Authoring Programs

January 1997

INTERNET AND INTRANETS GUIDE

New tools help designers create Web pages quickly.

A couple of years ago, back in the dark ages of Web publishing, building a site on the Internet required a dedicated team of computer professionals who were experts on hypertext markup language (HTML)-the programming syntax that dictates how each page should look. Today, many Web sites are being constructed in a few weeks or even days by one or two part-time employees working on shoestring budgets. Helping them are a new breed of Web authoring programs that make designing Web pages as easy as desktop publishing.

These software packages-from companies such as Adobe, askSam Systems, InContext, Interleaf, NaviSoft, Microsoft, SoftQuad and Quarterdeck-include templates for a variety of Web documents incorporating different type fonts and sizes. Special toolbars and pull-down menus list all the HTML formatting options and help designers place the proper codes throughout pages. Although programs vary, most offer fairly easy ways to automatically create colorful charts, graphs and special effects with the help of drag-and-drop features. Some even offer design suggestions, do spell checking and display error messages when invalid choices are made.

The authoring programs can tie Web pages to databases and then provide a preview mode, which lets users make sure all the remote links are going to the correct places. Several provide multimedia tool kits that enable designers to add audio and video clips.

The software ranges from $100 to about $600, depending on the level of sophistication. Demonstration versions usually can be downloaded from the companies' Web sites. Since the market is still in its infancy, potential customers are advised to become at least somewhat familiar with HTML syntax and to experiment with several demos before making final selections. Some of the programs are harder to use than others and a few still contain bugs.

As an alternative, established word-processing packages such as Lotus Development Corp.'s Word Pro, Microsoft's Windows 95 and Novell's WordPerfect offer HTML filters that provide basic tools for adding codes. They do not, however, offer much support for creating intriguing Web pages.

A final option is to call a systems integrator, who can select appropriate Web servers, build an in-house, local-area network and set up line connections to the Internet. After registering a site's domain name on www.internic.net, these companies can get sites up and running quickly with the help of preformatted Web pages.

Once Web pages are open to the public, systems administrators need a way to monitor how many times sites are visited. Several tools have been introduced in the last few months to help Webmasters measure the responsiveness of sites. Such products provide immediate feedback and help to maintain quality control.

Keynote Systems' Keynote Perspective software program can be programmed to track specific URLs at designated times. It can measure in real time how long it takes to access Web servers from different geographic locations. The Bazaar Analyzer from Aquas Inc., monitors how long each user spends on a page and at a site.

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