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Mark Trescowthick - GUI Computing
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We (my wife Fiona, myself, and our two children) recently spent three weeks on safari in Africa - Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania, to be exact. My bright idea was, rather than take a few happy snaps to be put in some dusty album, I'd do a mini web site as we went along. Obviously, this meant some HTML would need to be cut, and I'm no HTML guru. In fact, I know little or nothing about it. So I'd obviously need an HTML editor.

I tried Sausage Software's HotDog first. Though it is pretty easy to use, this little VB app doesn't provide any WYSIWYG capability. Given that most of my site was going to be pictorial, that didn't seem the right choice. Microsoft's FrontPage was the next obvious choice, as I really wanted to see whether it would meet the hype. So that was what I selected - sort of.

FrontPage really assumes that you have the personal web server running and that you are creating a 'web', rather than a series of HTML documents. I couldn't take that approach. I'd be offline most of the time, so the web would have to be created locally. And, given the difficulty of Internet connection in Africa, I'd have to send it back to Australia using a long distance RAS connection - I felt that a ZIP file was likely to be a tad cheaper and quicker than a FrontPage 'Copy Web'!

However, it seemed to me that FrontPage should certainly be able to work in that scenario, so I loaded up my 486/50 portable, a Kodak DC20 camera, FrontPage, and good old Paint Shop Pro and off we went.

My first pages were fraught with pain. Every time I created a new link, I'd select a file to link to (from disk) and FrontPage would happily comply - and insert the full path name into the HTML as the URL! Not what I wanted at all, as I'd have to manually edit every page before the web was shipped. There had to be a way around this and, somewhere in Zimbabwe, I found it... FrontPage will insert a relative link (just what I wanted) if you link to a page that's loaded in memory at the time.

That made life considerably easier, but a wee bit cumbersome. I'd spend a fair chunk of my time opening and closing pages as I created links, even on a 20 MB PC. All those images...

Once I had that little glitch solved, it was time to move on to actually using the beast. I'm fairly used to creating Help files (I use Help Magician) so I was unsurprised when WYSIWYG wasn't - that's in the very best traditions of the Help compiler. And I understand what a cumbersome and limited specification HTML is, so not much about the way FrontPage operated came as a shock. In broad terms, it is as WYSIWYG as I will ever need and pretty stable to boot.

There are always a couple of things to annoy, though, and FrontPage's abject lack of an ability to set defaults for some common functions really grated. For example, FrontPage always assumes that any picture will have it's text justification set to 'bottom'. That may well be a useful default for some, but 99% of mine were set to 'left' - all manually, which is plumb crazy! Another minor annoyance was FrontPage's insistence on inserting little black blobs in the text after some (but not all) pictures... were they going to show up - I had no idea.

All in all, though, it made the task of constructing about 30 pages, with a heap of embedded JPEGs, about as easy as I could have reasonably expected.

Now, I had to ship them back, for Anna to actually place on my page. A quick ZIP file (actually, three) was created and emailed. I'd be live in no time. Not.

What I'd missed was that I had used a template to create each page and that FrontPage inserts the fully qualified path name of the template into the HTML it generates. That's fine in a normal environment, but a pest in this weird 'offline' mode. Anna/Grace had to manually edit each page to remove the reference.

Would I use FrontPage in this way again? Yes - I am in the middle of doing a few pages of our Olympic experience (we journeyed on to Atlanta after Africa) right now. Using exactly the same technique - mostly because, I suspect, I'm used to it!

The folks at GUI Online tell me that the HTML generated is 'good', whatever that means. I find the environment stable and as powerful as I need and I'm prepared to wear a quick edit on the template line for the functionality I get. It's not WYSIWYG, but I suspect that that is as much a function of HTML as it is of FrontPage. There may well be better editors out there, but for the price, FrontPage takes a power of beating.

The Africa Safari pages can be found at : http://www.gui.com.au/~mct/africa/safari1.htm.



Written by: Mark Trescowthick
August '96

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