Creating a Web Page
Notes as of September 28, 1997
(NOVEMBER 1998) I now use Front Page 98, and the story is told in great detail in the columns; so this stays here mostly for historical interest, but it may also be useful to those just starting with web stuff and wanting to know how I got into it.
I tried a number of things that didn't work, and finally used Word 97 from Office 97. This works splendidly. You'll also want a book on Word 97. I found the Complete Idiot's Guide worked well enough to get started. Word 97 has a lot of neat features, like background textures -- this is one of them -- and colors, and of course it's pretty Word-like in use.
Afterword: Maybe "splendidly" was an overstatement. There are some oddities. However, Word 97 works, and got the page up. I am told that Front Page would be better and I expect it would be, but I have had problems getting it started. Front page seems more for people who have their web pages on their own machines than for those who do things in batches and upload to someone else's server. Once you get past Front Page's initialization idiosyncracies, it's both "Word-like" and quite rich in features.
With Word 97 you can insert files including photographs and such like, insert lines and frames and borders, and play about on your home system. View the files with your browser. Word 97 looks at web stuff about the way Internet Explorer would. You can also look with Netscape. Things won't be the same. I have included some gimmicks that work in Word 97/IE but don't in Netscape to illustrate.
Word 97 has some neat bullets, and backgrounds. I'm using one of the backgrounds for this: open format, background, fill effects in Word 97 and you'll see where this soft background came from.
If you decide that Word 97 isn't good enough and shift to one of the 'easy' web site creators, be ready for nasty surprises. Web Express from Macro Vision Development, has some real oddities. It makes inserting tables easy, but when I attempted to DELETE the silly table, I couldn't do it, and thrashing around trying to do so got me an illegal function error that crashed the program (although it didn't harm Windows '95). If you want to create a new web site using Web Express it's fairly easy, but it doesn't have the built-in features of Word 97. The fancy lines I use, for example, were inserted in Word 97 by Insert Line, which gave me a choice of lines I could insert. Web Express only has one line, and it's not very nice. If you want fancy lines you have to insert them as images. Of course the Word 7 fancy lines ARE images, but it's a lot easier to have the word processor worry about such things instead of having to remember whether line4.gif is the planets or the squiggly line or the one with the bird.
Warning: if you do use Web Express, it will allow you to open a notepad file showing the html code. You can edit this. However, unlike Word 97, the notepade editor view and the "normal" WYSIWYG view are not always closely coupled. If you switch to the WYSIWYG view and make changes, then go back to the html view, those changes are NOT THERE. You must close the html editor, then re-open it to see the html effects of changes you made in the WYSIWYG view. Worse: when you close that notepad it will offer to save. DON'T. If you save, it will then apply that saved file to your WYSIWYG view, and you will have lost all the work you did since you last looked at the Notepad html editor. Word 97 prevents this by not allowing you to leave one view for the other without being prompted to save and warned that if you don't save you'll lose the work you just did. I presume Front Page works that way too but I'm not sure, because I didn't get to Front Page 98 yet. See below.
Web Express is supposed to warn you, and to give you a chance to update the WYSIWYG view after you save changes to the html file, and it does; the problem comes when you open an html file, go back to the WYSIWYG, edit the WYSIWYG, then return to the html and save that. The remedy is to close the html before going to WYSIWYG, and do that religiously.
Web Express has some way cool stuff. On the other hand, one feature of Web Express is driving me nuts. The program has a nifty way of showing broken links; if you create a "new web" in the Web Express manager, it will look at that home page and all pages it is linked to, show this as a tree, and show any broken links. This is way cool. Alas, if you then correct those links without exiting Web Express -- why shouldn't you, this is a multi-tasking system isn't it? -- by copying the proper files over to the directory where Web Express expects to find them, and fixing things like mail links so they are in proper html format, the Web Express Manager may or may not notice that you have done that. Usually you have to shut down that web and reload it; but even that may not do it. Sometimes you have no choice but to exit Web Express; nuke the .wbs file that contains your "web" in Web Express; reload Web Express; and re-create the web from scratch. Tonight I have had to do that seven times so far and it is wearying. On the other hand, it's a lot less wearying than loading the stuff onto the web before finding broken links, so I guess I can't complain too much.
John Dvorak loves Web Express, uses it a lot, and enthusiastically recommended it to me. I can see why: for making text changes in an existing web site once you have everything in one flat file with all the lines, gifs, jpegs, and the rest in a single file, Web Express is very convenient, and I will probably use it for that myself; but when you attempt anything fancy, it gives problems, or at least it did for me.
I had hoped to do enough work with Front Page 98 to be able to say something today, but I haven't. It has features all over the place, but it was NOT designed to import an existing web site, analyze it, and set up ready for you to edit. Getting started is in fact harder with Front Page 98 than with anything else I have tried. Once you do get started, it has many rich features and capabilities, and is a lot smarter than Web Express. It may be too smart. Meanwhile I haven't found anything I like better than Word 97 for doing this stuff.
Readers have told me that Word 97 creates very bad html code. I wouldn't know, because I can't tell good code from bad. It does give problems with font sizes, but it also makes it quite easy to go in and edit the html code by hand, and changing font sizes and the like turns out to be very easy to do.
The next horizontal line is the only one Web Express understands.
When you're done, you need a file transfer program. In my case I downloaded one from Earthlink; it's free, and easily obtained. Earthlink also provides a free 2 megabyte space for a web page. The File Transfer Program will want to know the web address and password. For Earthlink the HOME page is named INDEX.HTM or INDEX.HTML. All files referenced in your pages have to be uploaded as well. That includes lines, bullets, and ornaments, each of which will probably be a separate gif file. (Word 97 keeps track of such things, and if you save your primary document using "SAVE AS" to a new directory, it will automatically bring along all the files linked to it. I got used to that feature since I started with Word 97, and that's one reason I've been a bit hard on Web Express which doesn't have it.) The Earthlink system like most UNIX based servers is CASE SENSITIVE: that is, if you insert the file jp.jpg into your system, but you have named the file JP.JPG, you will probably see it as a picture in Word 7, and it will be seen as a picture when viewed with Netscape on your home system, but when you get it up on the web, the picture will not be found.
Getting the case right can take incredible effort. Windows 95 is so stupid that it will recognize differences in file name case, but it will not easily let you rename a file to a different case. The revelation came when I discovered that while using "insert photo" on my home page inserted JEP.JPG as the name of the picture file, the file was actually named jep.jpg. Eventually I had to edit the HTML source code, substituting the name jep.jpg for the one that browsed in. That fixed the problem. Why you must go through such silly lengths I don't know, but Windows and Word are both a little confused about case sensitivities. Otherwise Word 97 is good for doing web pages, but be warned. Note also that Word 97 has a 'view html source' view that lets you inspect and edit, so it will fix problems it created.
You can get the TRUE NAME of a file in Explorer. Note that you are not in Explorer if you merely double click on a drive letter and look at your files that way. You have to actually invoke Explorer; then you can see true names, case sensitive, and RENAME files with the proper case. I don't know any other really reliable method. You are best off using all lower case for file names associated with web pages. Do this routinely. Most web servers run UNIX or a variant of it and not only is UNIX case sensitive but it likes lower case for file names. When in Rome and all that. I now routinely name all graphics files in all lower case letters.
Bullets and lines you have inserted will almost undoubtedly be graphics files, and those will have to be uploaded. Be sure and get them all.
Once you get everything together, you will have a web site. That at least is what I did, and it seems to have worked.
I'm now going to start learning about frames and page layouts and designs, but that's another story for another day. First I think I'll learn tables. I started on that with my new home page.
The following line is called birdline.gif. When I let Web Express bring this file from my old web directory, I didn't copy that file, and the result is that I am looking at a black hole in my text. No operation within the Web Express editor will tell me what it wants to find there; I had to go to the html code view to find out. I have now copied the gif file to this directory, but that doesn't do any good because Web Express has no "refresh" capability; before it will see that the file now exists I'll have to close the file and open it again. So it goes, but that's annoying: neither Front Page nor Word 97 operate that way. Oh. Well.
I'm now going to try to use Web Express to insert a comment. It claims to know how.
And in fact it does.
Some Web Page Notes
Some of you have suggested I use FRAMES to set things up on the web site. I sort of understand how those work; what I don't have is a lot of time to work with them or with this. BYTE has editors, layout people, etc., to make the magazine and web page look good, and they do a splendid job. For me there's just me, and while I could if I spent a lot of time at it add a lot of sizzle, the fact is I barely have time to set up the steak, so to speak.
For those who sent hate mail about how ugly this page is, I'm sorry you spend your time looking at things you don't like. I don't do that much myself.
For those who made suggestions, I have made a file of them, and when I get some more time I will try to implement some of the better ones. I know I can make this prettier; but just for the moment I don't have a lot of time, and I use that to add things when I can. The older I get the less time I have. Odd, isn't it?
To those who insisted that I get my hands dirty editing the HTML source code, thanks: it works, and it sure gives me better control. I have fixed several font size problems, and sometimes Word does really screwy things that can be fixed only by going into the code.
Thanks to all who sent kind words.