Contents ( returns here.)
What This Article is About
Why Have Your Home Page at Home
What If I Don't Know HTML
I Still Can't Do It: Home Economics 101
I Don't Have The Time
Installing Your Home Page
If you've joined the ranks of Internet and World Wide Web users on home computers then you already know that it's not an OOBE (out-of-box experience). I've gone through this twice already. Once when I first signed up with my Internet provider and I had to go in under UNIX to download the Windows kit, then configure the WinSock. Then again when I got a beta copy of Windows 95 and wanted to switch to its network and dial-up services so I could use a 32-bit browser. This took a couple of unsuccessful tries until I found two Web pages with step-by-step instructions. Anyway, before Windows 95 came along I was set up and running but every time I went on-line there was this frustrating, agonizing wait until I got connected and waited for Mozilla's picture to fill in. (Mozilla is Netscape's dinosaur mascot who was until recently featured in all the Netscape pages.) Well, it was cute the first few times but it got old real fast. But what could I do about it?
I had already learned that you can change the browser's home page and that the browser can read local HTML files (i.e., files on your own computer). (HTML is the language of the World Wide Web, more on this later.) It occurred to me that I could put a home page on my own computer and save all that looking up, connecting, and loading time. That's what I want to tell you about here, that and a few tricks I've learned that I hope will enhance your WWW experience and increase your productivity at the same time. Moreover, there seems to be an increasing interest in HTML and Web page development and doing your own home page is a good place to get started.
The term "home page" is used in two distinct ways in connection with the Web. When you first start your browser, the Web page that loads automatically is the browser's home page. Each browser has a default home page which is usually a direct link to its site of origin. For example, Mosaic takes you to the Supercomputer Center at the University of Illinois. However, for one who provides information at a Web site server, the home page is the top page through which users access the site. Actually, both types of home pages are functionally the same as they act as a hub through which you can link to other pages within the same site or to outside links.
What This Article is About
The browser that you are using probably came with a default home page, but most browsers that I know of allow you to change the home page. You can even specify WWWiz Webzine as your home page. We'll try to make it interesting for you and each month it will be replete with interesting new links as well as an archive of the previous ones. In fact, we expect it to change daily, bringing you important Internet news, really cool sites, tips for improving your WWWonderful experience, or warnings about on-line shenanigans. (Just last month someone was distributing a bogus PKZip 3.0 (PK300B.EXE or PK300B.ZIP) which would wipe your hard drive clean when you tried to execute or unzip it!) Some browsers even allow you to start up with no home page at all. Presumably you would start your Web session with one of your saved Bookmarks, a pre-defined site in a pull-down menu, or manually tying in a URL. (URL, or Universal Resource Locator, is the Internet's way to specify the "address" of a site.)
However, having changed my browser's home page to one which is on my own computer I have been so pleased that I feel everyone should do it. In this article I hope to convince you why and show you how to do it. This is not a tutorial on HTML, however. There isn't the time or space to do it here, and it doesn't make sense to do it serially in a monthly publication. Also, my experience is primarily with Netscape running under Windows (3.1 and 95) but most of what is said here will apply to other browsers and operating systems as well.
Why Have Your Home Page at Home
There are several reasons why I advocate developing your own home page for your browser. The first that comes to
mind is that the home page can be designed to load much faster. But the advantages go far beyond that. Your home
page can be customized to your own needs, desires, and creative impulses. It can be an expression of the unique
person that you are. You can have immediate access to the hypertext links for your most frequented sites, and
maintain lists of your own or anybody else's favorite sites in separate files. I frequently download lists of interesting
sites to my computer and then add a link in my home page to "point" to them. You can also relieve a bloated
Bookmark pull-down menu by moving these sites to your home page or to another file. This will give you the
opportunity to arrange them in a more meaningful way, such as alphabetically, by subject, or whatever. Bear in mind
that when the Bookmark pull-down menu exceeds the length of your screen (it can present just so many listings) it
directs you to an additional dialog box for the remainder.
Figure 1 shows my own home page. There are three main
links: the directory tree, which I'll discuss later; the bookmarks, my own collection of interesting or frequently
accessed sites; and the collected lists of other individuals which I like to peruse from time to time.
One of the most interesting things I've discovered is that in Netscape I can link to my own directory tree. The screen looks just like a Gopher or FTP site with small icons identifying the folders (directories) and file types. (Try typing "file:///c|/" without the quotes in the location window. On the Mac try "file://YourHardDiskName///". This should work with Netscape, let me know what happens with other browsers.) From my home page I can go directly to the directory where I download my files and images so that I can conveniently read or look at these with my browser, at my leisure, and while off-line (i.e., at no run-time cost).
shows the directory where I usually direct my downloads. The listed files can be viewed and I can navigate
around the rest of my system as well. Of course, the browser doesn't know how to read all the files in your system,
but Netscape allows you to define new helper applications.
Mind you, Web pages and images which are downloaded to your computer can be viewed with the browser by using the Open File... option in the File menu. But having your own directory on the screen gives you faster and more convenient access and you don't have to remember the names of the files and images you downloaded. You can just point and click to view them.
When you open these files with the browser, they appear just as they do when you are on-line with the notable exception that the graphics are replaced by question-mark icons (unless you downloaded the images separately). Graphic images that you see in a Web Page are not embedded in that Web page. Rather, the Web page contains a reference to an image file which the server opens and sends the data to your browser. So when you download a Web page (e.g., Download or Save As... from File menu) you will not get the associated image files with it. The downloaded file contains the reference to the graphic file on the host computer. Fortunately, Netscape allows you to download the image files as well. Just place your cursor over the image and click the right mouse button. You'll be rewarded with a pop-up menu which provides a number of actions you can perform with that figure (view, save image as..., or copy location). (On the Macintosh just place the cursor over the image and hold down the mouse button to get this menu.)
There is one caveat here. Even if you download the file and its associated images, the images may still not show up when you view the file locally. This is because of the way the images are referenced in the Web page. That is, they may in a different directory that the Web page on the host computer. They may be referenced by absolute or relative path names. In the former case, the file is referenced by its exact path and name (on the host computer). In the latter case, the file names are given relative to the current document. Relative path names are the preferred mode since it allows the code to be more portable. Once you are somewhat familiar with HTML code you can easily remedy the situation by modifying the file slightly. In most cases, however, the Web page and images files are in the same directory on the host computer and you should have no problems.
What If I Don't Know HTML
HTML, or HyperText Markup Language, is the basis for all Web pages. And yes, you'll have to learn it (or an authoring tool) to some extent in order to develop and maintain your own home page. But it's not difficult, and it can be learned incrementally so that you can start doing things with it right away. The important point about HTML is that it is a universal language which is equally accessible to UNIX, Windows, Macintosh, and other operating systems. Thus, it is limited to ASCII, or plain text files. All of the work in bringing you those handsome Web pages is done locally by your own browser. To accomplish this, HTML defines its special properties by tags which surround the text in question. It's reminiscent of the early word processors where you might surround text to printed in boldface with a pair of CTRL-B tags. In HTML the tags are bounded by less-than and greater-than symbols and the closing tag has a slash just before the command. For example, the text < CENTER> My Home Page< /CENTER> places the expression "My Home Page" in the center of the browser window. There are two basic kinds of HTML commands, those for formatting text and those for hypertext links. It's hard to imagine a Web page that doesn't use both kinds.
Okay, I can't teach you HTML here, but I can tell you where to learn about it. Well, they say that the best place to learn about the Web is on the Web. Indeed, my first experience with HTML was with "A Beginner's Guide to HTML," which is available on the Web (see the Resources section at the end of this article). I recommend that you download the file and print it out. Then follow the lessons while doing the examples right on your own computer (while off-line, of course) as follows: Open your browser; since you are off-line you'll probably have to stop your browser from looking up its home page, try the Stop button. (Some browsers may not open without an active WinSock. Try activating the WinSock first with the modem turned off.) Next open a plain text editor (such as Window's own NotePad or Norton's Deskedit). After you have finished typing in your first HTML document (it will be quite short) save the file with an any name with an "htm" extension (for example, mypage.htm; use an "html" extension on UNIX or Macintosh, e.g., mypage.html). Now activate the browser by clicking on it and use Open File... in the File menu to load the new file (e.g., mypage.htm). Voila! You should see the fruit of your efforts in the browser window. Now, as you make changes and additions to your HTML file in the text editor make sure you save the changes then return to the browser and hit the Reload button. You should see the changes on the screen. If you don't it means that you've made an error in the HTML code, so return to the editor and fix it then Save and Reload again. If you plan to continue working with that text file just add it to your Bookmarks while in the browser. This is my preferred way of developing HTML files, toggling back and forth between an editor and browser. It's also instructive to see how different browsers interpret the same HTML code. You'll be surprised by how very different they can be once you get into the more advanced HTML tags.
Besides the "Beginner's Guide," there are many more tutorials on various aspects of HTML available on the Web which you can find by following the links in the Resources section below. There are also three books in my library which I can recommend. They each take a different path to teaching HTML and seek to achieve different levels of proficiency. Maybe one of them is right for you. Bear in mind that HTML is evolving very rapidly and that the most recently published books are apt to be the most up to date. They are listed in the Resources section along with the book and author home pages. Finally, there is a plethora of magazine articles about HTML. I've listed a few from PC Magazine in the Resources section, but I've seen them all over.
Another approach to Web page development is to use one of the various authoring tools. These purport to allow you to develop Web pages without learning HTML, and some of them even have WYSIWYG displays. Many of these are available as shareware for various platforms and I have tried out several of them. My experiences were not satisfying, but don't let that dissuade you since you can try them for nothing. I found that it was easier to learn and type the HTML tags than go through all the machinations required by the authoring tools. One of the newer ones, Live Markup, appears to be a little better and I'll be evaluating it soon. You'll find links to the authoring tools in the Web developers and authoring Resources I've listed; they are available for UNIX, Macintosh, and Windows platforms. There may also be courses available at your local community colleges or through adult education.
In no time at all you can put together a home page of your very own. And every time you see something on the Web you like you can just download it to your computer then cut and paste it into your home page with a text editor. It's that easy. When you need URLs to put in your pages (these are those sometimes lengthy addresses you see in the location window) you can copy them and paste them into your file in the editor. The URLs can be copied directly from the location window, or, save the location as a Bookmark, then copy it from the Bookmark edit facility.
I Still Can't Do It: Home Economics 101
If the above approaches are too troublesome for you there is one last recourse - the home page maker. This is a tool for constructing a home page by filling in the blanks of a questionnaire. I've found two of them on the Web. Fifi's Home Page Maker creates your home page interactively while on-line. Fifi has you fill out a form with text boxes and radio buttons and runs a script to produce a home page customized for you. The other one is a shareware program from the Web Wizard (aka the Duke of URL) which can be downloaded from his Web site. The shareware is very reasonably priced at $10 and is available in 16- and 32-bit versions for Windows only. This program takes you through a series of screens where you answer questions and choose between options to create a personal home page. Both programs are Netscape aware and use many of the Netscape enhancements. The URLs are listed in the Resources section.
I Don't Have The Time
Okay, this is really the bottom of the barrel. You don't want to learn HTML, an authoring tool, or even fill out a questionnaire. I still have something for you. In Netscape your bookmarks are kept in an ordinary HTML file and you can make this your home page. The file is called bookmark.htm (or html) and resides in the Netscape directory or folder. Just follow the directions in the next section. What's nice about this is that it stays current when you add new bookmarks. Just be sure to Reload if you want to see the new additions to the bookmarks right away. Hopefully, other browsers can be configured similarly.
Installing Your Home Page
Once you're satisfied with your home page and want to use it, tell your browser about it. For example, in Netscape you can specify the home page in the Styles section of the Preferences in the Options menu. The page specification is similar to a URL but with "file" substituted for "http." (By the way, "http" stands for hypertext transfer protocol.) Thus, if your home page is mypage.htm in directory c:\internet\home then the home page location is written as "file:///c|/internet/home/mypage.htm" (without the quotes). Notice that this uses the forward rather than the back slash, a vertical bar instead of a colon, and has three slashes before the drive designation "c." (Actually, it's two slashes after the colon and one slash before the "c.")
When you become proficient with HTML you'll want to embellish your home page and improve its functionality by taking advantage of the advanced features. Some of the things you will probably be interested in are developing fancy text, background color and color cycling, wallpaper, tables, interlaced GIFs and transparent backgrounds, laying one image on top of another, and even animation (after a fashion). Figure 4 shows a fancified bookmark page which takes advantages of some of the Netscape extensions.
Also, coming soon to a browser near you, virtual reality. Yes, even as you read this commercial development is under way for VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) and virtual reality browsers. Another interesting development to watch is Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java language and its companion browser HotJava. Java promises to provide Web pages with executable applications such as spreadsheets, animation, continuously updated display, and three-dimensional models that can be rotated with the mouse. You will find information on all of these subjects and more in the Resources.
I hope I've convinced you of the merits of bringing your home page home. There are several advantages, notably speed and quick access to your favorite links. Netscape also gives you access to your directory which opens up a whole new avenue of browser utility. Finally, there is something simply satisfying about developing HTML as a hobby or recreation.
I would like to hear about your experiences in developing your own home page. I'm particularly interested to learn if the other browsers can handle the directory tree. My prior experience with Mosaic, Internet Assistant, and Quarterdeck Mosaic were negative. They were capable of handling the home page itself, but could not utilize the Netscape extensions. We'll try to compile the information and put it up at our WWWiz Webzine site. Also, I have found a curious bug in Netscape that has persisted through versions 1.0N, 1.0, 1.1 (16- and 32-bit versions). When I enter the directory tree, Netscape opens the third file in the list. I'm curious to know if you have this experience, or if you notice any other odd occurrences for that matter. Finally, the motif of this column will be the technical aspects of the Web. Please let me know what subjects you would like to see covered.
Morris, Mary E.S., (1995). HTML for Fun and
Profit, Prentice-Hall ($36 with CD-ROM for Windows NT, Macintosh, or UNIX)
Author Web site not available yet; email to email@example.com)
Lemay, Laura, (1995). Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML in a
Week, Sams Publishing ($25).
Coming soon: Teach Yourself MORE Web Publishing with HTML in a Week
Aronson, Larry (1994). HTML Manual of Style, Ziff-Davis Press ($20).
"Publish Without Paper," cover story, Vol. 14, No. 3, February 7, 1995.
"Web Browsers: The Web Untangled," Vol. 14, No. 3, February 7, 1995.
"Electronic Publishing on the World-Wide Web," Power Programming by Ray Duncan, Vol. 14., No. 7, April 11, 1995.
"Setting Up a Web Server,"Power Programming by Ray Duncan, Vol. 14, No. 9, May 16, 1995.
"An HTML Primer,"Power Programming by Ray Duncan, Vol. 14, No. 11, June 13, 1995.