Any ideas about a program to build a personal site that might be
somewhat easier to use than FrontPage (and perhaps cheaper, as well;
the 2003 ver. seems to be going for about $150 or so)?
Easy and cheaper? Unfortunately, probably not.
It’s been while since I looked at the current crop of HTML and Web
Page Design tools. There are many.
There are two classes of web page tools. I don’t know if these terms are official or common, but I’m coining them anyway:
Web Page Design Tools: or perhaps “WYSIWYG” (what you see is what you get) editors. In these tools, you operate on a page that kinda-sorta looks like it will when you publish it on the web. Much like a word processor you bold things, you italicize things, you change fonts and sizes, and the tool takes care of the HTML encoding that is used to represent all that.
HTML Editors: in these tools, you operate directly on the HTML yourself. The tool provides assistance, perhaps in the form of auto-complete or syntax validation, and of course includes a quick preview mode to see what you’re working on looks like, but ultimately you’re writing HTML directly.
FrontPage is in the former category, a WYSIWYG editor.
FrontPage has a long and somewhat negative history, primarily because the HTML that it generates, particularly in early versions, was pretty bad. By that I mean that, yes, it would look like you wanted in most cases, but the actual encoded HTML that you likely didn’t see was not bloated, convoluted and much, much larger than it needed to be. The result was pages that were slower to download, and easily visually broken.
Fortunately, recent versions of FrontPage have become significantly better at their HTML generation.
In addition, FrontPage defined a set of “extensions” that needed to be installed on your web server in order for many features to be functional at all.
As you may or may not be able to tell, I’m not a huge fan of FrontPage, but not for it’s usability – which I find is pretty much OK – but for it’s technical characteristics.
Unfortunately, the same feeling applies to most of the other WYSIWYG players as well.
DreamWeaver is, by far, the big player in this space. It’s probably easier than FrontPage, but it’s definitely not cheaper. From what I’ve seen, if you would want to be a professional web designer, this is the tool to use.
I’ve never used it myself, but have taken over management of a few web sites that were created using it. I have to say that the HTML created was, much like FrontPage, overly complex and obtuse (though, admittedly, that may not be important to everyone).
osalt.com is a site that lists open source alternatives to commercial products. Specifically searching for open source alternatives for FrontPage returns many possibilities. It’s difficult to get a good read on exactly which of the alternatives is really the most appropriate, but it should be a simple matter to download and try several to see which is most appealing to you.
There are other commercial alternatives as well, should you want to spend a little time researching ’em. The site msboycot.com lists several alternatives to FrontPage.
(Speaking of boycott: when it comes to HTML authoring, even though you can save in HTML format, Microsoft Word is simply not a viable option. The HTML generated by Word is horrific. Worse, in many ways, than the original versions of FrontPage. Please don’t even consider it. )
So what DO I use?
To begin with, I don’t use a WYSIWYG editor – I write in HTML. Call me a control freak, or anal-retentive, but I try to keep things as small, clean and organized as I can within reason. So I skip the whole FrontPage / DreamWeaver class of applications entirely.
Some years ago I actually wrote an article What HTML Editor Should I Use? where, after a period using HTML Kit I landed on TopStyle as my HTML editor of choice. I’ve been using it ever since, and am in fact writing this article using it.
The fact is that any text editor can be used to write HTML, since it’s just a text format. It’s not uncommon to see the somewhat humorous “Created in Notepad” on some web sites – humorous since Notepad contains no help for writing HTML or anything else – it’s just text and only text. And yet if you like, you can do everything you need using it.
Many more functional text editors offer features like syntax coloring, so you can get a sense of how the format is being parsed, and can see many errors quickly as you type. Once you get into true HTML or CSS editors like TopStyle, you’ll find features that actually help you write, check and clean up your HTML, as I mentioned before.
I’m curious what other people are using. If you have a favorite HTML/Web authoring tool that I haven’t mentioned, or just want to amplify or refute a statement I’ve made above, leave a comment.