making web pages (1996)

There’s a rumour that the information superhighway will be the greatest new technology; that it will change how we live and do business; that it could even be the best thing since this morning’s cup of coffee. As rumours go there is a good chance this might be true: the idea that broadcasters could grab a clip at the click of a button will save time for plenty of coffees.

But that is to come. What we have now is an information highway, called the Internet. It’s not so super but that hasn’t stopped 150 new businesses making their ‘presence’ on it every day. We’re moving towards the day when having ‘http:\\www‘ – or even words that effect on a logo will be as important as being in the phone book.

So much mystery surrounds the setting up a Web site that employing professional designers and ‘Web Masters’ might seem like the only way forward. Till recently, you had to be technical and talk HTML, a sort of computer voodoo, to publish on the Internet. Now, there are tools which look little different from word processors which hide the complexity and expose the task for what it is: making and storing documents on another computer.

Anyone can start dabbling and publish themselves on the ‘net – in three essential steps: get the publishing software, write the stuff and send it to a server – the computer which will serve up your content. And the easiest way to do that all that to sign up to major Internet server providers such as AOL and CompuServe and be hand-held through the mystery.

Software giant Microsoft also has Internet publishing tools which take that process much further. Their Internet Assistant for Word is a free add-on which will convert Word documents into Internet pages – instead of having to create new pages from scratch. Features like colour, headings and graphics can be added, while those page ‘links’ that lead surfers from one page to the next, only need the click of a menu command. Finally, when you have found an ‘upload’ or ‘ftp’ command in the Internet providers software, the pages can be sent, and surfed almost immediately.

But there comes a point when a web site or set of pages needs management. – to keep it up-to-date or to grow it in size. Something more clever in needed and Microsoft’s Front Page application is stunningly clever. For example, it can maintain a contents page, show the links between pages and look after them too. It can even create the entire structure of a web site for you – it’s done by wizards – step-by-step dialogues that let you choose page styles, add contact lists, and copyright notices. It does this in minutes, usually it takes days.

And Front Page’s editor takes the ceiling off what Internet Assistant can do. Graphics can be dragged in, customer feedback forms added, and clickable hot spots placed on a menu page to sexy it up. Once again, when the pages are complete, they can be sent to the server computer, or Internet Provider.

Today, and almost just today there are some exciting add-ons allowing much more dynamic material to be published. The stars of these add-ons go by names such as Java and ActiveX which designers might use to activate a page and create a powerful visual hit. So they can add buttons that start animation, or controls that stop, start and rewind a recording. Perhaps the most exciting of these is ActiveMovie which allows video and audio to play as it arrives down the wire. This will eventually be built into Windows so there will be fewer technical hurdles for surfers and page designers. The idea of a static Internet page is fast becoming passé, and creating something with impact fast becoming easier.

So should you dive into the Internet, dip a toe in, or just wait? Dreary good sense says wait, it’s not a superhighway yet. And by staying out, you’ll not drown, well not in a cup of coffee anyway. On the other hand, a bit of time spent sipping at this new medium could be a valuable investment for the day when the skills of producers, rather than just programmers will be keenly sought here.

See http://www.microsoft.com/ for samples and information.

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