site design, and from management packages to enterprisewide automated publishing
packages.


Online services offer diagnostics and usability testing and can even monitor a Web site
for you around the clock.


Inexpensive Web authoring tools designed for small offices have less muscle than more
expensive packages, but many provide setup wizards, design templates, convenient tools for
layout and formatting, and some site management features.


Representative of this category are PageMill from Adobe Systems Inc., FrontPage from
Microsoft Corp., HomeSite from Allaire Corp., Hotmetal Pro from Softquad Inc. and Visual
Page from Symantec Corp.


Each costs about $100 or less, and all have improved on their earlier versions. Most
will import or directly support the newest Web formats, including Dynamic Hypertext
Transfer Language for layering and animation, JavaScript for interactive controls, and
Microsoft’s ActiveX components. FrontPage also supports components such as search
boxes and hit counters, which require Microsoft extensions to run on the Web server.


The latest releases of most low-cost programs have new tools to manage the navigation
links for a Web site. Those that include visual site editors let you add, remove and
rearrange pages, while they handle updating the site’s hyperlinks for you. FrontPage
goes a step further, offering to automatically create the navigation bars for pages
throughout a site.


Programs that don’t provide a graphical site editor usually offer directory views
for file management and routines to verify and repair links throughout a site. Some focus
most site-management work on a copy of the site, stored on your local hard drive.


In effect, you’re really managing two sites.


Still, most programs provide a File Transfer Protocol feature that lets you upload new
and modified Web pages to a Web server through a dial-up or network connection to the
Internet. If you work on a local network, you should check to be sure a file transfer
utility will be compatible with the network firewall or proxy server if you need to manage
files by FTP.


Some programs costing less than $100 also provide style sheets or templates for
sitewide style control, a key feature of mid-range Web design programs. Also useful are
site libraries that let you update graphics, such as standard images, throughout a site.


Your choice among these packages will probably depend on how much you want to work with
HTML. Code-based editors such as HomeSite are best if you need and want to work with HTML
codes. Compound editors such as PageMill and FrontPage let you design visually while you
edit a page’s HTML coding. But many experienced Web designers complain that WYSIWYG
editors produce convoluted HTML code that is difficult to edit.


Most Web authors and designers need some tools and skills for working with HTML code as
well as visual Web design tools. One conventional code editor, Allaire’s HomeSite
4.0, has won praise for well-designed toolbars and shortcuts that speed coding, and this
new version includes some visual design tools and two preview modes.


For basic Web authoring when there’s no budget for specialized tools, don’t
overlook shareware and even free editors. Many are available on software sites such as
CNet at www.Cnet.com and TUCOWS at www.tucows.com. Even shareware Web programs provide
toolbars that simplify insertion of HTML codes for page formatting.


Although it’s possible to create Web pages by just typing HTML codes in a text
editor, even a basic editor with some Web-specific features can make the job of page
creation and editing more convenient.


Advance a level to midrange applications priced from $200 to $600 for Web development
programs that try to meet the needs of site development teams.


These packages emphasize sitewide design, with more sophisticated tools and support for
the latest Cascading Style Sheets specification, a flexible Web formatting standard. CSS
is supported by the current versions of Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer
browsers.


Most Web programs also support DHTML formats, but DHTML can be difficult to manage
because the two major browsers don’t share the same DHTML standard.


Applications to consider in this category include new releases of Dreamweaver from
Macromedia Inc., NetObjects Fusion from NetObjects Inc., GoLive (formerly GoLive
CyberStudio), which was recently acquired by Adobe, and ColdFusion Studio from Allaire.


In this range, visual site editors with file managers and tools for link verification
and maintenance are standard. More powerful search features let you globally replace HTML
tags, objects, attributes and text.


Most midrange design packages support some way of integrating databases with


Web pages. ColdFusion is one of the most versatile, with support for Component Object
Model (COM), Open Database Connectivity, and Oracle and Sybase databases.


Drumbeat 2000, just released by Elemental Software, promises database interfacing
through COM and Microsoft’s Active Server Pages (ASP), all without manual coding.
NetObjects Fusion and Dreamweaver support ASP, ColdFusion Application Server, Commerce
Publisher from iCat Corp., and database connections through a host of other Web server
programs.


The various ways the products handle HTML coding might be an important factor to you or
your workgroup. NetObjects Fusion gives designers pixel-level control without HTML coding.
Drumbeat creates HTML pages only when you publish a site and doesn’t offer HTML
editing at any point in the design process.


Dreamweaver, in contrast, has a heavy design emphasis but also promises to create
standard, editable HTML pages. It also has the best reputation for being able to import
HTML without changing it.


When developing and maintaining an intranet or Internet Web site involves a large
department or an entire agency, the software becomes much more expensive and specialized.


For several thousand dollars or more, products designed around enterprise programs that
run on the Web server can bring everyone into the Web workflow, with the ability to use
standard Web browsers for page editing and file maintenance.


At the same time, more packages are emerging for publishing documents on the Web
directly from standard office applications.


A standout in the enterprise category is Net-It Central from Allegis Corp. The server
program automates workgroup Web publishing. Users only have to save files in standard word
processing, spreadsheet and drawing programs such as Microsoft Word and Corel’s
CorelDraw.


The Net-It Central server application automatically converts documents saved on the
server into a Java document format, jDoc, which preserves their appearance exactly. Net-It
Central then publishes every updated document on an intranet or external Web server. Users
can view, edit and manage documents from within a Web browser or Microsoft Windows.


Microsoft plans to include capabilities to achieve the same results in applications in
the next release of Office 2000. Beta versions of the Office 2000 applications available
early this year show tight integration between the average user’s PC and the Web.


Word, for example, opens and saves documents in HTML format as easily as it works with
its own format. Users can simply save files on Web servers in the same way they save files
on local hard drives.


In addition, both Net-It Central and Office 2000 promise to automate the distribution
of information through broadcast capabilities. After users subscribe to documents, the
server will send out revised documents or notify users by e-mail that new versions have
been published.


Another high-end package that takes a team approach is DynaBase from Inso Corp.
DynaBase includes a server application that lets large agencies manage multiple
high-volume sites and various editions of a site.


The clients let distributed workgroups handle document management, programming and
automation features. When users view the Web site, their requests are processed by the
DynaBase server application, which can customize and generate HTML pages dynamically.


Enterprisewide capabilities don’t come cheap, but costs of an enterprise product
must be weighed against per-seat costs for individual Web programs, while the need to work
with the Web grows more important.


Whether you’re a Web development team of only one, or one person on a large Web
development team, it’s helpful to know that the latest batch of authoring and
management tools at every level are providing more power to help you work the Web.


David Hawkins is technical writing manager for graphics software maker Deneba
Systems Inc. of Miami, Fla.



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