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HTML: The Definitive Guide

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1.6 Tools for the HTML Designer

While you can use the barest of barebones text editors to create HTML documents, most HTML authors have a bit more elaborate toolbox of software utilities than a simple word processor. You also need, at least, a browser so you can test and refine your work. Beyond the essentials are some software tools specialized for HTML document preparation and editing, and others for developing and preparing accessory multimedia files.

Essentials

At the very least, you'll need an editor, a browser to check your work, and ideally, a connection to the Internet.

Word processor or HTML editor?

Some authors use the word-processing capabilities of their specialized HTML editing software. Others, such as ourselves, prefer to compose their work on a general word processor and later insert the HTML tags and their attributes. Still others embed HTML tags as they compose.

We think the stepwise approach--compose, then mark up--is the better way. Word processors typically have more and better writing tools, such as an outliner, spell-checker, and thesaurus, so you can craft the document's flow and content well, disregarding for the moment its look. We find that once we've defined and written the document's content, it's much easier to make a second pass to judiciously and effectively add the HTML tags to format the text. Note, too, that, unless specially trained (if they can be), spell-checkers and thesauruses typically choke on HTML markup tags and their various parameters. You can spend what seems to be a lifetime clicking the ignore button on all those otherwise valid markup tags when syntax- or spell-checking an HTML document.

When and how you embed HTML tags into your document dictates the tools you need. Some word processors, such as WordPerfect or Word, come with automated tools, and there are third-party ones, too, that automatically translate your word-processed documents into HTML. Don't expect miracles, though. Except for boilerplate documents, you probably will need to nurse those automated HTML documents to full health.

Another word of caution about HTML editors: not all adhere to the HTML 3.2 standard, so examine their specifications before using one, and certainly before purchasing one. Moreover, some of the WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) HTML editors don't have up-to-date built-in browsers, so they may erroneously decode the HTML tags and give you misleading displays.

Browser software

Obviously, you should view your newly composed HTML documents and test their functionality before you release them for use by others. For serious HTML authors, particularly those looking to push their documents beyond the HTML standards, we recommend that you have several browser products, perhaps with versions running on different computers, just to be sure one's delightful display isn't another's nightmare.

The currently popular, and so most important, browsers are Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer. Obtain evaluation copies of the software via anonymous FTP from their respective servers (ftp.netscape.com and ftp.microsoft.com), or contact your local computer software dealer for a commercial version (about $50).

Internet connection

We think you should have bona fide access to the Internet if you are really serious about learning and honing your HTML writing skills. Okay, it's not absolutely essential since you can compose and view HTML documents locally. And for some, a connection is perhaps not even possible or practical, but make the effort: there's sometimes no better way to learn than by example. HTML examples abound on the Internet, both good and bad, whose source HTML you can download and examine.

Moreover, an Internet connection is essential for development and testing if you include hypertext links to Internet services in your HTML documents. But, most of all, an Internet connection gives you access to a wealth of tips and ongoing updates to the language through special-interest newsgroups, as well as much of the essential and accessory software you can use to prepare HTML document collections.

An Extended Toolkit

If you're serious about creating documents, you'll soon find there are all sorts of nifty tools that make life easier. The list of freeware, shareware, and commercial products grows daily, so it's not very useful to provide a list here. This is, in fact, another good reason why you should get an Internet connection; various groups keep updated lists of HTML resources on the Web. If you are really dedicated to writing in HTML, you will visit those sites, and you will visit them regularly to keep abreast of the language, tools, and trends.

We think the following three web sites are the most useful for HTML authors. Each contains dozens, sometimes hundreds, of hyperlinks to detailed descriptions of products and other important information for the HTML author. Go at it.


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