Serious web designers will sometimes tell you that to make a good web-site, you either need to know HTML or to use a high-powered product such as Dreamweaver. They'll probably add that you need to go on a training course for either of them. If you're one of those who believe this, then this review is not for you! Doubtless there's some truth in these claims, but equally I've come across a fair amount of web-site snobbery, not to mention expensively designed sites which have a most impressive flashy opening sequence but very little content. Or which have plenty of useful content, but it's difficult to find. Or which are easily navigable, but the graphics are so complex that each page takes far too long for the average impatient web-surfer to wait for. When I decided - nearly five years ago now - that it would be a good idea to start a new web-site giving information and ideas about UK home education, my main focus was on content. At the time, there were very few sites on this subject, and most of those I could find were mainly lists of links to American sites, with little information. But how to get started when I knew nothing at all about web-sites? * Jargon * I asked my husband what HTML was. 'Hyper-text markup language', he told me. This would probably take a prize, in my view, for being a totally correct but entirely useless answer. I'd have given up at that point, but my sons were enthusiastically building their own first web-sites, and assured me it was easy - all I needed, they told me, was a 'wissywig' package. Sometimes I think I live on another planet. 'A what?' I queried. 'WYSIWYG', one son spelled out helpfully. 'What you see is what you get', added t
he other, kindly, seeing me blanker than ever. 'Like Word' he continued. Apparently I could type in my page, format it in Word, and then save it as HTML, without ever knowing what HTML was. But, I was told, while I COULD do this, it wasn't advisable because Word HTML at the time was buggy. No, not insects crawling around in it, just that it didn't always work as expected. It wasn't really 'wissywig' at all, more 'what you see is a vague approximation to what you might get'. * Other beginner possibilities * Internet Explorer has a built-in editor called FrontPage Editor, accessible from its file menu. I gather most browsers have something similar. They enable a page to be built and edited much like a word processor. I was all set to try using this, but again was warned away from it. It was too limited, apparently. So my husband kindly brought me home an old version of FrontPage Express, a more complex version which is usually quite expensive, and which I used for a while, finding it quite similar to Word. We registered the site at Geocities, I learned how to upload pages (very easy at Geocities) and my site was launched. About a year later, I was finding that FrontPage Express too was a bit buggy, and people told me that it put in lots of extra HTML which made the pages difficult to see in some browsers. The family also tended to be a bit anti-Microsoft, feeling that Bill Gates, clever bod though he undoubtedly is, had already earned far more than anybody should earn in a lifetime, and was in danger of taking over the world. So when I was given a CD with a free version of Adobe PageMill 3.0 (I forget if it came w
ith a magazine, or with my printer, or perhaps even with a new graphics card) I decided to instal that instead. Adobe, my family told me, was a well-respected company, particularly famous for its Acrobat reader. (Nothing to do with circuses, just another way of reading documents.) * Installation * This turned out to be easy. Stick in the CD, answer the questions, click some buttons, and it all happens. I'm told this is called an installation wizard; I suppose it works as if Professor Dumbledore is gently showing me what to do, but insisting I do at least a little (ie clicking the 'next' button) myself. After the installation was complete, a little icon appeared on my desktop: a picture of the world with what looked like a ring of Saturn going around it, and the useful information that this was the shortcut to PageMill. * Creating a site * Double-clicking the icon, the program opens and I'm presented with a reassuringly familiar looking screen, set out much like Word with a menu along the top, and shortcut icons that look like those from any word processor, linking to paragraph layout, font, and so on. The only unfamiliar menu item was one labelled 'site' which allows me either to create a new site, or to load one already linked to the program, and also has other features that can be used once I've built a site, such as error-checking. At the beginning I told it to create a new site, gave it a name, and found the folder where my previously-made site was stored on the computer. Adobe PageMill imported the site, and a new window opened which gave me a list of all the folders, which could be clicked to open or close, to see the individual pages. This is the site overview, and is what I use for navigating around the site when I'm editing or making new pages
. If I had wanted to create a brand new site, I would have had to create a folder for it on the computer, and then tell PageMill to create it there. Once the program has created a site, it's available in the list that can be viewed when telling it to open a site. * Page views * Most of the time, I use PageMill exactly as a 'WYSIWYG' package. I type in my information, insert any images I want to use, and save it. Once the page is complete, I can upload it to Geocities. There are two other ways of seeing the page if I wish, by using the 'View' menu: either as it will appear on the web (so that any extra guidelines will vanish, for instance) or - if I really want to - in HTML, or 'source' mode. Despite my reservations about the whole HTML thing, I found that it wasn't so difficult to understand at its most basic, after all. HTML is a simple form of computer program. Each line has opening 'tags' which define how the line is to look, and closing ones to say 'finish the last command'. Remember old walkie-talkies? People would end each message by saying 'Over!' and that meant it was time for the other person to speak. That's rather how HTML works. You can see examples of it on most web-pages while you're online by clicking 'View->Source' from Internet Explorer, or the equivalent in whatever browser you use. Sometimes, if I've made a lot of changes to formatting, the HTML can look a bit messy with lots of extra tags, and I found it quite easy to check my HTML view and simply delete them. It gives something of a sense of power.. although I don't do this very often. * L
;inks * One of the important features of web-sites is the links to other pages or sites. In PageMill this is extremely easy to do. I simply highlight some text, and a little window at the bottom of the screen labelled 'Link to' lights up. I can then either type in the full address (the one starting http) to link to another site, or click the 'browse' button next to it to browse the directory of my site on the computer, and select a page that I want to link to. This can all be done offline, and the pages then uploaded with the same names (and folders, if appropriate) and it all works. Usually. * Tables * Just like in Word, Adobe PageMill doesn't like pictures on the same line as text. So if I want text to the side of a photograph, I have to create a table. It's actually simpler than in Word - the 'insert' menu has the option of 'table', which allows me to select the number of rows and columns I want. I can then stretch the table by dragging its edges using the mouse, or simply paste in text or images and it will adjust itself. Once the table is on the page, new cells can be added, or unecessary ones deleted, by use of the edit menu. * Site inspector * This is one of my favourite features, one which I didn't find in Word or FrontPage. Under the 'view' menu, one of the options is 'inspector'. This brings up a little floating box which gives the main features of the page, such as the default font size and colour, and the background image or colour (if any). Clicking in a table, the site inspector will show three different options - the whole table (so the size can be adjusted if necessary, and the box around it removed or changed in size); individual cells of the table (so the general formatting of the items within can be changed) or t
he actual contents of the table, so that its size or other attributes can be changed. I use the site inspector frequently, and find it very useful. * Drawbacks * Inevitably a simple package like Adobe Pagemill is limited in some ways. Whereas FrontPage allowed me to select 'themes' which would then be the default for every page on my site, giving a coherent appearance with co-ordinating background, text-styles, and so on, there's nothing like that with Pagemill. If I want anything other than a plain coloured background, I either have to make it myself in a graphics program, and then import that, or 'borrow' it from somewhere else. I also have to set up all my font styles individually, although I tend to keep one page as a template and edit that to create a new one so that I don't always have to start from scratch. Another minor drawback is that it's not possible to change the colours of table borders. This annoyed me a bit at first, as FrontPage allowed a huge variety. However I find that with modern sites, tables are usually made invisible with no border at all, so this doesn't really cause me any problems. It also doesn't do anything complicated, such as Flash or Java Script or similar. I don't really know what Java is (nor do I want to, so no need for anyone to enlighten me!) but I do know that more complex web-sites use these to create impressive effects. Since my sites (I now have three, all maintained with PageMill) are mainly for information, this is no problem at all to me. I gather that it's possible to insert Java Script into PageMill via the HTML view, and then tell PageMill to leave it alone, by inserting what they call placeholders. However I've never tried this. Finally
73; do sometimes find that it seems to run out of memory if I've had PageMill open for a long time, and have edited a large number of pages. It will then inform me that I have too many open (even if I've closed them all) and that it can't open any more. This was most annoying the first time it happened, but subsequently I've found that if I close it down then open it again, it's fine. It may be a problem with my computer's memory rather than inherent in PageMill. * Other features * There seems little point describing all the features of this package. Almost anything you can do in a word processor can be done in this package, and there's a full and useful 'help' file which explains how to do almost anything. There are facilities to check external links online, and a page of errors (if any) that appears in the general site view page for easy access. I don't tend to use these, but on occasion they've been useful rather than checking each link individually. Although I've now been using PageMill for about four years, there are many features which I've never even touched upon. I haven't used frames or forms, for instance. Occasionally I browse the 'help' information, but have never quite plucked up the courage to experiment with anything new. This isn't a problem with the kinds of sites I maintain, although my sons both moved on long ago to writing their own HTML or using more advanced packages which they've found under 'open source' freeware. (And no, I don't know exactly what that is either.) * My recommendation * For anyone (child or adult) who would like to create a fairly simple web site, I would highly recommend Adobe PageMill as the creator, and Geocities as the host. Both a
re free, both are easy to use, and both seem pretty reliable. Note that simple does not have to mean small - my home education site has grown to over 150 pages now, and PageMill still accommodates it without problem, although it takes a little longer to load than my smaller ones! If you want animation or other complex effects, however, you won't find PageMill to be much use. * Availability * It's no longer possible to buy PageMill in shops, since it's been replaced by the more complex (and considerably more expensive) Adobe GoLive, which I understand works in a similar way, but with considerably more features. However it's sometimes available second-hand (on Ebay, for instance) or - as it's no longer supported - can be downloaded at a few sites, such as http://www.keyscreen.com/webedit2.htm#35 - although I haven't tried this link, so can't vouch for its reliability. Lack of support has not mattered to me, since the 'help' files tell me all I need to know.