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Diary of a Homepage
Part 1 (February - May 1996)
The content of these pages has been almost entirely left as they were written so the majority are using the versions of HTML current at the time. They still display fine on all current browsers which are all remarkably backward compatible (but will throw all sorts of warningss on modern HTML validation services).
Mobile devices such as phones and pads had however not been thought of in the early days and the switch to a 'Responsive' design to take into account touch screens and small displays along with use of HTML5 arrived at part 25 (January - December 2014). Earlier pages are best displayed on a computer.
The early pages make fascinating reading as they indicate how things have developed from the early days of the web which was officially invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in March 1989. They already cover 75% of the life of the web and start only a year after the first full Windows operating system, Windows 95 came out (earlier versions had just been graphic shells run from DOS). Compuserve and AOL dominated the online world and a good internet connection gave a tad over 3 Kbytes/sec when these pages started.
The home page was started just before we went on holiday in February 1996, for all the wrong reasons. We had seen in PC Direct Magazine that CompuServe had produced a Home Page Wizard and that it gave the opportunity to register an alias for our ID instead of the 101520,547 which nobody can ever remember. We therefore put together, in a few hours, a single page saying who we were, that it would be developed when we learnt more, added our Email address and went on holiday. Technology pull with little thought to the potential user!
We then started to think seriously about whether there was any justification to have a page. We quickly realised that our original thoughts leading to a title indicating it was an information source on us was actually useful. There will always be those who arrive by browsing but we have decided to mainly direct it to those we know or communicate with by conventional means such as snail mail or Email and to that end have already included the site address on our Letter, Fax and Email templates. We have tried to encapsulate the rationale and users in a "Mission Statement" to follow the modern jargon. We now have to decide what is useful to the disparate contacts who may want a little background on those they deal with. The casual browser may well find this diary of interest - if so Click on our name at the bottom of the age to Email us even if only to say you have visited - better still to offer comments and tips.
Returning to the techniques we started off using the CompuServe Home Page Wizard but very quickly found it's limitations. A major limitation was that one could only use the small subset of HTML commands and could not, for example, put a hot link in inline text - it had to be on a separate line. We have therefore started (in mid April) to evaluate WebEdit again from a CD provided with PC Direct. This is a 30 day life trial copy with some missing functionality such as the spelling checker. We still use the CompuServe Publishing Wizard to upload the pages which seems to work fine. The latest version which came with WinCim 2.01 seems slightly more refined and user friendly than our downloaded version in that it now dials and disconnects without having to already be logged into CompuServe.
We have downloaded a copy of WebMania! 1.5 which seems to have much better facilities for generation of forms and provides a database to look at them. We have used it to put a feedback form on the page and will see how it all works. Do Try Out The Questionnaire we are very proud of it! The other facilities are similar in Webmania! to WebEdit - easier to use in some ways and less easy in others. WebMania! however has a strange conflict on our system which means re booting the machine after every use as we lose the comms port. Unless we can solve that WebEdit will win out.
We have been keeping two Browsers - CompuServe Mosaic and Microsoft Internet Explorer - sitting on our desktop with our home page loaded on entry so we get a good idea what it looks like before we publish each update.
Another week has passed which needs to be documented and a lot of work seems to have been carried out on obtaining and choosing tools.
Netscape Navigator Gold was first downloaded by FTP from the Netscape Site - actually two were downloaded because I had not done my homework and checked that I needed Netscape Gold for the built in HTML editor. The internal WYSIWYG editor is ideal for simple changes and, above all, getting the layout of the document exactly right. You can click on most simple items or select text and change the properties of, for example, a Horizontal Rule or a Heading instantly. It also allows you to call a more sophisticated editor from inside and then return. It alone may be enough for some people.
Web Access has also taken a lot of time as I have set up a full 32 Bit PPP connection to CompuServe so I can also use Internet Explorer and Netscape Gold to access the WWW. My very first impression is that Netscape Navigator is slower in handling displays etc. as it is so powerful. CompuServe Mosaic, which is so well integrated with the other CompuServe Software, may remain my primary entry point. For those not on CompuServe there is little to chose and all they do what one needs.
Web Editors remained the big choice still to be made. WebMania 1.5 offered very easy forms and the means to display them - Emailed returns from Forms are difficult to read as all spaces change to %20, line feeds to %0A etc. I however realised that a simple recorded macro in Word would change the gibberish to something easily readable and should be good enough for what I need. If you really want a complex form handling then Webmania Professional with automated collection and outputs to Access Databases would win or one could otherwise write a little Visual Basic program. To make sure I was not missing anything I also downloaded Robedit from CompuServe. This turned out to convert from an internal format to HTML which was not what I wanted.
Keen Nesbitt's WebEdit was looking my first choice so I rang up Grey Matter (Tel: +44 (0)1364 654100), the UK agents, and discovered that the key (cost £26) to unlock the advanced features in WebEdit 1.4 would also unlock the latest WebEdit 2 for Windows 95. They told me that the Beta was already downloadable from the WebEdit site and faxed me details which finally convinced me to go ahead. The new version has just been downloaded and unlocked. The first quick look makes me thick my £26 has been well spent and this update is the first trial.
Grey Matter Ltd. also hold the prize for best service in the whole Computer and Software exercise to date - the phone was quickly answered, very helpful, friendly and knowledgeable and they also kept their promise and sent me details by fax almost immediately. The key was also Emailed within a very short time again as they promised. Their Email address is email@example.com. I spent a little while talking to Tony there as my Fax had, to my amazement, turned up in my Microsoft Exchange Inbox as Message with Icon which turned out to be a fully editable Word Document. They have just started to use the Editable Option in Exchange when sending Faxes at their end and I may have been the first feedback - at this point I do not know how clever the system is at finding out about the Receiving Fax but it does seem an ideal way to send documents to those without Email - it may also be faster and cheaper.
A few more days have passed which need to be documented.
In the meantime the Communications on our System page has been produced and that has cause some hard thought on the use of HTML for more than the Web Site.
Also many more options have opened up on the HTML front and it is not clear which way to jump to end up with the best and most consistently integrated system.
The new options which I have obtained include:
The cover CD on What Personal Computer has copies of Internet Assistant for Word, Excel and PowerPoint and also Viewers for the same programs - all of Microsoft origin.
Internet Assistant makes some clever changes to Word which give it the ability to Open, Close and Edit files in HTML and convert within reasonable bounds existing Word documents to HTML. This seems to be largely done by use of a special HTML template so conversion is more difficult if you depend on a lot of custom styles but if you are simple minded like most of us it should be fine. This HTML document has been read into Word and it is very easy to Edit. It flagged up in Blue a few bits of existing HTML it thought were redundant and when saved it does look quite different in detail to what I started with. The feel and toolbars look like a mix of Word and Internet Explorer. There is a browser button which accesses your default browser so in my case shows up as a Netscape Navigator Icon. The real time spell checking etc. all work, which is very nice.
Overall this may well allow another level of integration into our system with HTML files acting as a glue providing all the cross references to old documents - some new documents could well be in HTML but that needs far more thought. For a networked organisation this does offer tremendous scope to set up an Intranet whilst maintaining all the same feel for the naïve user - it is worrying that Microsoft do seem so far ahead of the game.
Converting Documents: The only upload last week and a very important one was Pauline's Resume. This provided an interesting case in conversion of an existing document to HTML - both were considerably improved in layout by the time we had finished. It gave a good chance to look what the available tools such as Internet Assistant for Word could achieve. I think the lesson was that one needs to look at the overlaps between HTML and ones word processor and adapt the way of doing things so that conversion is easy. It proved essential to tidy up the existing document which had probably not even started in Word before converting. It went back to almost bare text before adding indents, bullets and bolding etc.
Problems: The tests or in fact the whole week did not go well. I could not even upload last weeks Diary leave alone get to my Browser Tests. For some reason, which is not fully understood by me, almost all communications with or through CompuServe were lost. The Windows Modem link option still worked in CompuServe and in CompuServe Mail for Exchange but the direct PPP link for Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer were lost and all communications using a Winsock. I firstly uninstalled the new programs where possible - the Microsoft programs had uninstall options built into the Add/Remove programs in The Control panel. The Word Viewer 7.1 was not reloaded as I suspected it had loaded a new Winsock. Internet Assistant was so useful that it was reloaded.
Next the Winsocks were changed round, WinCim reloaded, CompuServe Mail for Exchange reloaded and every setting in the PPP setup checked or played with to absolutely no avail - in watching the Scripts run it looked as if I got logged in and the Password accepted but then no negotiation for Internet. Even backup tapes from before the trouble started made no difference. It was finally solved by reloading the CompuServe WinCim 2.01 UK into a new directory at which everything started to work again! Best part of a week had gone by.
Backing Up and Rebuilding Systems: As might be expected this has caused considerable Thoughts on Backup and Archiving. In particular I have been looking at how to Rebuild as opposed to Restore a system - as one would have to do on a different machine. The outcome has been a Backup Philosophy leading to considerable changes to the directory structure and Backup procedure.
System Documentation using HTML. All the procedures to Rebuild the System have been documented. The Restoring and Rebuilding Procedure is my first use of HTML for system documentation and it utilises Hyperlinks to all the relevant documents and procedures. It has been written using Microsoft Word with Internet Assistant.
Additions to the site: All I have new to upload for the week other than this Diary update is my Thoughts on Backup and Archiving which I hope may provoke others to think seriously about their needs.
Memory for Windows 95. The only success was that an extra 16 Mbytes of memory turned up and was fitted and working within 10 minutes plus 30 minutes to run the Dell memory tests. This has made a difference far beyond what I had expected and it has transformed the system and all the disk churning has stopped. Even reloading programs such as Word or Netscape Navigator it hardly seems to access the disk - there must be some very clever caching. I chose an extra 16 Mbytes as there were only 2 spare slots and Pentium memory has to go in pairs. I used the System Monitor to look at the memory use - in particular the swap file size which seemed to work up to 11 Mbytes so 16Mbytes looked safe and as I had hoped the prices had fallen by over two fold for EDO memory. I ended up paying £154 for 2 x 8 Mbytes of 60 nsec EDO RAM instead of over £200 for half that when I purchased from Dell in January.
Adding Viewers to Browsers; All the Browsers seem to make it very easy to view a variety of different document formats. Internet Explorer already has many viewers built in and has a useful check screen before it allows you to open documents from the Web. This can be disabled selectively for each format but it makes sense to warn the innocent about viruses. It already has all the Windows 95 and Office file formats built in including Fax and Message formats making it ideal for documentation and Intranet purposes. Netscape Navigator has a broad base of shareware and commercial fast viewers and adding oneself looks possible. I have experimented on CompuServe Mosaic and had no problem in adding Microsoft Word (.dot) files for local use. Use Tools|options|File types and New applications/msword Extension .dot and Program:\msoffice\winword\winword.exe /n (the /n avoids loading with an empty document)
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