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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | PC FOCUS / LAWRENCE J. MAGID

A Web Site Is Not So Terribly Hard to Weave

March 31, 1997|LAWRENCE J. MAGID

Unless you've been asleep for the last year or so, you probably already know that it's relatively easy to surf through millions of pages on the World Wide Web. What you might not realize is that it's not all that hard to publish your own information. Setting up and maintaining a Web site is easier and cheaper than you might think.

Before you take the plunge, be aware that anything you put on the World Wide Web is there for the world to see. Don't put up anything that might embarrass or endanger you or others, and think about how you want to be represented at your online "home."

The tools I describe below make it easy to incorporate all sorts of graphics, animations, sounds and other wiz-bang effects--but just because you can incorporate all sorts of elements into your page doesn't mean you should.

Most Internet service providers, or ISPs, including America Online, allow subscribers to create and maintain their own sites. In most cases, there is no extra charge for a basic site, though there is usually a limit on the size of free sites. AOL, for example, gives members up to 2 megabytes per user name. (You get up to five user names per account.)

That might not seem like a lot of space, but the good news about Web sites is that the basic files that define Web pages (called an HTML document, for "hypertext markup language") typically takes up only a small amount of space.

You can, however, get into trouble if you use a lot of large graphic files. There's another reason to avoid large graphics: Any file that takes up a lot of space on the server also takes a long time for a user to download. It's great to use graphics, but keep them small.

An HTML document is basically a text file that contains the words that appear on your page, including any links to other pages. Web pages can display graphics, but the pictures themselves are not stored in the HTML documents. They are separate graphic files that are referenced within the HTML file.

As computer languages go, HTML is pretty easy to understand. A couple of years ago I spent a few days learning to code in it. But I've pretty much forgotten what I learned because there are now software programs that do the coding for you. Like desktop-publishing software for the Web, these programs allow you to use simple commands to lay out your pages, insert your graphics and create your links.

Whatever tools you use, you start by creating pages on your own hard disk, and, when done, "publish" them by copying from your computer to the appropriate directory on your ISP's server. Some HTML editing programs have their own publish commands, or you can use a file-transfer protocol (ftp) program such as WSFTP, an excellent free program you can download from Ipswitch's site (http://www.ipswitch.com).

I generally use Claris HomePage (Windows/Mac, $99) to edit my Web pages. It's easy to use and has all the features most people will need, even for sophisticated pages with tables, frames, multimedia files and access to Java applications.

The interface looks like a word-processing program. You type in the text and insert image files by clicking on them. Linking to another Web page is a breeze--just highlight the text or select the graphic that will serve as the link, click the link icon and either type in the URL (Web address) or paste it in from the clipboard. A browse tool makes it easy to link to files on your hard drive that are also on your Web site.

Since this is a "what you see is what you get," or WYSIWYG, program, the page you're editing looks pretty close to the way it will look when it's published on the Web. It's not a perfect representation, though, so it's a good idea to check out the page using one or more browsers before you publish it.

FrontPage (Windows/Mac, $149), like a lot of Microsoft programs, is a big one, designed with more depth and features than most people will ever use. The program has two components. The FrontPage editor is a WYSIWYG editor with a look and feel similar to Microsoft Word. It's pretty straightforward and does an exceptionally good job at displaying pages as they will look when they're on the Web.

The editor can be used by itself, but it works best when used with FrontPage Explorer, a Web management tool you can use to track all of the pages on your Web site. Your start by creating a mock-up of your site on your hard disk, then use the explorer to copy the files to your server. Site management tools include the ability to check for broken links and make universal changes to all pages at once.

AOL (keyword MYAOL) offers two free page-creation tools. Personal Publisher II, which takes only a few minutes to download, lets you create simple pages while you're logged on to AOL.

Users of AOL's Windows 95 version can optionally download a beta copy of AOLPress 2.0, a far more sophisticated tool that allows you to create pages with frames, tables and advanced features. AOL members can also use other editing tools and upload the files to AOL's server.

Lawrence J. Magid can be reached via e-mail at magid@latimes.com. His World Wide Web page is at http://www.larrysworld.com

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