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A layman guide on free ware and low cost software, introductory guide to Inexpensive Serious Software

ST Fan's Guide to Inexpensive Serious Software






Free Software For The Web Builder

Wilber facing right - GIMP logo copyright www.gimp.org So now you want to go one step further and build a website and you may ask "Aha! Can you save on expensive fancy software costing thousands of Ringgit to get started?" If we were to tell you that all you need to get started in creating your website is just your Windows notepad and Internet Explorer, would you believe me? OK, then tell me how those Internet pioneers developed their websites when those fancy expensive software were not even available yet? Actually they prepared their web pages in HTML using a text editor called "Vi" on their Unix computer and until today, many are still using that.  HTML stands for HyperText Mark-up Language and is the easiest language to learn. In fact you can master it over a weekend. There are many excellent tutorials on the Internet that you can download and spend a weekend with. Once you have learnt it, you will discover that the expensive software gives you very little choice in the design of your web pages and you will tend to take over the design by coding it in HTML yourself, at least that speaks for me. Some of the expensive software allows you to create fancy, cool and expensive looking web pages you often find in many local websites, some call that creative web design. However if you take a look at the very successful web sites such as Yahoo!, Google, MSN, Amazon.com, ZDNet, you hardly find them using any fancy cool stuffs. So what does that tell you? Creativity on web design should centre on your visitor, on usability and functionality rather on technology alone. However if your website is about creative graphics design or special digital effect for movie then the usability and functionality level of your website is different from what we mentioned here. Therefore always use the right tools for the right job.

 If you are a busy person and have not much time and patience to learn HTML or you think your brain is too burnt out and can't absorb the tutorial, don't give up. Remember we discussed StarOffice/Open Office earlier. Well, you can actually use StarOffice/Open Offiice to prepare your web pages with very little learning. If you can use software like Words, you can prepare web pages without much knowledge of HTML by using StarOffice and refer to the on-line Help when you get stuck and that’s all you need. If you can't figure out how to create web pages using StarOffice/Open Office then no matter which expensive software you use you will still have problems. Just save your money and time on the software and hire someone to do it for you.

Screen shot of AOLPress 2.0

Before StarOffice was ported to Windows Platform we used a free software from American Online called AOLPress. It has a cool feature called "Show MiniWeb" which displays in a diagram how your files are linked to each other like a spider web. It is good for checking and viewing your completed web structure. AOLpress is an integrated browsing and WYSIWYG authoring software. It was designed to make web authoring more accessible to beginners and to save valuable time and effort for professional web publishers. It has many features including integrated browser, table and frame, built-in tutorial and you can also edit your file in HTML. Unfortunately AOL has stopped developing this software and preferred to develop a web based web builder for AOL members and users instead. AOLPress has stopped further development since version 2.0 and is no longer available for download from AOL web site. However, you can still find AOLPress 2.0 available for download at many sites on the Internet. You can download AOLPress here. No support is available for this software but an excellent User Manual  is available. AOLpress is good for HTML web pages though rather outdated with the new web technology that is available now. But nevertheless, it is an excellent and interesting WYSIWYG web page editor. 

Screenshot of HTML beauty++ME

There is quite a lot of free software available in the area of Internet and web design. My favourite software for web design is MAX's HTML beauty++. The latest version is MAX's HTML Beauty++ 2004 a major upgrade from is pre-release version and it has been in this pre-release state for the past 2 years. It allows you to edit several files at the same time, unlimited redo's and undo's, click and drag editing, code snippets, built-in Image Browser/Viewer with GIF Optimiser, built-in Java Script support, built-in Internal Preview and much much more. I use it most of the time for preparing my website. You can download it from www.htmlbeauty.com. Another free web design software is 1st Page 2000 from Evrsoft. 1st Page 2000 claimed to be the best free HTML authoring tools. It looks and feels very similar to MAX's HTML beauty++. We found it more stable runing on Windows OS than MAX's HTML beauty++. It also comes built-in with many free instant JavaScript and CGI script that you can paste into your web project thus cutting down your time to reinvent the wheel. However Max's score better if you need to edit other web pages such as PHP and CSS. 1st page 2000 is strongly recommended if you use Windows OS. Other free HTML editors that are highly respected by many web designers and gurus are Notetab Lite and Arachnophilia. Notetab Lite is very much like a  powerful Window notepad whereas Archnophilia is like a notepad tailored for web page design, script and program code are colour coded for easy editing. Between these two, Notetab Lite is more stable and runs faster but Arachnophilia is more user friendly with the color coded text. One more web editor you should take a look at is Netscape or Mozilla Composer It is very easy to learn and use. By the way Netscape and Mozilla are the same browser with Mozilla coming from the Mozilla.org an OSS developer and Netscape is a slightly altered Mozilla from Netscape Inc.

The three graphic file formats commonly used on the Internet are GIF, JPEG, and PNG. GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format and is patented by Unisys and CompuServe. JPEG format sometimes uses three letter JPG extension on Windows based graphics software. JPEG was developed by Joint Photography Expert Group for displaying of photographs on the Internet. PNG is Portable Network Graphic. It was designed by a group disgusted by Unisys's move to patent GIF and so the PNG group designed PNG format to replace GIF. PNG movement is gaining momentum and many websites now use PNG format and most if not all graphics software are now providing support for PNG format. PNG has no patent issue. GIF remains widely used on the Internet at present and you may need to use GIF for animated GIF graphics before PNG totally replace GIF. The software that uses the GIF engine needs to pay Unisys for the patent for every software they produce but the graphic images created in this format have no patent issue. To avoid this patent issues the Windows version of GIMP has the load or save features for GIF files disable. Please check out the GIMP-WIN website for more information on this limitation. A simple way to work around this is to create your graphics in PNG format and load it to StarOffice and re-save it in GIF if you really need your graphics in GIF format. Otherwise you can always use PNG and JPEG format which most of the time results in a smaller file than GIF. GIF has a limitation of displaying 256 colour maximum whereas both JPEG and PNG don't have this limitation. You can create web graphics that need to be in GIF such as animated GIF in StarOffice and use GIMP for the more complicating graphics and digital photo works and save it as PNG.

If you have graphics created previously in other formats, you can batch convert these graphics file formats using a software utility such as Pic2Pic. Pic2Pic is a free utility from WaveL Software for batch conversion of image files. It also comes with simple features such as rotation, mirroring, and colour resolution adjustment. Pic2pic accepts input file formats from BMP, EMF, GIF, ICO, JPEG, JPG, PBM, PCX, PGM, PNG, PPM, TIF, TIFF, TGA, WMF and outputs them to BMP, JPG, PBM, PGM, PNG, PPM, TGA, TIF format. Pic2Pic can be downloaded from www.wavelsoftware.com/pic2pic.zip

gif animation

If you want to enhance your web pages by inserting some animated web graphics you will need a GIF animator. Microsoft GIF Animator is a free software from Microsoft and no support is provided for this software. Nevertheless the built-in Help files of this simple GIF animator is clear and easy to follow. This Microsoft GIF Animator is completely icon driven and is easy to use and functional. We would recommend it to anyone who needs a free GIF animation tool. Microsoft GIF Animator can be downloaded from here.

Once you have designed your web pages you will need a browser to view it. There are many software you can use to view web pages and most of them are free. Internet Explorer is pre installed in most Windows OS or it can be downloaded free from Microsoft; Netscape can be downloaded free from www.netscape.com, Mozilla is available from  www.mozilla.org even StarOffice can be used for viewing web pages. A petite browser compared to Netscape or Internet Explorer is Opera. Due to its small size it loads faster and runs faster than the big guys. It started as a shareware and now you can download an adware version of Opera from www.opera.com/download. The adware version of Opera runs a sponsored banner advertisement on the browser. If you don't like the permanently displayed ad-banner or worry about privacy issue with adware you can pay US$39.95 for a licensed version. Whichever way you choose (adware or licensed version) you will be surprised with the features crammed into this small wonder.

Once you have your web pages ready you will want to publish it on the Internet. First you need to find a web host to host your website and there are many web hosting companies around - some even offer free web hosting. Free web hosts usually get their income by selling advertisement space on your web pages and you have no say over what advertisements go on your web pages with this free hosting. There are also some free web hosts that don't put any advertisments on their member site and totally free but they had proven not to last very long and many tend to disappear within a year. So whether you are using a free web host or a commercial web host always read their Terms Of Usages or TOS before you sign up with them. If you don't want any advertisements on your site you will have to pay for a web space from a commercial web hosting company. Usually you cannot have your own domain name on the free web host. You have to use their system of sub domain names that are either assigned by them or created by you during registration. If you pay for your own web hosting you will always get to host your website with your own domain name. To get your own domain name you need to pay a yearly fee of around US$10 (list price is US$35!) for .com /.net/.org with InterNIC or RM100 for .com.my with MyNIC and normally you need to sign up for two years initially with .com. You also need to do a search to find out if your chosen domain name is available.

WS_FTP LE Logo To publish your web pages with your host there are many ways of doing it. Some web hosting companies have facilities to upload using web browser. You need to check with your web hosting company on how to do that. Windows has a built-in publishing wizard and you can use that wizard to upload to your web host. If your web host has FTP upload available then that is the best way to upload to your website. You will need FTP client software for uploading and downloading from your web host.  FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. There are quite a number of free FTP software available in the market. One that FileZila FTP Client screen shotwe used before is WS_FTP LE which is the free version of the popular WS_FTP software. WS_FTP LE is free for non-commercial users i.e. home users, students and staff of educational institutions. WS_FTP LE can be downloaded from www.ipswitch.com

filezila LogoFileZila is the FTP client we are using most of the time now. FileZila is an Open Source Software meaning it is free. FileZila is a full features FTP client and has better features than WS_FTP LE. To find out more about filezila please visit our review on filezila here Titled - "FileZilla, freeware FTP client, a user report". FileZila is available from www.sourceforge.net/projects/filezilla/.
AceFTP freeware is another free FTP client with good features and can be upgraded to AceFTP Pro for $29.95. AceFTp Freeware can be downloaded from  www.visicommedia.com/aceftp

Together with the software in the previous chapters, this is about all the software a normal PC user would need and you can do almost everything with it. Ultimately you will want to move further than an average user and need to learn new things to keep yourself informed of new developments in your area of interest. There are lots of free materials on tutorial and other stuffs that can be used to your advantage. All you need to know is where to find them. If you wish to improve your website you should pick up some knowledge of Javascript to make your web pages interactive; Perl, CGI and PHP script if you need users feed back, etc. You don't have to be an expert in this field, what you need is to have sufficient basic knowledge of these stuffs and understand how they work. When you are ready you can actually use canned Javascript or PHP script which can be found on the Internet to help you and many of these canned foods are free! Your knowledge of the subject is required for customisation of the script and making it work the way you want. When you are ready to learn, take a look at Pagetutor.com Pagetutor screen shot .This website has many tutorials, links to many useful informative sites, free graphics and script that you can modify and use. You can also download a freeware HTML tutorial from this website – the PageTutor. The PageTutor is an easy to use web page authoring tutorial covering basic and advanced web page design. It comes in HTML format so you can go through them with your web browser. Alternatively, you can register as a member with Pagetutor.com for US$29.95 and that will allow you to access more information and for less than US$40 you can be a lifetime member. (Life time of  pagetutor.com not yours' or the pagetutor authors' life time!!)

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