Web Help from Sky-Web

Weather with Attitude
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There are a huge number of web sites that will teach you the basics of writing HTML code. So many in fact that this web help section is NOT on HTML tags and what they mean, as it would be just one among thousands of identical sites. Instead, it is on web design and related common questions asked by newcomers. Hopefully you will have less problems after reading this section.

Common Questions and Hints
What exactly are HTML tags? Do I have to learn HTML to write a web page?
What do you recommend to create web pages? What about those programs with a Save As HTML option?
Do you recommend the use of frames? What are animated gifs and how do you make them?
Where do I get animated gifs for free on the Internet? How many animated gifs should I put on each web page?
How do people get these cool mouse-trails on web pages? Should I design my web site as a PDF file?
How do I make a guestbook, forum and similar things? How much should I be paying for web hosting?
What advantage does a paid web hosting service offer? Do I need to use Flash to have a good site?
What screen resolution should I design the site at?  



What exactly are HTML and tags?

HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language. It is a way of formatting words, tables, and images so that they can be displayed by a browser. It is NOT computer programming. You can't write a program using HTML any more than you could using German. They are not that sort of languages. The various tags are just the instructions to make things bold, underlined, select a font or colour, and so on. When word processors first came out, about 1982-84, they couldn't display text properly formatted and you could see the codes for bold and so on. In fact some were so primitive that you had to enter these codes by hand. (With WordPerfect, you could still switch to code mode, even in the late 1990s in Version 6.) And with HTML, that is all you are doing if you use a simple editor - adding the formatting by hand. WYSIWYG editors do this automatically from a set of options they offer, but display the result formatted the way you have chosen. Tags look like this <bold>some words in bold </bold> and in a browser the words between the opening tag ( <bold> ) and the closing tag ( </bold> ) would appear in bold. Forgetting the closing tag is a common error when hand coding, but the graphic WYSIWYG editors add it for you.
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Do I have to learn HTML to write a web page?

No, but it helps. That's why there are so many web pages on HTML. I'd strongly recommend that you try to understand what the various tags mean, even if you use a WYSIWYG editor. Because editors don't cover every possible HTML tag in every possible way it can be used. There are a huge number of possible combinations, some of which are rarely ever used - for example I use subscripts and superscripts in science pages a lot, but most editors don't offer this. So if you come across some interesting effect that you wish to experiment with, it certainly helps if you can work out which bits do what! Then you can examine the standard code from the WYSIWYG editor and alter by hand the bits it doesn't handle. If you have an editor such as Dreamweaver, create a few very simple pages and examine the HTML code to become more familiar with it. (In Dreamweaver you do this via the F10 key to switch on code view and again to switch it off. To actually edit the code, click on the code window first.)
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What do you recommend to create web pages?

I used to like Macromedia's Dreamweaver best of all among the WYSIWYG editors. Microsoft's FrontPage is often supplied free with your PC, but no professional designer would ever use it! Even Microsoft have stopped supporting it. It does many things its own strange way, and that can make things really hard when you start editing the code by hand, and it doesn't always display as intended in every browser.

If you wish a free WYSIWYG editor, then you should try Kompozer, a derivative of the older, defunct nvu. Kompozer has an active forum where free help is available. It offers a code view and a design view, and understands mordern page layout methods.

I mainly use a text editor, which doesn't display things graphically as you use it, but at the click on a button, shows what it will look like via your browser. There are three very popular ones among professionals.

Notepad++ (not to be confused with the really simple notepad that comes with Windows) and I like it a great deal. It is my main editor. It colour codes your code as you type, enabling erros to be spotted (the colour is suddenly wrong). Many professionals swear by it. It supports many different programming languages too, thus enabling programming syntax errors to be spotted as well.

A friend uses one called EditPlus It has the ability to add the tags for you but always displays the code as you go along. It is very good if you wish to add some Javascript for example, or use one of the less common special effects. It also colour codes the tags as you go along (so if they don't change colour, you've made a mistake somewhere!). It also has colour coding and automatic tagging / coding for Javascript, PHP, C, and several other languages. So you will find lots of uses for it.

Along similar lines is TextPad, which is better for the programing languages than for HTML, in my opinion. However it too is very good. Some friends prefer using TextPad. (I do use TextPad for Java programming however, as it was designed for that with a few useful extras added.)

If you wish to edit the code directly, Notepad++, EditPlus or TextPad are excellent choices. Both are shareware and very inexpensive. And are easy to use. Windows notepad is often recommended as a simple way to start on hand coding, but these others are just so much better, they leave it standing. It's no contest, they just win hands down every time.
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What about those programs with a Save As HTML option?

Many programs offer an extra option to save their standard files in a different format. You can do this in MS Word, MS Excel, various publishing programs from MS, Serif and several others. These programs all produce code that does work and does display the pages in a browser. But the code they produce is converted from the original format they use and quite frankly, it is dreadful. You would never be able to alter it in a simple editor to add a special effect - you would be totally lost.

The files these other programs produce are huge - I have seen some web pages made using the above programs which were 300Kb in size, yet the same page produced in an HTML editor of almost any sort would be 10 - 12Kb. This is a huge overhead for your viewers to put up with. Instead of a page downloading in a couple of seconds, it takes several minutes. Most people just click on the stop button and go away. So you have just lost a viewer or customer. This is because these types of programs tend to include code that enables them to convert the HTML file back into an identical copy under their own file format, so it can be editted again. I would never recommend using one of the above programs and then saving the file in HTML format, it is a bad idea. Word 97 is the only possible exception to this and could be used if you were in a hurry, although it isn't perfect, and still adds extra code that you don't need. Use a proper web design program or editor, not a program built to do a different job with HTML added as an extra. They are good at their real job, not at HTML. Forgot them. No professional web designer would consider using anything but a true HTML editor.
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Do you recommend the use of frames?

The very first web site I made used frames. It looked okay to me, and seemed to work well, at the time. But there are snags you encounter when using frames. Viewers can't bookmark individual pages as a favourite - they end up marking the frameset - the opening page of the site. So then when they come back, they have to search through your navigation scheme to find the page again. And they don't like this, as it takes too much time. So you eventually loose viewers unless you provide something exceptionally good or have a small site with a very good navigation scheme.

It is possible to make a direct link to a page within a framed site. But the standard way designers use frame sets is to use one frame for the navigation menu. So if you have done this, the viewers who arrive via a link directly to the page now can't see any part of your navigation system. They can't explore other parts of the site. Still think frames are a good idea? Search engines can have problems with frames as well.

So now I say avoid frames except in situations where you just can't avoid using them. One such example would be a picture gallery where you had small thumbnail images as your menu and the larger version of the image opened in the frameset's largest frame. This does work well and is a good use of frames. Jakob Nielsen, the world's leading expert on web design and usability says the following "Frames - just say no."
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What are animated gifs and how do you make them?

They are a form of graphics file which contain multiple images, each just a little bit different to the previous. To make them you first create a series of separate images. Usually you make the first one, save it alter it slightly, save with a new name (usually in a numbered series, such as fred1.gif, fred2.gif, fred3.gif, and so on). Then you use a program such as Animation Shop 2, which comes with PaintShop Pro, one of the most popular image manipulation programs around. In Animation Shop 2, you arrange the various files in the order you wish to show them - handy having numbered them now, isn't it - and follow the instructions in the program to create the file. For simple animations, it isn't difficult, but the incredibly good ones are usually made by professionals, who let you use them for free or a small fee. You don't have to be an artist to make simple animations - I can't draw but have made a couple that work very well.
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Where do I get animated gifs for free on the Internet?

Lots of archives of animated gifs exist. Here's a few I've used. If you simply enter free animated gifs in a search engine, you will find lots of other sources as well.

www.bellsnwhistles.com IconBAZZAR Animation City

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How many animated gifs should I put on each web page?

None. They distract people from the rest of the content. They end up annoying viewers of your site. Not what you wanted to hear, was it? If you must use them (and yes, I've succumbed to temptation as well), use as few as possible and keep them away from the interesting content that you want viewers to see. The other problem with animated gifs is that they tend to be large files, thus increasing the download time for viewers.
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How do people get these cool mouse-trails on web pages?

Mouse trails are produced using Javascripts, available from any of the big Javascript archives. Now you may think mouse trails are cool and they are, the first and second time you see them on a page. The third time you go to that page, they are less cool. The fourth time they are boring, and the fifth time they start to annoy you. Some are really annoying. I used one in a college exercise on web design which said I must use a different Javascript on each page. Everyone who saw it said Great. Then they said how do you stop it, it's beginning to get boring. If you find a script that can be switched off after a few times, or a minute or so, okay, perhaps you should use it just for a laugh, but it does get boring if it just will not go away.
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Should I design my web pages as PDF files?

Adobe invented the PDF file format so that you could get a page that would look and print exactly as the author intended, even on different types of computer, and could be displayed with a freely available reader. Unfortunately the PDF writing software is not free, it's rather expensive. So for a start, you have to buy some extra software. There are now several third party PDF file creation programs, a good deal cheaper than the original Adobe one. Try a search on create PDF files and see what pops up. PDF files are very handy for the textbook style of web site, where diagrams and text are strictly controlled to show exactly what is intended, or for sending important documents to people who might be using different types of computer or different word processors to you, as they should look the same regardless of what PC displays them. But they are not really good for ordinary web sites at all. They are bigger than the equivalent HTML pages, and take longer to download, so viewers with a 56K modem are at a disadvantage, having to wait quite some time.
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How do I make a guestbook, forum and similar things for my web page?

These are services and scripts either supplied by your ISP, your web host or an outside agent. Ask your ISP or web host support staff what features they provide, or whether they allow you to get such a script. The scripts are usually written in Perl or PHP. If you have to ask how to write them, don't! There are many tried and tested examples available and beginners should use these, and slowly develop their own at a later stage if they really want to try script writing. But many other service providers supply such items already installed on their servers, and your visitors simply have to look at the odd advert to pay for the free service.

Bravenet are a well respected source of many free webmaster services including guestbooks - they even supply the web space to hold the guestbook data for you. You should give them a try. Even their newsletter is worth a regular read. They supply so many services, there isn't enough space to describe them here! There are other suppliers, specialising in some of these features. Try entering what you want followed by free in a search engine and see what you turn up. But do check first that your host or ISP allows you to use such scripts, because if they don't allow it, they will not work (the host has to have certain files installed on their server first, so you can't sneak them in and just hope it works).

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How much should I be paying for web hosting?

Unless you have some unusually large web site (most people only have between 5 - 10 MB) there is no need to pay for a huge amount of space. Unless you have some specific need for it, why pay extra for multiple e-mail addresses, if they are all for yourself? Multiple e-mail addresses just means you have more places to check to read the mail, and you might miss a reply by looking in the wrong place. For around £20-£40 a year , you should be able to rent between 50 - 100 MB of web space, with one e-mail address and 1GB of bandwidth. If you wish to experiment with PHP and MySQL, or ASP, these are usually included in the price. I see no reason to pay much more than this if you have an average sized web site.
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What advantage does a paid web hosting service offer?

Most ISPs will not let you advertise or sell goods via the free web space that comes with your account. They also tend not to offer PHP, MySQL, cgi-bin, Perl and other such services. And if you buy a domain name, the visitors still tend to see the ISP's name in the URL of your pages. There are many free web space services that are not ISPs. But they almost always place adverts for other companies on your web site. Some include pop-ups, which drive people up the wall. Now admittedly these adverts are what pays for your free web space. But with a paid host you don't have this problem. You also tend to get more web space anyway with the paid hosting services.

A word of warning here - many services offer huge amounts of web space if you pay a little bit more than their basic service. But the vast majority of hobby type sites are only a couple of megabytes. So why pay extra for 500 MB, when you are likely only to need 5 - 10MB? If you are mad keen on building web sites you will need a bit more space, but wait until you need it before paying for it.
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Do I need to use Flash to have a good site?

No. In fact many people recommend against using Flash! It is often used on an introduction page (called a splash page) to welcome visitors to the site. But normally all that is on this page is the name of the site, an Enter button, and the Flash animation. So why bother? Why not go straight into the main part of the site? All this sort of page does is delay the viewer who is looking for information on the site. Creating a Flash animation is good fun however, and if you ever do web work professionally it is handy to be able to say Yes, we can do that to a client.
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What screen resolution should I design the site at?

If you have access to statistics on the screen resolution of visitors to a web site, you can soon check the true state of things. At the present moment (April, 2011) the world wide distribution of monitors is about 2% use 800x600, about 20% use 1024x768, 10% use 1280x1024, about 17% use 1280x800, 11% use 1366x768 and the rest use a variety of larger screen.

Viewers don't like having to scroll down a page a lot (but it can be hard to avoid this), but they absolutely hate having to scroll horizontally to see all of a page! This strongly suggests you should design for 1024x768. In reality this means 960x500 is a good size to work with. Anything higher and you will risk antagonising some of your site visitors. Because many people do NOT browse with the viewport full screen.

Designing with your software set to full screen is a very bad idea - problems with different screen sizes simple will not show up for you, but will for everyone else with a different monitor!

You should then check that the page doesn't look badly laid out if the viewer has a different resolution. To do this, you can either change your monitor's screen resolution via the control panel or, if you use a high resolution, change the browser window size when you preview your pages. Dreamweaver shows the size of the design window you are using in the status bar, so I usually drag the window size down to about 900x500 and work in that. This allows for scrollbars, menus and toolbars taking up extra space on screen, and the fact that not everyone opens their browser full screen, especially if they have a high resolution monitor. Then I preview the page, and drag the browser window up and down in size, watching carefully for unexpected changes that ruin the design.

I've seen sites where important parts of the page were placed in divs with an absolute screen position set so, in a different sized browser window to that of the designer's, things go badly wrong - images overlaying the text, things that were central appearing off to the side, and the loathsome horizontal scrolling. This is common if you create a web page in a publishing program or something similar, as they convert the on-screen design spacings to absolute positions - a very good reason for not using such programs. You can't accept things going badly wrong when you change browser windows sizes between 900x600 and anything higher - you will loose viewers, it's as simple as that.
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