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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek technology

OCTOBER 1, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 39

Toolbox: A Site of Your Own
Creating a slick Internet homepage is not rocket science, and all the tools are at hand. Just open up your browser
By ADAM CONNORS

Of all the SNU (Stuff Nobody Uses) buried in your Web browsing software, there is a program worth noticing. You may not realize it, but both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator - the two most popular Internet browser packages - contain an application that allows even the technically maladroit to build a personal website, a home on the cyber-range to call their very own.

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FACE OFF: Muscling in on mp3

PORTFOLIO: A tech-stock tune-up

E-VESTING: Digging for investment gold

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I know what you're thinking: "Creating Internet content demands a working knowledge of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), and despite a burning desire to create an online monument to my own ego, I refuse to get my hands dirty with anything that smacks of computer programming." Ah, but you are misinformed, my narcissistic friend. True, HTML is nuts-and-bolts code essential to the display of text on the Web, and proficiency in the scripting language was required a few years ago. But knowing the code is no longer necessary. There are many software programs that make Web page creation a drag-and-drop, point-and-click affair, automatically taking care of HTML chores for you. Good basic choices are Netscape Composer, bundled with Communicator, and Microsoft FrontPage Express, part of the Explorer package. Why? Because if you have a browser, you already own one of them, no charge.

Not long ago, this gift was a mixed blessing. First-generation web editors were notably glitch-prone and extremely limited in creative scope, useful only for making bland, text-heavy, one-size-fits-all home pages. The latest versions of Composer and FrontPage Express are much improved, and are capable of producing near-professional Web presentations - replete with words, graphics, photos, sounds, and even animation. Anybody can use them fearlessly to build a homepage in less than an hour.

STEP BY STEP
1. PLAN YOUR SITE Get out the paper and crayons and plot where you want your text and images on each page. A diagram using boxes and arrows can help you decide how viewers should move through the site.

2. PLUNGE AHEAD Boot up and lay out.

3. CHECK AND RECHECK Have you forgotten something?

4. GO LIVE Most Web editors have FTP, or file transfer protocol, software. It lets you send the page to your chosen site host, usually your Internet service provider. Use it, and wait for the applause.
Let's say you are a computer neophyte who wants to construct a site featuring you and your cat, Bandit. Boot up Communicator, pull down the menu under "Communicator" at the top of the screen, and highlight "Composer." Open "Help" from the Help menu, click "Creating Web pages," then "Starting from a new page." Scroll down the list and follow the instructions under "to start from Netscape's Page Wizard." The wizard is a handy utility that takes you step-by-step through the creative process, helping you to place headlines, body copy (an onboard spell-checker averts public embarrassment), and add colors and typefaces.

The result, while something more than black letters on a grey background, will still look a bit pre-packaged. For a page that truly captures Bandit's irrepressible nature, you need a flashier layout, plus photos showing him disgorging a furball and perhaps links to the sites of animal hospitals in the vicinity. No problem, even for the creatively challenged. For page design, you can choose from ready-to-use templates pulled from Netscape's site (links are provided in the instructions). To jazz up your work, generic art and graphics are also available. Just follow the detailed directions in the "Starting from a new page" section of Help. Ditto for transferring digital photos to the layout.

If you don't like any of the Netscape-supplied designs, the program helpfully describes how you can copy the page layout of any Internet page you admire. This is not stealing, mind you, as long as you don't duplicate copyrighted material.

Composer and FrontPage Express have similar features, and a few drawbacks. In theory, the programs are supposed to let you view any page exactly as it is displayed on the Web (web editors are also known as WYSIWYG, or "what you see is what you get," editors). Unfortunately, a page that you download and open in Composer - to edit for errors and send back to the Net, for example - is likely to suffer from altered colors and shifting graphics. FrontPage Express is kinder, but it imposes less-than-helpful icons on the page. They block your view and make precise adjustments impossible.

Nevertheless, Composer and FrontPage Express are fine for entry-level Webmasters. If you crave alternatives, there are plenty of other options for HTML-less construction, including online solutions from site-hosting services such as Geocities and Tripod. The latter is offering free to new members a $69 page-builder from Trellix that comes with eight templates, 18 page designs, 100 clip-art images, and 85 animated graphics. Your ego is massive. Don't you deserve a website to match?

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