Washington Apple Pi

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Web for Novice and Wizard:
A Review of Books
© 1997 Lawrence I. Charters

Washington Apple Pi Journal, September/October 1997, pp. 55-59, reprint information

Every day, it seems, entire forests are consumed to produce books to help people create paperless Web pages. Irony aside, there is a greater tragedy: most of these books will remain unread. People will take home their 1,200 page definitive guide to writing Web pages for fun and profit, read maybe a dozen pages, and then decide it was a Bad Idea: 1,188 pages to go, and it just doesn't look that interesting...

But there are some useful gems out there, ranging from guides for beginning surfers to beginning Web designers to committed pros.

Wading In

One good starting place for beginning Internet explorers is Visual Quickstart Guide: Netscape 3 for Macintosh, by Elizabeth Castro. Of the three Web browsers included on Apple's Mac OS 8 CD-ROM (Netscape Navigator 3, Microsoft Internet Explorer 3, and Apple CyberDog 2.0), Netscape 3 is by far the most popular. Most people figure if they can view a page or three thousand with Netscape, they know all they need to know about both Netscape and the Web, and Castro gently shows otherwise.

Covering everything from configuring Netscape to view Web pages to uploading files to FTP servers to reading news groups, the book is heavily, and appropriately, illustrated, with hundreds of tips to call attention to special topics. Of particular interest to would-be Web publishers is the extensive coverage devoted to designing pages, with special emphasis on Netscape Gold, a version of the browser designed for both creating pages as well as viewing them. (Castro admits in her introduction, however, that Netscape Gold "is slow and cumbersome and rather un-Maclike...[but] probably better than nothing.") If you want to learn more about Netscape, this is probably the ideal book.

Robin Williams is justifiably famous for her quick-reading, beautifully written and illustrated Macintosh books, and Home Sweet Home Page is no exception. Subtitled An Easy Guide to Creating Your Own Family Web Site, the premise is that you want to create a site with family biographies, stories, family trees, and similar personal elements, but the topic coverage, and techniques, work just as well for a corporation. Williams' famed humor (usually more subtle than the comedian with the same name) shows up in such places as "The Gargoyle Family," a sample Web site allegedly created by a family of stone gargoyles.

Because this is an introductory book, Home Sweet Home Page includes an excellent, non-specialist's overview of the Internet, how the World Wide Web fits into the Internet, and how the Web works. Such an introduction is invaluable for the novice Web page creator, as most such novices have only a fuzzy idea of what they are doing, how it works, and how it fits into the overall Web. This introduction is so good, in fact, that many people could buy this book for that reason alone, and think it a bargain.

The bottom margin of every page includes the URL of a special Web site set up by Peachpit Press to support the book, http://www.peachpit.com/home-sweet-home. This site is used to expand on topics mentioned in the book, provide even more examples of how to do things, provided current links to resources, and even offer some free clipart. Peachpit Press has a version of the book (unseen) that includes a CD-ROM with software for connecting to the Internet, clipart, and other odds and ends, titled Home Sweet Home Page and the Kitchen Sink, for $24.95.

While it is possible to create an entire Web site with a tool as simple as Apple's free text editor, SimpleText, most people will want some specialized tools. If your specialized tool of choice is Adobe's PageMill 2.0, then you should check out Maria Langer's Visual Quickstart Guide: PageMill 2 for Macintosh. Like all the other Visual Quickstart guides, it is heavily, and appropriately illustrated, showing step-by-step how to do things large and small.

This is Langer's second attempt at creating a PageMill book. Her first attempt was excellent in every way except subject: the original PageMill was pretty close to awful (meaning it was pretty to look at, but awful). PageMill 2.0 is a far better program, so if the quirky, bug-ridden original version of the program turned you off, try it again -- with Langer's book firmly in hand. The only major omission, a complete lack of coverage of Adobe SiteMill, is not Langer's fault; Adobe has been inconsistent in deciding if it is part of PageMill or is actually an independent software package.

Beyond Basic Swimming

Once you've created a Web page or twenty (especially if you create them with a text-based editor instead of a visual tool such as Claris Home Page or Adobe PageMill), you start looking for references. By far the most popular reference is Elizabeth Castro's Visual Quickstart Guide: HTML for the World Wide Web, 2nd ed. The first edition was a best-seller, and the second edition should do just as well: she shows, step-by-step, virtually everything you could ever want to do with a Web page. Each task is heavily illustrated, showing both the original HTML (HyperText Markup Language) code and the final, formatted Web page. (Mac fanatics will immediately note that, while there are a mixture of Mac and Windows screen shots, the vast majority are from the superior original rather than the "me-too" latecomer.)

This new edition covers HTML 3.2, the current "standard" for HTML tags. One valuable addition is an appendix which lists various tags and indicates if they are Netscape-only, Internet Explorer-only, or "standard" HTML 3.2. Castro also devotes an entire chapter to style sheets, which are part of the 3.2 specification but are basically unsupported by current browsers. One thing Castro doesn't do is explicitly denounce the Frame and Marquee tags as tools of Satan (oops, getting carried away here), but despite this lack you'll probably soon discover this relatively thin volume is your most used Web reference.

Although the advertising copy says it is "An A-Z Reference of HTML Tags," which sounded very attractive, that isn't really how Hip Pocket Guide to HTML 3.2 is organized. Darn. Instead it is a topical guide to HTML tags, organized in broad categories such as Links, Lists, Forms, Headings and such. There are virtually no illustrations beyond examples of formatting. Instead, the guide is written more as a classic programming reference, listing "Definition," "Attributes" "Context," "Suggested Style/Usage," and usually one (short) example.

While beginners will find it unattractive, Web wizards should find it quite valuable. Among other things, the binding allows the pages to lay flat, for ease of reading while you pound away on the keyboard. Another valuable contribution is the listing of tags which can be used within a particular tag (something most references don't mention). Buried in the back is something only a Web wizard would love, but it is nice: a list of dead, obsolete and superseded HTML tags. Yes, the Web is young, but some tags have already fallen by the wayside, and trying to find out what is no longer supported is next to impossible; online references are far more concerned with the new than the old.

While he claims it was written for beginners as well as veterans, David Lawrence's Learn HTML on the Macintosh is most appropriate for someone venturing beyond the introductory. The book is narrative-based, which means that everything is presented in context -- but the context is rarely repeated, so you can't just bounce around. The basics of creating Web documents are covered quite well, but it is clear that the emphasis is on Netscape, specifically, rather than generic Web documents. He also has a tendency to introduce a topic and then not -- really -- cover it.

One particularly useful section details how to use a Mac to upload finished pages to a UNIX machine. The section isn't long -- a little more than a dozen pages -- but it covers enough to avoid most of the pitfalls of this very strange, un-Maclike experience. On the other hand, he devotes almost twice as much space to a highly repetitive HTML calendar he created for The American Comedy Network. Why it is included isn't clear -- but it is included on the accompanying CD-ROM, too.

The CD-ROM, incidentally, includes everything you need to get started in basic Web construction, from HTML editors to an actual Web server, Peter Lewis' shareware NetPresenz Web, FTP and Gopher server. If you have enough RAM, you can easily run NetPresenz in the background, and an HTML editor and Web browser in the foreground, and create, test, and tweak an entire Web site, without ever connecting to the Internet.

Graphic Examples

While it is perfectly legal and proper to have a text-only Web site (and many of the Web's most popular sites are text-intensive), the Web's popularity is due in no small part to its graphics. Prior to the creation of the World Wide Web, the Internet was essentially text-only, and dominated by command-driven services. The Web -- and Web graphics -- changed all that.

So it is no great surprise that virtually everyone thinks Web sites must have graphics. Less obvious is the simple, brutal fact that most people have the graphics talents of anaerobic bacteria. While it can't make up for a complete lack of talent and taste, Web Publisher's Design Guide for Macintosh, 2nd ed., is a giant step in the right direction. Mary Jo Fahey mines the Web for examples of good design technique, then shows you, step by step, how to create similar effects. The chapters of the book have "featured artists," adding a human element to the example pages, and many of these artists have also contributed files to the book's CD-ROM.

Not surprisingly, Adobe Photoshop plays a large role in the book, but the artists also have a fondness for Equilibrium Technologies' DeBabelizer, Adobe Illustrator, Quark XPress, NetObjects Fusion, Vitrus Walkthrough Pro, and other high-end tools. This is not to suggest the book is unapproachable by lesser mortals, but, rather, to note that it pulls no punches: the artists tell you exactly how they did something spectacular. All you need to do is supply the talent.

In addition to graphics, adding sound (via actual sound files or MIDI) is also covered, as are animation, video, forms, and other techniques for adding interactivity to Web pages. Fahey notes that the flexibility of the Web has expanded into other areas, citing in particular the use of "Web" pages on CD-ROMs to extend book and magazine offerings.

Most of the same topics are covered in Peter Kentie's Web Graphics Tools and Techniques. Kentie offers a much richer selection of color graphics, in particular, but the book's focus is less specific, covering both Windows and the Macintosh. This is not necessarily a problem, since Web designers need to be aware that much of the world is not blessed with superior MacOS-based hardware.

Kentie doesn't offer quite as much detail as Fahey, but the layout of the book is nothing less than outstanding: it is gorgeous. On the down side, it has a terrible index, making it much less suitable as an emergency reference.

Another gorgeous book is Elements of Web Design. This is much less a "how to use the tools" book as it is a course in fundamental design and layout. Dozens of richly illustrated pages are shown, along with narrative on how they were designed and why. Much attention is spent on designing a site on paper, laying out the basic format and structure well in advance of creating pages. Attention is also given to why certain design choices are used in some cases and not in others. Finally, the non-linear, interactive nature of the Web is repeatedly stressed. A Web page, the book makes clear, involves page layout, but it is a fundamentally different task than page layout as practiced in "traditional" desktop publishing.

On the other hand, traditional desktop publishers and graphic artists are drawn to Web design, by choice or economics. This book is written with them in mind, and the overall format (it is a large book) is similar to Peachpit's other books on designing with Quark, designing multimedia, using scanners, and related topics.

All three of these design books are highly recommended.

Getting Serious

Has the fairy godmother of improbable events tasked you with actual job-related Web tasks? Have you been designated the official Web flunky for your company or agency? Then you might wish to take a look at Novell's The Web At Work: Publishing Within and Beyond the Corporation, a book that has little to do with "how to write HTML" but much to say on "how does the Web fit in with what our company/agency/garden club does." Peter Jerram doesn't resort to obscure theories to address this question, but instead went to many different companies, found how they used the Web, and interviewed key individuals involved in such efforts.

Apple is well represented, with an extensive overview of how Apple turned to the Web to distribute software updates, as well as publish its previously restricted (to employees, dealers, and AppleLink subscribers) Technical Info Library (TIL). The publication of Apple's TIL also gives Jerram an opportunity to show how the Web has changed companies: by examining how often certain documents in the TIL are requested, Apple can get a good feel for what needs to be improved, better explained, patched, fixed, promoted, or left alone.

The only downside to the book is the packaging: the cover is ugly, and that title, with its reference to Novell (at one time the world's largest network operating system company), suggests that it has a limited focus, and probably nothing to do with Macs. So ignore the cover, ignore the first word of the title, and just take a look at the book: there is much to discover. Then write a two-page summary and hand it to your boss. They may not read the book, but you may benefit from whatever you say in the summary...

Less useful to most, but invaluable to others, is Don Sellers' Getting Hits: The Definitive Guide to Promoting Your Web Site. Getting "hits" (recorded examples of files being transferred from your server) is the goal of most Web site owners: we published this stuff, so please look at it! The problem, of course, is competition: there are countless thousands of Web sites, all allegedly interesting (to someone), all competing with one another, plus TV, newspapers, books, friends and family, and sunny days outdoors, for attention.

Sellers book is essentially about public relations and advertising: how to write a press release, how to create an electronic advertising campaign, how to "get mentioned" on very popular sites in the hope your site will become more popular, how to use search engines (and how to get the search engines to index your pages), etc. Some of the ideas promoted, such as the use of electronic banners for advertising on other sites, are well hated by Web "purists," as are suggestions that press releases be sent to news groups. He does, however, add suitable cautions, including admonitions to observe proper "netiquette," spelling and grammar. Yes, simple things are the often overlooked keys to success.

Far more technical is HTML: The Definitive Guide, 2nd ed., a 500 page opus on HTML tags. The title claims it is a "definitive guide," and few would argue: it covers everything from the basics of layout and design to the formal Document Type Definition (DTD) used as the basis for HTML 3.2. The coverage of forms and tables is particularly good, coverage of Java applets and Javascript is much less comprehensive (as well it should be, since these are, technically, not HTML), and coverage of server operations very brief (again, that really is another subject). But if you want to know virtually everything there is to know about HTML, this is the book.

One very nice feature: a pull-out reference card of HTML tags. You wouldn't buy the book just for the card, but take a look at it: the rest of the book is just as valuable. If somewhat bulkier.

From the title, Providing Internet Services via the Mac OS, you shouldn't have any trouble guessing at the focus of this volume, by Carl Steadman and Jason Snell. Both have extensive experience running Web servers, and also benefited from a technical review by Chuq Von Rospach, Apple's legendary Internet wizard. Peter Lewis, noted Aussie author of such Mac Internet essentials as Netpresenz, Finger, Mac TCP Watcher and Anarchie, wrote the foreword.

And what do these heavy-hitters offer? Providing Internet Services is, to date, the best one-volume compendium of information, and resources, for setting up a MacOS-based ISP (Internet Service Provider). Between the resources on the CD-ROM and the book, you should be able to set up Web services, mailing lists, Gopher services, FTP (file transfer) services, and DNS (Domain Name Service); all you need are a few reasonably modern Macs and a link to the Internet. About the only thing missing, from the CD-ROM at least, is a mail server; Apple Internet Mail Server (AIMS) is discussed, but not included on the CD-ROM. (It has recently been transferred to Qualcomm, which renamed it EIMS, for Eudora Internet Mail Server).

While aimed at the technically astute, the book tries hard to be a user-friendly Mac book written in English. For those tasked with setting up Internet services, the book is an essential. If you have played around with the Web Sharing in Mac OS 8 and want to explore a bit further, or your company has purchased AppleShare IP 5.0 (which includes Web, FTP, DNS and POP mail services) and you want to know more about what is taking place under the hood, this book is highly recommended.

Elizabeth Castro, Visual Quickstart Guide: HTML for the World Wide Web, 2nd Ed., Peachpit Press, 1997, 255 pp., $17.95, ISBN 0-201-68862-X. http://www.peachpit.com/

Elizabeth Castro, Visual Quickstart Guide: Netscape 3 for Macintosh, Peachpit Press, 1996, 288 pp., $16.95, ISBN 0-201-69408-5. http://www.peachpit.com/

Darcy DiNucci, Maria Giudice & Lynne Stiles, Elements of Web Design, Peachpit Press, 1997, 205 pp., $39.95. ISBN 0-201-88594-8. http://www.peachpit.com/

Mary Jo Fahey, Web Publisher's Design Guide for Macintosh, 2nd Ed., The Coriolis Group, 1997, xiv, 498 pp., $39.99 (includes CD-ROM). ISBN 1-57610-108-8. http://www.coriolis.com/

Peter Jerram, The Web At Work: Publishing Within and Beyond the Corporation, IDG Books, 1996, xviii, 315 pp., $29.95. http://www.idgbooks.com/

Peter Kentie, Web Graphics Tools and Techniques, Peachpit Press, 1997, viii, 311 pp., $39.95. ISBN 0-201-68813-1. http://www.peachpit.com/

Maria Langer, Visual Quickstart Guide: PageMill 2 for Macintosh, Peachpit Press, 1997, xvi, 233 pp., $16.95. ISBN 0-201-69402-6. http://www.peachpit.com/

David Lawrence with Dave Mark, Learn HTML on the Macintosh, Addison-Wesley, 1996, xvi, 281 pp. $29.95 (includes CD-ROM). ISBN 0-201-88793-2. http://www.aw.com/devpress/

Chuck Musciano & Bill Kennedy, HTML: The Definitive Guide, 2nd Ed. O'Reilley & Associates, 1997, xviii, 531 pp., $32.95. ISBN 1-56592-235-2. http://www.ora.com/

Don Sellers, Getting Hits: The Definitive Guide to Promoting Your Web Site, Peachpit Press, 1997, xxiv, 178 pp., $19.95. ISBN 0-201-68815-8. http://www.peachpit.com/

Carl Steadman and Jason Snell, Providing Internet Services via the Mac OS, Addison-Wesley, 1996, xvi, 409 pp., $34.95 (includes CD-ROM). ISBN 0-201-48998-8. http://www.aw.com/devpress/

Ed Tittle and James Michael Stewart, Hip Pocket Guide to HTML 3.2, IDG Books, 1997, xx, 234 pp., $14.99. ISBN 0-7645-8017-5. http://www.idgbooks.com/

Robin Williams with Dave Mark, Home Sweet Home Page, Peachpit Press, 1997, 183 pp., $14.95. ISBN 0201-88667-7. http://www.peachpit.com/ (http://www.peachpit.com/home-sweet-home/)


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Revised August 28, 1998 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
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