Of Authoring Tools and Netscape Fools

by Cye H. Waldman

Contents

| Introduction | Authoring Tools | Netscape Fools | Contest | Bookshelf | Resources |

Introduction

There has been a veritable explosion of new book titles on authoring for the Web. When I wrote last month's column I had all three books on the subject that I knew of. Now I know of 15 such books and have added four to my personal library. (There were only nine books when I wrote the first draft of the article.) I will keep you apprised of these acquisitions and make some comments about the books regularly in this column. At this rate of growth we can expect to see HTML as a category on "Jeopardy" soon.


News Flash! I've posted a definitive list of books on HTML authoring at this Web site. The list has all the books reviewed in WWWiz magazine plus many, many others, including numerous annoucements of forthcoming titles from several publishing houses. Go to Cye's Definitve HTML Book List now.


Of course, interest in HTML is just riding the tidal wave that is the World Wide Web. But I think the reason it's so popular in its own right is that it is very accessible and you don't have to be a computer jock to learn it. The fact is, HTML is not a language at all, rather it specifies the instructions, through syntax and tags, that tell the browser how to present the document. Moreover, it is especially small and easy to learn. There really aren't that many things to be learned.

In this month's column I'll be talking about three authoring tools for Microsoft Word and some tips for going beyond simple HTML documents. We'll also initiate two new sections: a monthly contest for the best browsing and authoring tips submitted by the readers and a bookshelf section where we'll try to keep up with the avalanche of books on HTML.

Authoring Tools

Didn't I say just last month that my experiences with authoring tools were not satisfying? That was before my revered publisher made me the Technical Editor and instructed me to figure out how we're going to convert all the print material for publication at our Web site. The easy way out would be throw an HTML header on a plain text file and be done with it. But nobody wants to just read from a computer screen and I believe that HTML can bring added value to a document through the appropriate use of navigation links within the document, hot links to other files and Web sites, as well as images and multimedia.

Confronted with this enormous task I decided to look into authoring tools. Authoring tools come in two basic flavors: templates for word processors and stand-alone editors. The latter type may be WYSIWYG, or not. I decided to limit the search to three templates for Microsoft Word since I didn't want to make an occupation of it. These are all capable of converting a Word document to HTML and also embellishing it to take better advantage of a browser's capabilities. There are many more such tools, including at least two I know of for Word Perfect (see the Resources section below). I chose the three particular products I did because I had some prior experience with them or read good things about them. The three products I evaluated are Microsoft's Internet Assistant for Word, Quarterdeck's WebAuthor, and Jill Swift's Ant. One caveat would be appropriate at this point: I'm not a professional software reviewer (although I have done my share of beta testing) and I don't have PC Labs at my disposal. I'm just a regular person like you with a job to do. I tried each product on a real Word document I had to convert to HTML and recorded my experiences along the way. Enough said. On to the reviews!

All three products are templates and as such perform their magic through the use of macros, macrobuttons, and hidden text. You accomplish the markup by selecting text and using a toolbar tool or drop-down menu to have the template install the markup tags. All this is done in the native Word format. When finished, just direct the program to save the document as an HTML document. This is a plain text file which can be brought back into Word or edited with a plain text editor, such as NotePad. All three programs also support in-line GIF images.

Internet Assistant

Internet Assistant Documentation Microsoft's Internet Assistant for Word is available free from their Microsoft's Web site. I'm using the first version of the program and have had no problems with it. I tried to get a later version but had problems with it under Windows 95 and so reverted to the earlier one. Internet Assistant has the unique feature that it includes a browser you can go online with. I found the browser to be slow and cumbersome. While it is nice to switch quickly between the word processing mode and the browser mode, the program can't display your document in HTML mode until you convert it to HTML. Internet Assistant comes with some modest documentation in Word files. Unfortunately, it is available only for the Windows platform at the present time.

You begin a session in Internet Assistant by selecting a new file with the HTML template (html.dot). This gives you access to the HTML toolbar and menus so you can do the markups. If you want to convert an existing document have to copy it and paste it into the HTML template.

Internet Assistant retains bold and italic character formatting when converting to HTML--one less thing to worry about when adding the markup tags! Also, it recognizes ordinary paragraphing so that you needn't worry about inserting paragraph tags. Believe me, this is important. Although Internet Assistant does not support HTML 3.0 or Netscape extensions you can insert custom tags from a Menu option. Unfortunately, they cannot be modified on screen. In fact, you don't have access to any of the tags, so you can't add a tag modifier if you wanted to. (Examples of tag modifiers: change an ordinary horizontal rule to one which spans a fraction of the page width, or tell an image to be left-aligned with the page for text wrap, and so on). This is because Internet Assistant uses macrobuttons to insert the markup tags and you can't modify them. You can see the macrobuttons if you select to view the field codes, but they are hard to decipher.

Making internal jumps and hyperlinks is relatively simple. Both work from a single tabbed dialog box where you are prompted for the title to display and the URL (for links) or the bookmark (for jumps). The program permanently stores your URLs so they will be available for future sessions. Because the dialog box requires both the hypertext and the URL in the same dialog box you can't cut and paste them in from the text individually. I finally figured out that I could copy them both in together and then cut and paste within the dialog box. This feature is more suited to creating a new document than converting an old one.

Of the programs I tried, Internet Assistant was the fastest of the programs at converting the document to HTML. About the only things I didn't like about it were that you couldn't modify the markup tags and that it inserts some extraneous META tags in the HTML header. Finally, Internet Assistant installs a compiled macro in your Word startup directory, so part of it is always active when you start Word. If you want to disengage it without uninstalling it just rename the file wordhtml.wll in your \winword\startup directory (I change wll to wl_ so that I don't forget what it is). This removes access to the browser but leaves the template available (although I'm not sure if it's fully functional). Incidentally, wll files are compiled Word macros.

WebAuthor

Web Author Package Quarterdeck's WebAuthor is the only commercial program reviewed here. The list price is about $150 and it comes with a printed manual, a modest tutorial in the Help file and 90 days of free technical support by telephone, online services, or private e-mail. Information about the program can be viewed at the Quarterdeck WebAuthor Fact Sheet.

In most respects, WebAuthor is very similar to Internet Assistant. Existing Word files are pasted into a new document created with the WebAuthor template (html60.dot) and the markup tags are handled with macrobuttons inserted in the text.

WebAuthor does have some distinguishing features. An optional sidebar running vertically down the page indicates the styles of all the paragraphs. It has a very nice dialog for entering jumps and hyperlinks. Also, this was the only program that noted syntax errors when I entered incorrect URLs. HTML code and Netscape extensions are supported through insertion of custom tags. These are visible on-screen and can be cut, pasted and modified like normal text. They appear in a different color so they can be distinguished from the document text. WebAuthor also comes with a custom dictionary of HTML and Internet acronyms and terms.

The program doesn't recognize any Word document character formatting as the other programs do. In fact, they mistakenly tell you to save existing documents as plain text before copying them into the WebAuthor template. Bad mistake. It imports the copy as pre-formatted text and goes on to produce a singularly unattractive HTML document. I recommend that you just cut and paste as you normally would and remember that the bold and italic text are not what they appear to be and have to be formatted.

I had some other frustrations with the program as well. I couldn't seem to apply two styles to any text. For example, I couldn't get bold-italic text nor could I italicize the text for a hyperlink that was a book title.

Saving the document to HTML format is accomplished from the toolbar. Feedback for the conversion process is monitored on the status bar but you can't tell how far it has gone, just that it is going on. Since Word is unaware of WebAuthor when the template is not in use, you can just leave it installed when you aren't using it.

Ant

Ant Jill Swift's Ant program is a shareware product that comes in a regular and "Plus" version. It's very reasonably priced at $15 (or $20 for the Plus version). A demonstration copy of the program is available at two principle sites for a Windows version and a Macintosh version as well as at several other locations. Ant is the only one of programs reviewed here which is available for the Mac. Installation was painless and the program comes with--what else--documentation in HTML format that can be viewed with your browser. This is a good example of added value that I was referring to above. All that's really needed in the documentation is more links back to the table of contents. The Back button in your browser works sometimes but is unreliable. In order to view HTML documents created with Ant you'll need to use your browser.

You begin a session in Ant by opening a document or a new document with the Normal template. You activate Ant by clicking the tool which is inserted on the toolbar during installation. Alternatively, you can open a new document with the Ant template. Ant provides the most convenient way to initiate conversion of an existing document. Just open the document as you normally would and click the Ant icon to activate the Ant template and tool bar.

Like Internet Assistant, Ant retains bold and italic character formatting but relies less on the style menu and provides more options on the toolbar. Ant really distinguishes itself from the other products in its use of hidden text for the markups. A tool on the toolbar allows you to toggle between viewing the markup tags or not. But most significantly, you can modify them in situ (literally, in the original position). This gives you immediate access to tag modifiers and Netscape extensions. The "hidden" tags, shown in red, can be edited, cut, copied, or pasted and so you can fine tune your HTML document before you even convert it to HTML.

Ant also treats making internal and external hyperlinks a little differently (and more to my liking). To create a hyperlink text just select the desired text and then click the URL tool to get prompted for the URL. That's all. Internal jumps are treated similarly. You can optionally include the anchor location at the same time or at a later time with a separate anchor tool. I was surprised to learn that you can have spaces in the anchor names so you can do jumps from a table of contents quite easily.

Ant supports in-line images or you can just put place-holders in for GIF images. It doesn't support JPEG images specifically, but remember that you can edit the markup tags directly, so you can make them whatever you want by typing within the hidden text area.

When you are ready to convert your document to HTML just click the appropriate tool on the toolbar. Ant provides a WWWiz-bang show on the screen as it parses the entire document several times to make all the conversions. Before it starts, however, you must answer some questions and I advise you to pay attention the first few times lest you make an error and have to repeat the process. I found Ant to be unobtrusive and do not disengage it when I'm not using it.

The Envelope Please. And The Winner Is...

Each of the programs has something to recommend it. Internet Assistant is the closest in behavior to Word as it relies heavily on the Styles pull-down menu to do the formatting while reserving the tool bar for the unique HTML attributes like graphics and hyperlinks. WebAuthor is very similar and is the only one to come with a printed manual and telephone technical support. It also has the custom dictionary and URL syntax checking. Ant is well-designed for the conversion of existing Word documents as well as the creation of new documents. This is seen in its approach to beginning a markup session and to creating links. It also has a more extensive toolbar and the easiest means to insert custom tags.

Ant is my personal choice for the job of converting Word documents to HTML. To me, it's the thinking person's authoring tool because of it's adept use of hidden text for the markup tags that can be modified on the fly. Of course, it's shareware and you should register it if you intend to use it.

Netscape Fools: Beyond Simple HTML

In this and previous columns we've discussed a number of ways to get started on developing a Web page. We've talked about developing pages from scratch, with home page builders, and various template and stand-alone authoring tools. Let's suppose that you now have a basic page put together for your personal home page, a company profile, your dog, or whatever. Now let's look at how to put some zing in it.

Most of what we'll talk about here is Netscape 1.1 specific, but a lot of that is HTML 3.0 compatible and is supported by other browsers such as the latest release of Mosaic. Excellent documentation for these HTML extensions exists online so I'll just describe them briefly and point you to the sources.

Images are probably the most noticed items in your Web page. Netscape's "Creating High-Impact Documents" gives some suggestions on how to improve the visual appeal of your pages. "High- Impact" talks about the interlaced GIF images which appear to "fade in" and the high-low resolution trick where one image is drawn over another. You've probably seen this implemented as a two-step animation as in my own home page here at WWWiz. But I don't think that was the original intention.

Netscape allows you to modify the font sizes anywhere in the text, character by character. Thus you could show growing or shrinking text, enlarge the first letter of a paragraph, or even do small caps. The documentation can be found in Netscape's "Extensions to HTML."

Backgrounds and More

Perhaps the most widely used new feature in Netscape is the support for background color and images that are tiled to fill the background of the viewing area. The documentation can be found in Netscape's "Controlling Document Backgrounds." The background color specification allows for 16 million colors. The most commonly used ones are available in Lema's Color Index (List or Chart) and the 256 colors in the normal Windows palette are in Doug Jacobson's RGB Hex Triplet Color Chart. The tiled background, which I simply call wallpaper, seems to be a cottage industry in its own right. There are so many that I can't even begin to list them here. Russ's Backgrounds is a nice collection of wallpaper as well as a thorough listing of links to other wallpaper collections. Some of my favorite sources are listed in the Resources section below. And for those of you who want to make your own wallpaper, Tom Karlo has posted an excellent article on "Making Seamless Backgrounds from Any Graphic." When using background colors and wallpaper make sure to adjust the text colors so they are legible. It's all described in the aforementioned Netscape document.

Tables are an important new development for HTML 3.0 and Netscape 1.1. I think this may be single most significant new tool for the Web designer and its potential has not been fully explored yet. The documentation can be found in Netscape's "Tables as Implemented in Netscape 1.1." Bear in mind that before this implementation tables could only be implemented in the pre-formatted text mode and there was very little you could do with it besides line up text vertically. The new realization is rich in features that allow the designer a lot of latitude to produce nicely formatted output. Also, think beyond data and visualize tables as the basis for entire Web pages. I've seen many examples of how this has been applied, and as I said earlier, we haven't even scratched the surface.

Hagan's Table Sampler has a nice demonstration of the various properties of tables in her Tutorial on HTML. While you're over there you should check out some of her other stuff as well.

A handy utility to have for creating tables is Jordan Evans' Excel 5.0 to HTML Converter. This freeware product can convert an Excel worksheet, or part of it, to a Netscape 1.1 compatible table. The program, actually a macro, prompts you for the name of the worksheet, title for the HTML file, output file name, etc., then creates the HTML file.

Finally, most of recent books cover the mechanics of table construction, but not the imaginative uses of them (see New On the Bookshelf and Resources below).

Equations are also supported by HTML 3.0 but the specifications are not set yet. I spoke to Design Science who developed the equation processor in Microsoft Word and the stand-alone graphical equation processor MathType. They feel that the path to equations will be through a TEX-like language and are poised to develop a MathType-to-HTML conversion utility when the specifications are set.

To top off this discussion on developing our Web pages beyond simple HTML I want to tell you about two fascinating sources I've discovered. First, Laurence Simon has put together an interesting collection called The Magician's Tricks. He gives details on some of the things I've discussed above and many more. Read them. Study them. Use them.

Those of you who are interested in more advanced concepts of Web design should look at David Siegel's Net Tips for Writers and Designers. He gives explicit advice on typography, English usage, and graphic design for the Web . These articles are well thought out and written, and while they may seem a bit pedantic at times, the advice is very valuable. David's Web site, High Five Awards honors well-designed Web pages. The award is given weekly and I recommend that you check it out also.


News Flash! David Siegel's Home Page took home the "Webby" for second place at the Cool Site of the Year Awards. Read the WWWiz Extra feature story about the Award Ceremony here.


Tip of The Month Contest

Ginger Warbis photo With this issue I'm starting a contest for the best tip on browser usage or authoring for the Web. The winner will receive a T-shirt with the WWWiz logo. This month's winner is Ginger Warbis. Ginger is a freelance HTML layout, graphics, and script developer. She taught me how to capture Web wallpaper before either of us knew there was a contest. This exchange took place over e-mail when I wrote to tell her that I admired her wallpaper and asked if it was in the public domain. She told me to help myself, but I had to admit I didn't know how. Here is what she told me...

Step by step instructions:

View the source

Find a string that looks like this: <body background="somefile.gif">
(there may be other tags in that statement as well).

Copy the file name that (in this case 'somefile.gif') and past it at the end
of the url in the location bar so that it replaces any current file name, i.e.,

http://fornits.com/curiosity/

becomes

http://fornits.com/curiosity/somefile.gif

because the last item is a directory and

http://fornits.com/curiosity/i4hemp.html

becomes

http://fornits.com/curiosity/somefile.gif

When you have the image file you want, just save it to disk.

Congradulations, Ginger, on winning first prize in our first contest. Now, second prize, two WWWiz T- shirts, goes to... (I bet I could get fired for that.) Incidentally, the same trick should work for getting hold of those fleeting LOWSRC images. Just look for the string that looks like LOWSRC="somefile.gif" and proceed as above.

Submit your entries to me by email (cye@cts.com). But please check the sources in my columns to make sure you're not telling me something I've already published.

New On the Bookshelf

Book Cover Tom Savola's Special Edition Using HTML (Que Publishing, $40) is a very thorough reference and guide to developing Web applications with HTML. It comes with a CD-ROM that has the largest collection of HTML-related software I've seen so far. The book is replete with HTML examples and icons in the margin let you know what's on the CD. Moreover, the publisher is maintaining a Web site where you can always get the latest version of the software on the disk. The CD contains software for Windows, Mac, and UNIX platforms and the book has descriptions of all the software. The book is geared primarily for the HTML author and is weak in its description of the server side of the process and so neglects the most advanced features of HTML authoring such as animation. The book is otherwise good and the CD alone is worth the price. I recommend it for those interested in Web authoring.

Book Cover Ed Tittel and Steve James's HTML for Dummies (IDG Books, $30) is a solid book on the basics of HTML but it doesn't really go beyond the basics. There is very little or nothing on the latest Netscape extensions (such as tables and backgrounds) so widely used on the Web right now. The disk included with the book contains the examples and graphics in the book as well as some other useful stuff like hot-links to the various sources listed in the book. To the books credit, it does go beyond merely programming HTML with advice on what to do with your creation once you've made it. There are two chapters devoted to debugging Web pages and three chapters on going public with your Web pages on a commercial server. There is also a lot of sound advice on do's and don'ts for HTML and Web page design and building complex Web sites. This book is recommended for novices.

Book Cover Urb LeJeune's Netscape and HTML Explorer (Coriolis Group, $40) is another very thorough book but has a strong emphasis on Netscape extensions. The book goes well beyond HTML authoring and includes such topics as searching for information on the Web, comparisons of Webspace and Gopherspace, and advanced features of Netscape. I found the book to be weak in the area of CGI and scripts, however. The book comes with a CD- ROM which has a huge amount of material, including copyright-free images and multimedia clips. Still, it lacks a guide to the software on the CD-ROM so there really isn't a clue as to what they are. Also, the CD- ROM appears to be for Windows only. Nevertheless, the book is recommended for its treatment of both Netscape and HTML.

Book Cover She's baaaaaack! Laura Lemay, the doyenne of HTML publishing and author of Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML in a Week has done it again. She's back with Teach Yourself More Web Publishing with HTML in a Week. This book, like the first one, is a no-nonsense tutorial on the nuts and bolts of HTML. The book is a companion to the first one; it covers advanced topics such as Netscape extensions and tables, and goes into greater detail on images and multimedia. There is also more on scripts and forms but not enough in my opinion. I'm beginning to think that the time is ripe for a book devoted solely to CGI, scripts, and forms. The book also covers management of Web presentations and getting the most out of the Web Server. The book doesn't include a disk or CD-ROM but the author maintains a Web site with examples from the book, source code for scripts, and useful tips. This book is highly recommended for experienced HTML authors who want to go beyond HTML 2.0.

Feedback

Let's keep those e-cards and e-letters coming in folks. This column is for you and I need to know what you need to know. You know?

Resources

Authoring Tools for Microsoft Word

Microsoft Internet Assistant
Quarterdeck WebAuthor
Jill Swift's Ant for Windows
Jill Swift's Ant for Macintosh

Authoring Tools for Word Perfect (DOS)

WPTOHTML
Word Perfect Internet Publisher

Netscape Documents

Creating High-Impact Documents
Extensions to HTML
Controlling Document Backgrounds
Tables as Implemented in Netscape 1.1

Background Collections

Lema's Color Index List
Lema's Color Index Chart
Doug Jacobson's RGB Hex Triplet Color Chart
Russ's Backgrounds
Texture Land Junction
The Background Sampler
Iain's Textures on the WWW
Radioactive Textures
Sandra's Clip Art Server
Making Seamless Backgrounds from Any Graphic.

Miscellaneous

Design Science (MathType)
Simon's The Magician's Tricks
David Siegel's Net Tips for Writers and Designers
David Siegel's High Five Awards
Hagan's HTML Tutorial
Hagan's Table Sampler

Books

Savola, Tom (1995). Special Edition Using HTML, Que Publishing ($40 with CD-ROM for Windows, Macintosh, and UNIX).
Tittle, Ed and James, Steve (1995). HTML for Dummies, IDG Books ($30 with Disk for Windows - Other platforms available upon request).
LeJeune, Urban A. (with Jeff Duntemann) (1995). Netscape & HTML Explorer, Coriolis Group Books ($30 with CD-ROM for Windows).
Lemay, Laura (1995). Teach Yourself More Web Publishing with HTML in a Week, Sams.net ($30).

About the Author

Cye H. Waldman (cye@cts.com) is a technical and engineering consultant based in Encinitas, CA and a chronic Webaholic.



(C) Copyright 1995 - WWWiz Magazine - All materials contained herein remain property of WWWiz Magazine.