The Web Insider... The Best Tool for Building a Web Site *

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1 The Web Insider... The Best Too for Buiding a Web Site * Anna Bee Leiserson ** Ms. Leiserson describes the types of Web-authoring systems that are avaiabe for buiding a site and then discusses the various criteria that shoud be anayzed before deciding which system to use. 1 How can I make a Web page? I am asked this question at east once a week usuay by peope with good ideas but ony a vague sense of what is invoved in creating a Web site. Whie generay there is a cear best answer to each instance of this question, the answer itsef varies according to the situation, and finding it requires some anaysis. In this artice I first examine the spectrum of Web-authoring programs that are avaiabe, and then discuss the criteria that must be anayzed to narrow the choices and reach the best answer for a particuar situation. Spectrum of Web-Authoring Program 2 The critica issue in buiding a Web site is choosing the appropriate Web-authoring program. It wi be the primary too in a Web site creation toobox. The types of software avaiabe cover a wide spectrum, ranging from basic and free to mutifaceted and very expensive. It s hepfu to have at east a passing understanding of this spectrum, which wi continue to evove at its far end in the future, just a few steps behind the evoution of the Web itsef. 3 On one end of the spectrum is the text editor, which ony shows the raw code. The cassic exampe in this category is NotePad not because it is the best, but because it comes free with Windows and is thus both ubiquitous and handy. The text editor is the origina software from the Web s eary days (eary days being eight years ago) and sti often the software of choice for many, particuary programmers who ive and breathe code as a way of ife. 4 The next shade of software is the HTML-based Web editor, which aso features the actua code but incudes many Web-focused extras as we, such as basic * Anna Bee Leiserson, ** Webmaster, Vanderbit University Law Schoo, Nashvie, Tennessee. 303

2 304 Law Library Journa [Vo. 95:2 page tempates and HTML hep fies. HomeSite 1 and BBEdit 2 are generay considered the best in this category, with 1st Page, 3 a freeware package, a cose runner-up. 5 Then come the so-caed WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) Webauthoring programs. Whie the category name is not precisey accurate (a of them at best ony approximate what a Web page in a browser wi ook ike), nonetheess this is currenty the most important type of Web site software. It is the category of the market eaders, in particuar Dreamweaver 4 and FrontPage, 5 and the most ikey answer to the origina question. Beware, however. Whie they are the reigning champions of the Web site-authoring word, they are entirey different programs, and comparing them has a definite appes-and-oranges quaity (more about that ater). It aso shoud be noted that there are some other worthy contenders in this category, in particuar Adobe GoLive, 6 which is especiay we suited to Macintosh and Photoshop users. 6 Beyond WYSIWYG, at the deveoping end of the spectrum, are content management systems (CMS). These represent a burgeoning area of software intended for arger organizations and companies. 7 With a CMS, the skeeton of a Web site (incuding its structure, navigation, and ook and fee) is aready set up. The heart of a CMS package is a customized user-friendy interface where content providers can enter their news, stories, photos, and so forth into the Web site. In addition, the software usuay has various checks and baances buit in so that others in the organization can edit and sign off on the origina submissions. The beauty of a CMS is that content providers and editors need itte or no understanding of Web authoring to maintain a site. However, a CMS is generay a big investment and a batteground of vendors sti exists, with no cear eaders having yet emerged. A good exampe of a CMS being used in the ibrary word is SOLINET s site, 8 which uses Ektron s 9 CMS software. 1. Whie now a Macromedia product which comes bunded with Dreamweaver MX, Homesite was originay an independent product from Aaire. See MACROMEDIA HOMESITE, at com/software/homesite/ (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003). 2. BBEdit is a Macintosh product from Bare Bones Software. See BARE BONES SOFTWARE, at (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003). 3. 1st Page 2000 is a product of Evrsoft. See EVRSOFT, at (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003). 4. Dreamweaver is a product of Macromedia. The current version is Dreamweaver MX. See MACROMEDIA DREAMWEAVER MX, at (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003). 5. FrontPage is a Microsoft product. The current version is FrontPage See MICROSOFT FRONTPAGE, at (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003). 6. See ADOBE GOLIVE 6, at (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003). 7. For more information on CMS, see Michae Stoner, Content: The Key Component of Your Web Strategy, at (Mar. 2002) (introducing the CMS concept); CMSWATCH, at (ast visited Jan. 21, 2003) (providing ongoing and detaied product anayses). 8. SOLINET, at (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003). 9. See EKTRON CMS 300, at (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003).

3 ] The Best Too for Buiding a Web Site Specia mention goes to one very new contender in the CMS category Macromedia Contribute. 10 It s actuay a hybrid using famiiar toos such as Dreamweaver and FrontPage as the parent software for the Web professionas who set up and orchestrate the site, and Contribute as the chid interface for the content providers. Whie it doesn t have a of the features of a fu CMS system, with its user-friendy approach to both Web professionas and nontechnica content providers, it has enormous potentia. 8 There are aso speciaized subcategories of CMS. The most we-known exampe in our word is course management system software or courseware. The primary contenders in this arena are Ange, 11 Backboard, 12 Prometheus (now owned by Backboard), 13 and WebCT. 14 In addition, aw schoos can use LexisNexis Web Courses and TWEN: The West Education Network. Criteria in Choosing Web-Authoring Software 9 Let s now return to the critica issue of which software to choose for use in buiding a particuar site. Web professionas ask themseves this question repeatedy because the quaity and ongevity of a site, as we as the efficiency with which it is produced, hang in the baance. In answering it, there are certain criteria to evauate. In approximate order of importance they are: Has it aready been chosen for you? What support is avaiabe? How arge is the site? What is the server software? What type of site is it? What is the earning curve? How important is adherence to standards? How important is accessibiity? Wi scripting anguages be used, and if so, which ones? 10 There is no singe criterion that can answer the question, with the possibe exception of the first has it aready been chosen for you? This may seem obvious, but at times it can be masked by institutiona issues. A common exampe is vounteering to hep with a Web site for a professiona organization. The peope who manage the Web site may be uncear about what software is best for their system. It can even be hard to find out who they are. In such instances, it is best to use 10. See MACROMEDIA CONTRIBUTE, at (ast visited Jan. 21, 2003). 11. See CYBERLEARNING LABS, at (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003). 12. See BLACKBOARD, at (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003). 13. See BLACKBOARD PROMETHEUS, at (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003). 14. See WEBCT, at (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003).

4 306 Law Library Journa [Vo. 95:2 the most adaptabe (typicay standards-based) programs, such as text editors or Dreamweaver. Support 11 Cosey reated to this is the question of support. Often companies and organizations wi choose and then support ony one or two pieces of Web software not to save on the cost of the software, but rather to save on the cost of staffing and workfow. Support itsef is a fuzzy concept. It can mean simpy that a particuar product is the software that the information technoogy department wi (or wi not) purchase and insta on your machine, and you risk IT s wrath if you insta anything ese. In defense, this is because instaing untested software can compromise other critica software aready on a computer, pus IT is frequenty understaffed. In an idea word, support wi aso mean training or even one-on-one hep on an as-needed basis. No matter what the eve of support, however, if the organization you are doing Web work for supports certain software, that s going to be your best choice. If it s a question of working with two organizations (for exampe, a aw schoo and a ibrary system) that support different Web-authoring software, this wi require some negotiations. Knowing as much as possibe about the software options is particuary important in these circumstances. Another possibiity is that you wi be on your own, without any support. Whie not confined by organizationa issues, you aso wi not automaticay have a resource to turn to when there are gitches. In this situation, the earning curve of the individua products becomes a more critica factor. Server Support 12 Another major factor in choosing an authoring program that again ooms arge in an organizationa context is server software. Server software is what turns a reguar computer into one that generates Web pages for users around the word. If an organization is very Microsoft-centric, then probaby its Web servers wi use IIS (Internet Information Services) 15 and the ogica authoring software to choose wi be FrontPage. FrontPage is tighty integrated with IIS and the two work very we together. If, on the other hand, the servers use Apache, 16 FrontPage is ess ikey to work and Dreamweaver or a text editor wi be a better choice. A third possibiity is that you are seecting your own Internet Service Provider (ISP). Once again, with this independence, the tabes are turned. You can choose an ISP based on the software that works best for you. You can specify, for exampe, that the server incudes the FrontPage extensions or that it supports PHP. 15. IIS 5.0 comes with Windows See MICROSOFT WEB AND APPLICATION SERVICES, at microsoft.com/windows2000/technoogies/web/defaut.asp (ast visited Jan. 23, 2003). 16. See APACHE SOFTWARE FOUND., at (ast visited Jan. 21, 2003).

5 ] The Best Too for Buiding a Web Site 307 Size of Site 13 A very different issue is the size of the site. Under fifty pages is generay considered to be a sma site. FrontPage, with its wizards for setting up certain types of sites and canned designs, is frequenty the best choice for a sma site, particuary if it is for persona use. Dreamweaver, on the other hand, is generay considered the software of choice for Web professionas and very arge sites. It is buit to generate extremey cean code (it even has a code vaidator buit into it) that wi render correcty on a wide range of browsers. Type of Site 14 In a simiar vein, different software ends itsef more readiy to different types of sites, in particuar intranets. This is an area where FrontPage can shine. An intranet by definition is for a cosed audience. Thus you can know and probaby even have some infuence over the browsers used to access it. One of FrontPage s drawbacks is that it can generate code that wi not run propery on a number of browsers. However, with an intranet, this does not have to be an issue. If the server runs IIS, incuding SharePoint Team Services and FrontPage Extensions, 17 you can easiy use various FrontPage components to buid such interactive features as announcement and message boards. Such features normay require fairy sophisticated programming, but with this configuration it s easy and inexpensive to set up a basic interactive Sharepoint Team Services intranet site. Learning Curve 15 Perhaps the biggest impediment to creating Web sites is simpy earning how to do it, no matter what the software. There is a reason for this. Whie some packages may be easier to earn than others, none is easy. FrontPage is generay considered the simpest to earn. I have aways found this surprising, since it reies on its own pecuiar terminoogy (for instance, a web is in fact a Web site you are buiding) and often stymies users when they are ready to move their work from their own hard drive to the server. However, its interface is coser to Microsoft Word s, and (not surprisingy) it does do the best job of importing other types of Microsoft fies. Aso, it has more wizards and can edit images to a imited extent. In my experience, however, truy mastering it takes about as much time as mastering Dreamweaver or even earning the basic HTML tags. Adherence to Standards 16 Standards, the bedrock of the Web, 18 can aso be important in choosing Webauthoring software. Standards-compiant sites are the most fexibe and extensibe. 17. FrontPage Extensions are a speciaized set of programs on a Web server that work with FrontPage components. They are not needed for standard Web code. 18. See Anna Bee Leiserson, Netscape, Standards, and You, 94 LAW LIBR. J. 667, 2002 LAW LIBR. J. 41.

6 308 Law Library Journa [Vo. 95:2 To rey on extremey proprietary code is, in the worst case scenario, to bakanize the site. Currenty Dreamweaver exces at heping Web authors create standardscompiant code. One might think that hand-coding woud be the best, but handcoding typicay acks the doube-checks that are structured into Dreamweaver. FrontPage, on the other hand, is weaker in this area. It can make it easy to add certain otherwise hard-to-code components, such as a search engine, to a site, but that comes with a price. The price is that most of these components are run by webbots, which in turn rey on FrontPage Extensions, a nonstandard Web technoogy. This means the site wi be ocked into Microsoft technoogies and not easy to adapt outside of this ream shoud the need arise. Accessibiity 17 Simiary, Dreamweaver is better for creating accessibe sites. This is not a coincidence; there is a arge overap between standards-compiance and accessibiity. For federa department and agency sites in particuar, which must adhere to requirements imposed by section 508 of the Rehabiitation Act, 19 accessibiity is a key issue. It is possibe to configure a too ike Dreamweaver so various accessibiity pitfas are automaticay fagged. For exampe, when you are about to add an image to a page, it can have a window pop up to remind you to use at tags (for a brief written description), improving your site for the visuay impaired. Scripting Languages 18 Finay there is the issue of what scripting anguages and databases, if any, the site wi use. A script is a type of computer program caed on by another piece of software rather than running on its own. Thus scripts can be invoked by a Web page, making them the form of programming best-suited to the Web. They are what create dynamic as opposed to static Web pages. Cosey reated to scripts are the databases they can interact with. On its own, a script can do things such as showing the date or putting the data from an interactive form into a fie or e-mai. However, such uses are imited. Where they have the most power is in combination with a database. It s rather ike chips and sasa each great on its own, but even better together. A database in and of itsef is a mass of data that can be accessed with queries. With a Web page, the embedded script, rather than an end user, creates the query and pus the appropriate data out of the database. This database-to-web capabiity is at the heart of utra-successfu Web sites such as Amazon.com and Googe. 19 Again FrontPage shines for those with sma sites and simpe needs. Severa of its wizards and tempates offer some buit-in scripts, incuding database-to-web. However, these toos are very basic. Any degree of customization wi require using one of the various script anguages. Javascript is probaby the U.S.C. 794d (2000).

7 ] The Best Too for Buiding a Web Site 309 most common, and both FrontPage and Dreamweaver support it. Dreamweaver actuay has some eve of support for a of the most common scripting anguages, incuding ASP, CGI, and PHP, and is particuary strong in its support of CodFusion. FrontPage, on the other hand, focuses on ASP. Scripting anguages and databases are actuay somewhat codependent. As a Microsoft product, it is not surprising that ASP works best with Access and Microsoft SQL Server. PHP, on the other hand, is an open source product and therefore pays particuary we with open source databases, incuding MySQL and PostgreSQL. Concusion 20 I reaize that such on onsaught of programming TLAs (three-etter acronyms) is not endearing to many ibrarians. Moreover, decisions about scripting anguages and database software are typicay in the ream of information technoogy and Web professionas. However, such choices at times do end up in our ream, for exampe, with sma sites and management decisions. Aso it is hepfu to have a genera sense of the driving forces behind the deveopment of Web-authoring software, not to mention the genera strengths and weaknesses of the different options, when choosing a too for onesef. The acronyms themseves matter ess than the basic concept behind them that fu-bown Web-authoring toos are just that, and these considerations factor in to which products work best under various circumstances. 21 In genera, whie it is often difficut to quicky answer what seems an innocent and simpe question How can I create a Web page? by first answering a few other crucia questions, it utimatey is possibe to figure out the best too, and hopefuy give a greater sense of the adventure ahead for an aspiring Web author.

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