Cyber Strategy Project
Cyber Tools are the various gizmos you need for developing content for your web site. The explicit focus of this analysis is the national non-profit policy advocacy community, although others with similar resources and desirements may find this resource useful as well -- others among The 9 Types of Web Page Creators may not.
This page is an inventory of desktop tools needed for effective website contend authoring that can be used by anyone and everyone responsible for developing online content. This resource for authors complements the CyberTools for WebMastersresource, which inventories things that the WebMaster alone need worry about, as well as the guide to client-side internet user stuff which is inventoried on The Well Tempered Desktop page].
Our rating system is as follows:
Yes -- Looks like a good bet
Questionable -- not a front runner right now
No - don't bother -- has some obvious problems
This page is under continuous development, and your comments and suggestions to the CyberStrategy Project are most welcome. We would also be interested in engaging in an exchange of views on these and related topics in our online CyberStrategy conference.
The current and foreseeable dynamic pace of development of the net makes it a bit difficult to parse precise categories of cyber tools, particularly since a non-trivial number of products incorporate functionality that is often found in tools commonly grouped in some other category. But this is about the best we have been able to come up with in terms of the general types of tools currently available. In almost every case, there are far more tools available than we have reviewed here. Rather than serve as a compendious compendium of the sum totality of all executables, we have reviewed the packages that seem the most promising, as well as the ones that are less promising though widely advertised. We have also attempted to provide links to more encyclopedic resources as well.
We are always on the lookout for new and interesting tricks to liven up our webspace. We have evaluated a variety of authoring tools, and as soon as we recover from beta.burnout we will have some reviews and commentary here. Some of the places we keep tabs on include:
Web Authoring Tools
There are a bunch of HTML authoring tools floating around, but since we like to stay close to the code we are only interested in the ones that enable direct coding, and so are not paying any attention to the purely WYSIWYG tools that hide the code from the newbies.
- Carl Davis's HTML Editor Reviews Objective and detailed reviews of HTML creation tools, packages, and applications used to develop, maintain, and author web pages and content." Has a very nice Comparison Matrix.
- C-NET Reviews 11 HTML Editing Tools
- Mag's Big List of HTML Editors the most complete list of HTML editing tools around.
- HTML Authoring Products from Internet World / iWORLD
- For over two years we have been using the venerable HTML Writer authoring tool. It is simple, and doesn't have all the bells and whistles, but it gets the job done. Unfortunately, it is a 16-bit app that does not support long file names [ie, it sees .htm but not .html] which is resulting in a lotta coding errors, so we gotta get something better. In particular, we need multi-file find-and-replace.
- WebEdit Pro 2.0 [was Nesbitt, now Luckman] -- a highly rated 32-bit app that seems to have a lotta nice features - PC Magazine sez "among the most elegant and up-to-date code-based Web-page editors... a professional feel that inspires confidence." While it does not have the full feature set of HotDog, it is fast, stable, easy to customize, and has an extremely shallow learning curve, so until something better comes along this has got to be the way to go.
- We have also used the Sausage HotDog 2.0, but the thing has far more coding options than the few we actually use, so it was kinda not what we were looking for. However, the new 32-bit HotDog32 Professional 3.0 is just loaded with features, and is absolutely the most buggy piece of code for which we have ever paid cash money. We were kinda wondering how come the 2.0 release was the only one sold in stores, but after a while we just had to give up on 3.0 -- the thing is slow as tar, it crashes regularly, you lose the cursor [you don't want to know] and have to restart, and so forth. If they ever bother to debug it this might be useful, but as it is apart from a few of the wizards it is just way more trouble than it is worth.
- HTML Assistant Pro 97 UK PC Magazine Editors' Choice - usability testing finished considerably ahead of other products. According to John C. Dvorak, PC Magazine, February 20, 1996 it is "the standard HTML editor by which all others are judged. Highly recommended. Buy it." Converts exisiting word processor documents to HTML using RTF-HTML. Customizable Multiple User Tool Bars, Win-95 long file name support, tags and attributes are displayed in color. Multiple File Replace - update all pages with one operation. Price for HTML Assistant Pro 97 is $89.95.
- We also have HoTMetaL Pro 2.0, which is good, but we mainly used it for a first run at WordPerfect conversion and not for creating pages from stratch. The new HoTMetaL Pro 3.0 converts wordprocessing files to HTML, and a powerful forms creation capability. Released in May 1996, it retails for $159. It was ranked above HotDog32 by PC Week on 10 Sept 96 "if you are looking for for the maximum power available in an HTML editor, HoTMetaL is the only choice." On the other hand, the CNET review complains that "using it is like living under Communist rule: it knows what's good for you, and you'll live with its decisions. HTML rules are strictly enforced. Toolbar tagging options that aren't appropriate for your current cursor position are grayed out. And if you attempt to perform an illegal act--like trying to enter text before a body tag--nothing happens." This can be a particular problem if you are editing pre-existing documents that were constructed contrary to HoTMetaL's syntax rules.
- Weblint is a syntax and minimal style checker for HTML - a perl script which picks fluff off html pages. The Weblint form interface is an HTML form which lets you type in a URL and have it checked by weblint without having to install weblint locally.
Web Whackers / Offline Browsers
Offline browsers can be used to lay hands on public domain documents for local repurposing. The trick, however, is that to do the job right the gizmo needs to retain the original structure of the content, which is not always the case.
- WebWhacker 2.0 from ForeFront - downloads single pages, groups of pages, or entire sites. Toolbar at the edge of the screen, supports specification of how many levels are retrieved and schedules periodic updates. Not too clear just how this works, as the company claims that "Whacked" information can be viewed and navigated locally with any World Wide Web browser and is a mirror image of the same information on the World Wide Web, whereas a review claimed that pages are stored in a single file that only WebWhacker can read. We downloaded the demo but could never seem to get the thing fired up for some reason.
- FlashSite has a Site option to download the entire Web site, including all HTML, image and media files -- all the files are automatically categorized into folders according their structure on the original Web site.
- Tritech Systems, a division of Merrill Lynch, has developed a plug-in for Astra SiteManager which automatically downloads an entire Web site to enable offline browsing, editing and development, but I can't seem to find these folks online.
- HotPage from DocuMagix is tightly integrated with Netscape Navigator and MS Internet Explorer and installs itself on the browser's menu bar - but it only seems to work one page at a time, which ain't much use.
- According to reviews, other products like Folio Netretriever, NetAttache Pro 1.0, Netriever 2.0, OM Express 1.1, Surfbot 2.02, WebClip 1.0, and WebEx all seem more or less unsatisfactory as well.
Because the Web is a graphical interface, it is often necessary to do some in-house graphic editing and manipulation. Many graphics for our website can be downloaded from other web sites, but when our own material is needed, we turn to these software packages:
- The most advanced application we have for graphic editing are the Corel Draw applications. PHOTO-PAINT is the best photo-editing and bit-map creation software we have, COREL DRAW! offers great creative fuel to develop our own uniqe graphics. The package also offers thousands of clip art images which are used extensively throughout our web space. The program includes a powerful color management system and all the tools you will need to paint, edit, and retouch your images. With dynamic special effects such as mesh, warp, swirl, pinch and 3D perspectives, and the ability to import or scan photos, creating your own design is easy with Corel software.
- We also use L-View, a shareware program which can be found on the Internet. While lacking in the amount of features that PHOTO-PAINT has, it is very simple to use and is best to view images downloaded off the Web and for resizing them to fit specific purposes.
- Another shareware program we make use of is Paintshop Pro which is one of the easiest and most powerful image viewing, editing and converting programs you may ever use. With support for over 30 image formats, and several drawing and painting tools, this may be the only graphics program you will ever need.
- Clipart Gallery
This sorta stuff might be fairly useful, or it might be the most annoying thing since but it is an easy way to add at least a bit of animation to your site without having to do anything overly fancy.
This Java business is both a lot less and a lot more complicated than it looks. The bottom line is that this stuff is not ready for prime time, and won't be until the dang browsers get more robust implementations of the Java Virtual Machine and such.
The good news is that implementing Java applets is surprisingly easy:
- Insert the HTML code for the applet at the appropriate place in your HTML document. You can get some sample code from Vivid Software's Instant Java site [buy the book of the same name and make it easy on yourself], or you can download some gizmos from Macromedia that will write a few simple scripts for you.
- Install the requisite Java class files [which use long file name conventions that are case sensitive] into the same directory as the HTM file.
The bad news is that sometimes all this works, and sometimes it doesn't, and while it is very easy to come up with a bad implementation even when it does work [the dang things can take forever to download, and have a nasty habit of snagging the bulk of the user's computer's resources and crashing all the time], it is a bit more difficult to come up with an implementation that is both user friendly and actually adds value to your site.
On the third hand, everyone is doing it, and if your site ain't got at least a snippet of Java pretty soon it is gonna look all nasty and wambly and netlagged like some ole poorly maintained gopher site or something, so let the games begin.
There are freeware/shareware programs to convert .wav files to .au files that can be played in applets. One such tool is SoX.