Web Site Authoring Tools
At the beginning of this guide, I encouraged you to
start creating HTML pages with the text editor or word processor that you are most
familiar with. Now that you've got HTML under your belt, however, you should consider
switching to one of the many software packages especially designed for creating Web pages.
This chapter helps you choose the software that is best for you, and introduces some of
the best and most popular HTML authoring tools.
There are essentially four types of HTML authoring
- HTML text editors work a lot like the text editor or
word processor you're used to, but speed up your work with custom button bars and menu
commands for handling HTML.
- Graphical Web page editors let you build Web pages as
you view them, complete with graphics and formatting, usually without showing the actual
HTML tags at all.
- HTML add-ons to other software add special button
bars or an "export Web page" command to your favorite word processor, page
layout program, or office productivity suite.
- Web site construction and management tools provide
organization and planning tools for handling large numbers of Web pages, with an
integrated editor for building individual pages or groups of similar pages.
Which software you should use depends on the size
you expect your Web site to be, and the number of people who are working with you to
create it. It also depends somewhat on your personal tastes and skills. This chapter gives
you the information you need to make an informed decision on which software is worth
evaluating for yourself.
Versus Graphical Editors
Web page editors like Netscape Composer (formerly known as Navigator Gold) incorporate a
Web browser that attempts to show the Web page with graphics and special formatting as you
build it. (See Figure 23.1.) The attraction of this sort of editor is that you
theoretically don't have to even learn HTML to create Web pages.
Figure 23.1. Netscape
Composer is a Web browser with a built-in Web page editor (or vice versa, depending on how
you look at it).
Most Web page authors, however, prefer using a text
editor that shows the actual HTML commands. Any word processor or text editor will do,
though specialized HTML editors, such as the HTMLed program in Figure 23.2, offer
convenient buttons and menu commands that can save you a lot of typing. Some HTML editors
also automatically highlight HTML tags, which makes them easier to read.
Figure 23.2. With HTMLed,
you edit the HTML source code for a Web page directly.
Why would you want to type HTML commands yourself
instead of letting a graphical editor like Netscape Navigator Gold write them for you?
There are at least five good reasons:
- You have more creative flexibility when you type the
HTML yourself. Though graphical editors are becoming more powerful with each new version,
none of them currently let you use all the HTML commands and techniques you'll learn in
- Typing the commands yourself is often faster and
easier than navigating through complex menus and dialog boxes, especially when you use an
HTML editor like HTMLed.
- Hand-written HTML is much easier to read and maintain
than the messy code created by most automated graphical editors. Learning HTML also gives
you the ability to read and modify any Web page, no matter what tools were used to create
- You often don't get quite what you see with WYSIWYG
editors. Even the Netscape Composer doesn't display pages exactly as they appear in
Netscape Navigator! Writing HTML yourself also makes it easy to include special formatting
that will only appear in certain circumstances.
- You don't need to learn a complex new software
program. HTML itself is quite simple, and it often takes longer to figure out how to use
the "helpful" graphical editor than to learn to help yourself.
- Before you decide which editor is best for you, pay a
visit to this site to see what's new and which editors are currently rated best.
- Consider not only the ratings of an editor, but also
the size and complexity of the Web site you plan to build.
- Once you narrow the choices down to one or two
editors that seem best for you, you can download evaluation copies directly from TUCOWS.
If you already use a word processor or page layout
program, you may not have to switch software to get the convenient HTML shortcuts that a
specialized HTML editor provides. The latest versions of almost all business software
include support for HTML, and even older word processors can be enhanced with add-ons for
building Web pages.
All the applications in the Microsoft Office 97
suite, for example, include the ability to open, edit, and save HTML pages. Microsoft also
offers a free add-on for Word 7.0 (and other Microsoft Office 95 programs) called Internet
Assistant. You can download this add-on at:
As Figure 23.3 illustrates, Internet Assistant
allows you to create HTML headings, lists, and other Web page formatting commands by
selecting from pull-down lists. You can also make hypertext links directly within Word, as
shown in Figure 23.4.
Figure 23.3. Internet Assistant adds drop-down lists
for most HTML tags to Microsoft Word.
Figure 23.4. Internet Assistant also lets you create
hypertext links within Microsoft Word.
Internet Assistant for Word 7.0 (and Office 7.0)
includes a built-in Web browser, as shown in Figure 23.5. Though this browser does a good
job of showing basic HTML text and images, it doesn't support many of the advanced
features of standalone Web browsers. For this reason, other applications and add-ons
prefer to rely on Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer for viewing Web pages.
Figure 23.5. Word with Internet Assistant, like many
Web-enabled applications, includes a built-in Web browser.
Though specialized Web editing programs are still
the most popular choice among Web page authors, the trend of the future is definitely
toward HTML-enabled applications. Expect upcoming versions of your favorite software to
meet or exceed the Web page editing capabilities of today's standalone HTML editors.
Time Saver: HTML-enabled applications and
add-ons are especially useful for converting existing documents into HTML. In many cases,
you can simply open a document and choose an "export as HTML" option to add HTML
paragraph breaks, text formatting, and sometimes even image tags. This can be dramatically
faster than adding all those tags by hand.
Management and Authoring Tools
All of the options discussed so far in this chapter
are intended to help you build Web sites one page at a time. But planning, implementing,
and managing a large Web site today can involve far more than writing HTML. For help with
higher-level tasks like organizing your pages, automatic link verification and testing,
multi-author version tracking, and multimedia Web publishing, you'll need to turn to more
complex software tools.
To help you understand what these tools can do for
you, let's take a look at two of the most popular site management and authoring packages,
Adobe PageMill and Microsoft FrontPage.
Just A Minute: I chose PageMill and FrontPage
as examples in this chapter because they are two of the most popular and capable tools
currently available, and they are simple enough for beginners to use. Don't take that as a
recommendation against competing programs that may be as good or better for your needs.
There are also more advanced products available such as Macromedia Backstage and
NetObjects Fusion. These are billed as the "ultimate" complete site production
solution, but are far too complex to cover in this guide. Other products, such as HomePage
and PageMill's "big brother" SiteMill, offer many of the same features as
FrontPage, plus bells and whistles of their own. More promising Web site authoring
packages are appearing on the market almost daily, so look around on the Internet and
evaluate the latest before you invest in one.
The line between an "editor" and a
"site management tool" can't be sharply drawn, and Adobe PageMill is a good
example of a software package that straddles the line. Its primary function is similar to
Netscape Composer: a graphical Web browser that lets you build and edit pages as you view
them (see Figure 23.6).
Figure 23.6. At first glance, PageMill is just a
graphical HTML editor like Netscape Composer.
PageMill offers a number of features that help you
quickly edit multiple similar pages and get an overall picture of how a page fits into
your site. These include the Pasteboard, color palette, and Inspector windows shown in
Figure 23.7, among other features.
Figure 23.7. PageMill offers a number of bells and
whistles that go beyond what you'd expect from a simple page editor.
To really get a handle on major site development,
however, you need to move up to a product such as Adobe SiteMill or Microsoft FrontPage.
By providing a visual overview of your entire site, these programs can help you understand
and control how the Web components are associated and linked. Icons are generally used to
show relationships between pages and to indicate if there is a problem, such as a broken
The Explorer module of FrontPage (see Figure 23.8),
for example, is closely integrated with FrontPage Editor. You can do things like moving
files between directories while automatically modifying all links for all pages affected
by the move.
Microsoft FrontPage also includes Web wizards and
Web templates, which guide you through the creation of a complete Web site based on a
pre-designed "standard" format. You get to pick which parts of the design you
want to include in your Web site, and provide the actual graphics and text to implement
the pages. Figure 23.9 shows one of the dialog boxes you would encounter when using the
Web wizard called Corporate Presence.
Figure 23.8. Microsoft FrontPage Explorer gives you
a birds-eye view of your entire Web site.
Figure 23.9. Microsoft FrontPage's Corporate
Presence Web Wizard lets you specify the main components of your Web site all at once.
Though its emphasis is on helping you produce a
professional-quality site quickly, FrontPage offers some more advanced features, such as
integrating databases and multimedia into your pages. FrontPage also provides some fairly
simple tools to aid you in administering your own Web server.
If cutting-edge features are your top priority, you
should probably look beyond tools like FrontPage toward more powerful (and expensive)
packages, such as Macromedia Backstage or NetObjects Fusion.
It would take us far beyond the scope of this guide
to delve into these advanced packages, but they essentially enable you to make your site
look different for every visitor. Macromedia Backstage gives you powerful tools for
accessing databases, managing online discussion groups, and building interactive
animation, sound, and video into your pages. NetObjects Fusion includes many similar
features, but places more emphasis on advanced page layout and interactive site management
If you'd like to see some of what's possible with
these cutting-edge tools, check out the Macromedia site at:
and the NetObjects site at:
Just A Minute: The kind of dynamic,
interactive, individualized Web sites that high-end tools can create are an exciting
glimpse into the future of the Web. However, even with the fanciest tools, you'll still
need to make a significant investment of both time and money--maybe even involving a
development team rather than an individual author. Since you've just learned HTML, you may
not be quite ready for the Web site of the future. The chapters in Part V,
"Interactive Web Pages," can show you how to use good old HTML tags to add some
interactivity to your site.
This chapter introduced the four basic types of HTML
editing and site management tools. With Netscape Navigator Gold, HTMLed, Microsoft
Internet Assistant, Adobe PageMill, and Microsoft FrontPage as examples, you learned what
each kind of tool can do to speed up your Web page development.
- Q If interactive, dynamic sites are the wave of
the future, am I wasting my time learning plain old HTML?
A Absolutely not. Even the most advanced interactive sites use HTML to glue everything
together. The hype on some Web page development software packages may claim "no HTML
experience required," but ask any Web site developer using those tools and you'll
hear a different story. A solid working knowledge of HTML will continue to be a strong
advantage and practical pre-requisite for developing Web sites far into the future.
Q Technology is changing so fast. How can I find out about the latest tools?
A The Web itself is by far your best research tool if you're shopping for Web
development tools. For example, try the Yahoo! list of World Wide Web software companies
- or the official World Wide Web consortium list of
HTML tools at:
- 1. Do WYSIWYG HTML editors actually produce
pages that look exactly the same in a Web browser as they do in an editor?
2. What is the biggest advantage of text-based HTML editors, as compared to graphical
3. What is the biggest advantage of graphical editors over text-based editors?
4. Do advanced site development tools actually do anything that you can't achieve with
- 1. No. At least none of the current versions
have delivered on this promise yet (especially since HTML can look quite different in
various browsers anyway).
2. Text-based editors give you more complete control over the HTML that goes into the
3. Graphical editors make it easier to tell approximately what pages will look like,
even if you're not versed in HTML.
4. Yes. No matter how well you fine-tune your HTML, you simply can't implement some
advanced interactive features without programmed "objects" or special server
- There are demonstration copies of many HTML editors
and site development tools available from their respective company's Web sites. Download
and try out a few editors, and pick the one that best suits your own tastes and habits.