Tools Of The Net Trade

To establish a presence on the Web, you
need a variety of tools. Some programs are the bread and butter tools—like an HTML
coder, a plethora of search engines for visibility etc.—and still others are the
gizmo tools, which help pep up your site, or enable you to perform tasks. Below, we
outline some of the most critical.

HTML Coders: Nobody writes HTML by
hand—it is too cumbersome, and the time taken does not justify the effort. It is much
better to use a variety of easily-available tools to generate the bulk of your code for
you. True, you may still need to manually edit your HTML code once in a while, but this is
only for some more interesting tweaking.

High-end systems may require the likes of
MS Front Page, but at the low end, we have found Lorenz Graf’s HTML Tool to be very
capable. This tool makes it a snap to set up your site, and test it locally before
uploading it to your web server for all to see. But whatever tool you use,
beware—many of them pack powerful utilities that enable you to script with CGI, or
add JavaScript and Java applets, or use stylesheets. Often, it is all too easy to get
seduced by the power, and end up with a site that looks a bit like jumbled spaghetti. It
is best to stick to standard HTML, which is visible with even older versions of web
browsers.

Graphic Packages: Utilities like
Paint Shop Pro and Corel Xara come in handy when you are designing the graphical
components of your site. These powerful packages have a variety of options that enable you
to create some really eye-catching graphics. The main warning we have here is, keep your
graphics small, and use them only when necessary—too many Web users create large,
garish visuals which add only to the time taken to download them, and not necessarily to
the general visual impact of the site.

GIF Animators: Seen those cute
little graphics that seem to look like a poor man’s TV on the Web? these are called
animated GIFs, a feature supported by the GIF 89a standard which allows you to store
multiple GIF images in a single file. Sometimes, these can be very eye-catching,
especially with advertisement banners and the like. One good package in this category is
MS GIF Animator.

Checkers: No, we are not discussing
that ancient board game here. A variety of packages like CheckWeb allow you to check the
integrity of your site on your local hard disk even before you upload the files to your
site. The simpler ones just check to see if any of your links are broken; the more
advanced ones even analyze compatibility with a variety of browsers and standards,
spelling errors, page ‘weight’ (essentially the size of all the components like
the HTML code, and images, which go into a page etc.), besides offering you tips on
effective design. A good tool can save you a lot of time, besides enabling you to escape
the embarrassment of ‘404 Not Found’ bloopers on your site, an error caused by
broken links. A good tool for this purpose is Check Web.

Search Engines: Once up and running,
you have to ensure that you get publicity. You do this by registering with a variety of
search engines, a process achieved by submitting your URL to these sites. One of the
fastest is Alta Vista, which indexes your site in just a couple of days; one of the best
is Yahoo!, which uses a category index, maintained by humans as opposed to Web crawler
agents. While Yahoo! takes a little time—anywhere from two to four weeks—because
a human being actually visits your site and then determines its fitness for inclusion, it
is worth the wait because of its extreme popularity on the Web.

Common Sense: They say that for most
activities, all you need is an active imagination; on the Web, common sense is more
important. Many budding designers use garish colors, unnecessary JavaScript code and Java
applets, frames etc., which are normally not necessary. Stick to the simple—that
huge, 50 kB (by Web standards, a 50 kB GIF is really huge) GIF may look very appealing and
cheerful, but while it will attract 10 people who don’t mind waiting for a nice GIF
to download, it will drive away a 100 potential visitors—make that customers—who
don’t have the time or the bandwidth to waste on silly little images. One day, the
Web will be accessible by all at a speed of over a 100 Mbps; but until that day arrives,
most of us will be on 28.8 to 56 Kbps dial-up lines, and most of us don’t like
waiting for huge files to download.

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