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Tools of the Trade

Assuming you have a computer, what tools do you need to turn your killer web site into reality?

As a bare minimum, you need software to create your HTML code with. Software to create your images in and software to put the finished article on the web. In addition to this there are numerous pieces of utility software that will help you with some of the finer points, but these are just icing on the cake.

What software should you use as your HTML editor? It is not for us to say, that decision lies with you, but we will discuss the options. The options fall into three categories, the basic text editor, the word processing package or the HTML package.

The simplest option is free. All operating systems come with some form of simple text editor, such as notepad in Windows. Armed with notepad, and a working knowledge of HTML, you can create the web design masterpiece. The approach is a bit rough and ready, but is still a very popular method of web production. Create the code in notepad, and preview the finished article in your web browser.

The downside is of course the good working knowledge of HTML, but this can be substituted by a good reference book on HTML, or an online HTML reference.

Most modern versions of the popular word processing packages allow the documents to be output as HTML. This simple approach allows you to create your pages using a package you understand, and output the finished article as HTML. No knowledge of HTML required, no fuss, no bother. Not quite, HTML in its basic form does not have the formatting options available to your word processor or desktop publishing package. Pages that look great in your desktop package may look worryingly different when viewed in your web browser.

The other major curse of this type of production is the quality of the HTML code that is produced. The output is usually very bloated, containing many tags and options that are not strictly required. This added baggage will just slow down your pages, and so needs to be removed. So yet again some knowledge of HTML is required, to clean up the fast prototype created in your desktop package.

The final option is the fully fledged HTML editing package. There are a number of these about on the market at the moment, mentioning no names. The basic principle of these packages is about the same in all cases. You design the page on a design view, which gives you the general idea of what the final output will look like, and the package creates the HTML code in the background. You can usually switch between design view and HTML view, and so edit the page HTML directly. Good packages will do added extras such as check your links, your spelling, and the HTML code you type in yourself. The perfect solution?

Not quite, these packages still need to be used with some reservation. The code created is not good as it should be, and it is very easy to add in bits of unwanted code yourself, just by fiddling with the various options. So yet again, a good knowledge of HTML is really required to get the most out of these type of packages.

The final verdict, it’s up to you. We use a combination of all the options when I am creating pages. Whatever you decide, you should understand the basics of HTML. Take a look at http://www.blooberry.com/indexdot/html/index.html, for a good all round reference to HTML.

What about my images? There are probably more options for creating images than there are for creating HTML. Again, we are not in the business of recommending software packages, especially as most people will have their own favourites.

All you need from an imaging package is the ability to create graphics, manipulate photographs and other images, and produce the output in a web image format. These formats are .gif and .jpg, and most current packages support them.

Look to see if you already have a package that fits the bill, before rushing out and buying one. If you do need to get imaging software, look around on the Internet for shareware image programs before buying a shrink wrapped package. You will be able to try before you buy, so you can work out if the package is right for you before you pay for it.

Once you have sorted your imaging package out, there are a few simple rules to bear in mind when using it. These are discussed in a later lesson.

When you have created your masterpiece, you need to get it onto the web. This is done by mere mortals using an FTP package. FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, and is a method for moving files around on the Internet. These packages, in their most basic forms, can usually be downloaded for free, or be used in a more advanced form for a very small fee. They all basically do the same thing, so there is very little difference between products. Find one you like, and use it when required.

   
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