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Chris Wright- by Chris Wright
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Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Richmond, VA area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.

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A Christmas Software Wish-List

Summary: Chris Wright makes a Christmas wish for the perfect mega-web-site builder program for OS/2.

Christmas is coming, the time where all us folks in the U.S. of A. are sucked into an abyss of greed, avarice, gluttony, and overdrawn credit cards. At this time of year it seems wholly appropriate to obsess on wanting something I cannot, as of yet, have:

An all-in-one, monster web authoring program for OS/2.

OS/2 has all (at least, has most) of the pieces here, but they're scattered in different products, making it somewhat awkward for those of us short on time and patience to learn. What we need is the Program To End All Programs TM. I have a vision of such a program, a vision that shines as brightly as a certain star that is commonly associated with this time of the year.

I am a very, very busy man. Not only do I write for OS/2 e-Zine!, I draw an on-again, off-again comic strip called "Help Desk" for the same publication, play "music" in a part-time band, do occasional volunteer work for various projects like Warpstock, and -- oh, yes, I almost forgot -- I have a Day Job. This Day Job, which is crucial to honing my finely tuned skills of observation, communication, and design (not to mention paying the bills, feeding the dog, the cats, my wife and myself) consists of doing some technical writing and some web design for a very large law firm in Richmond, Virginia.

Using Windows 95.

Using Microsoft FrontPage 98.

That's what they standardized on, that's what I use. Actually, to be perfectly honest, FrontPage 98 has a lot of potential as a web development tool. It has several features that I am very happy with, and actually miss using when I'm using another program.

The biggest problem with FrontPage 98 is that it's extremely unstable, especially if you've been using it for more than half an hour. Regardless of feature set, no matter how intuitive a program is to use, if it crashes all the time, it's not worth your money -- not if you design web pages for a living.

Microsoft FrontPage 98 has a very impressive feature set, and is an extremely intuitive program to use, but it locks up and freezes my machine too much. As much as I like using it (when it works), I reboot too much for it to be practical for large-scale web projects.

Besides that, it generates needlessly bloated HTML code.

Besides that, it doesn't work as well with Non-Microsoft browsers that don't use ActiveX (i.e., Netscape).

Besides that, it's not available for OS/2, which is pretty much all that need be said for The Big Picture.

But some developer out there, or some ISV, should take notes on this program, take all its best features, come up with some features it doesn't have, and create a "killer app" for OS/2 -- a web design environment that will wipe the floor with everything else out there on the market. Just to get the ball rolling, I'll tell you how I think it should work.

First, OS/2 WebDeveloper Pro (my not-so-original name for this application) is more than just a GUI web page application, it's also a database. It's also a Java and JavaScript development environment. It's also... well, I'll start from the beginning.

When you fire up OS/2 WebDeveloper Pro, it gives you the opportunity to set up a new web site or continue developing a site that already exists. We're going to create a web site from scratch here, so clicking the "new site" button brings you to a dialog box that asks you to set up a mirror site on your hard drive. You choose a directory or folder that acts as the "root" level of your web site, then name your project. After you give your project a name, it creates a dummy index.html file which opens as a blank page, and you can begin your site setup.

Under OS/2 WebDeveloper Pro, you don't save individual web pages per se. What you save is an entire web site. Each OS/2 WebDeveloper web site would essentially be a database that keeps track of all your html file names, all your links, and all your graphics. For example, you'd specify a default graphics directory for your site and when you decide to link a graphic to a page it defaults to that directory. OS/2 WebDeveloper Pro would also keep track of all internal links in the site, so if you should move an html file from one level of your directory tree to another, it will automatically update the links elsewhere on the site to make sure they are still alive. And finally, it should also update remote sites using simple FTP.

Actually creating web pages in OS/2 WebDeveloper Pro would be done in either WYSIWYG or open-code formats. In other words, OS/2 WebDeveloper Pro would allow the user to design in a full WYSIWYG environment, similar to HomePage Publisher's, or dealing strictly with the HTML source code, similar to WebWriter/2.

When developing in a WYSIWYG environment (which in my dream world is licensed from the author of HomePage Publisher, since I've never used a WYSIWYG program that generates cleaner HTML code on any platform), various HTML structures (tables, cells, graphics, etc.) all have object-specific right-click commands associated with them. For example, when right clicking in a table cell, you have the option to "Edit Table, Edit Row, or Edit Cell," or "Delete Table, Delete Row, or Delete Cell." Choosing any of the edit functions causes a dialog box to appear where you can specify various attributes of the HTML object.

If you right-clicked on a graphic element, you could have the option to "define graphic, make link, or make imagemap." Defining the graphic would allow you to modify the size of the graphic, either leaving it at its default, or stretching it by increasing or decreasing its pixel height and width -- or, defining its size as a percentage of the area it's sitting in (for example, 70% of the entire width of the web site, or 70% of the width of the cell it's sitting in.) Choosing "make link" would allow you to use it as a hyperlink and add in the necessary info for that. Finally, choosing the "make imagemap" would bring up a little screen where you'd choose either client-side or server-side as the basic imagemap type, select various portions of the graphic and define those areas as hyperlinks. Once finished, you'd click "OK", the screen would close, and the imagemap information would be embedded in the appropriate areas of the web page.

If you right-clicked on any blank portion of the page itself, you'd be able to call up a dialog box that would allow you to enter the title, meta tag information, backgrounds and whatever else.

Another important feature in this application would be that you can completely customize your keyboard to map to various commands within the application itself. For example, you should be able to define the alt+L combination as the command that inserts a hyperlink into the document, or alt+P as the command that brings up the general page information dialog box.

Finally, not only should the WYSIWYG area create web pages, but it can also (to a limited extent) generate simple JavaScript commands. For example, lets assume I wanted to add in JavaScript the illusion that when a mouse was resting over a graphic, the graphic changed color. This is nothing more than switching one graphic with another, but it requires JavaScript function. Here's how it might work:

I'd insert the cursor in the area I wanted the effect to take place, and activate the "insert JavaScript" feature. A window would appear with a list of the pre-generated scripts that I can choose from, such as "image switch". I also give this routine a group name in case I want to include other items in the same JavaScript routine. After filling out a few fields, the script is generated and inserted for me. If I want to do the same thing to another image (for example, if it is part of a series of links) the "Add to group" option does the job with the same easy-to-use interface.

Of course, there are some people who prefer to code their HTML by hand, and OS/2 WebDeveloper Pro shouldn't leave them out in the cold. If the web developers prefers dealing with source code (because source code allows you to create cleaner, more compact code) he or she can expect features such as syntax highlighting, error notification, automatic indentation and configurable keyboard shortcuts.

Other Useful Goodies

And now here's some things I'd like to see in a web development programs but haven't actually seen anywhere yet:

  • Support for Cascading Style Sheets
  • A plugin architecture, so third parties can increase the applications power and usability
  • Rexx scripting support to automate things without needing to write and compile a plugin
  • A way to merge database fields with templates to create multiple pages with similar layout but different data. For example, a Lotus Approach database with 25 employee phone numbers and addresses could be merged into a web page employee information layout, creating 25 web pages, one for each employee.
  • Automatic conversion of URL and e-mail data. All strings that start with "http://" or "ftp://" are converted into hyperlinks. All strings with an "@" in them are converted into mailto: commands. These functions should be optional, by the way.
  • Templates. OS/2 WebDeveloper Pro should be able to store pages as templates -- in case you want to use them in other pages.
  • Configurable toolbars and tool palettes. Basically, the more I can customize my tools, the more efficiently I'll get my work done.

So that's just about it: my vision of the ultimate web design program. Now all you have to do is build it...

* * *

Eager programmers wanted! (Especially if they work pro-bono.) But if you're just another dreamer with your idea of the perfect site creation program, make your Christmas wishes too in our interactive forum.

Coding templates! - Mark Bickford
Whats wrong with Enhanced Editor? - zeppelin@gte.net
too much overhead but ... - Bernd Hohmann

Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
December 16, 1998