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Software Recommendations

Page Index:
HTML Editing Software
Email Software
FTP Software
Web Browsers
Graphics Software
Graphic Formats
Scanning Techniques

HTML Editing Software
For someone just getting started I highly recommend just using a text editor. The best way to learn the basics is to just do it yourself. Later, if you so desire, you'll know enough to intelligently choose which program would work best for you. People who are dependant on a program to do their HTML for them are stuck when things don't work right. And they won't. Because no program is perfect.

If you're going to use an HTML editor, I recommend Dreamweaver by MacroMedia or GoLive by Adobe. There are also freeware/shareware editors out there. I can't recommend a specific one because I've haven't used any of the currently available versions. But http://www.cnet.com/downloads/ is a good place to look for one.

I would recommend you save your money and don't get any HTML editor. (Use the money to buy PhotoShop or for a program to create Flash or ShockWave animations.) HTML files are just text files with little formatting codes. It's not like a programming language. It's really quite simple. All you need is a text editor and a good reference. Besides, no HTML editor is perfect. You will have to get in there and make changes manually all the time. It's a lot easier if you did it yourself from the start than trying to sort out what some program did.

For Windows, WordPad or NotePad is adequate. Although a freeware/shareware text editor that can default to using ".htm" as the file extension instead of having to pick it each time would be a plus. http://www.cnet.com/downloads/ is a good place to look for one. (Also, WordPad and NotePad have an annoying habit of selecting too much when trying to select text for cutting and pasting.)

For Macintosh, SimpleText is adequate. But you can't do better than BBEdit by Barebones Software. The Lite version works just great and the full version is cheap. Most of the commonly used HTML codes are available from a built in reference in the full version. Both versions offer powerful GREP searching to conditionally find and replace anything, even across multiple files. I rely on this program.

Email Software
For email on Macintosh computers I recommend Mail by Apple. It has really grown since it's inception. Fortunately, they have kept it's focus on email, and not 4,000 other unuasble functions. It's capable of handing tons of email, has advanced filters, and deals with multiple accounts perfectly. I have yet to have a problem with it, and I can't say that about any other email program.

For email on Windows computers I recommend Eudora hands down. It just does email, and it does it very well. It handles multiple accounts like a champ, and can automatically filter your email based on almost any criteria. Plus it's not susceptible to all of these email viruses that exploit the weaknesses in Outlook.

Outlook does a lot of things, and none of them well. You'd be better off getting programs designed to do these functions. A Swiss Army Knife may have a knife blade. But it's not going to get you through the jungle. For that you need the right tool, a machete. If you're going to deal with more than two email accounts, or more than a couple emails a day, you need the right tool and Eudora is it. Plus there is a free version that works just fine.

You can set up each email account with how often you want to check for email, whether it gets included in general manual checks, (you can always manually check any account individually,) and many other criteria. Once it goes and gets your email from your various accounts, it then acts on them by filters you define. The most common use is to put them in different mailboxes within Eudora. But you can set them to look for almost any criteria and have them do almost anything. And filters can apply to outgoing mail as well. I have all mail going to or from family members and friends into individual boxes so they're kept together where it's easy for me to find them. (It's also a lot easier to follow a thread when both sides are together.) And when I get an email from my wife it also plays a riff from "Oh Yeah" by Yellow.

Whatever you do, don't ever install ThunderBird. While I love FireFox, especially since it introduced tabbed browsing, it's sister program is unrealiable. It claims to be the champ at handling spam. I can tell you first hand, it's not true. It crashes due to spam, too many emails, or just because. And it's always when you are expecting an important email you've got to have. Sometimes free software is a bargain, but not in this case.

FTP Software
An FTP, (File Transfer Protocol,) program is how you will upload your files to Web server. There are a ton of programs that will do FTP for you. Even some HTML editors will do it automatically. But this is not recommended. The results are usually incomplete uploads, or worse, file references to file on your personal computer rather than the Web server. (The result would be that you would access your website and see it normally. But anyone else would see a broken links in place of your pictures and links to other pages.)

For FTP on Windows I recommend WSFTP Lite. It's free. It works. It's fairly simple. Of course, there are lots of others out there. And it doesn't really matter which you use as long as it gets your files to the server. Try a few and go with the one that is easiest for you to use. http://www.cnet.com/downloads/ is a good place to get WSFTP Lite and many more.

For Mac I recommend either Fetch or Interarchy. Fetch just does FTP, and does it well. Interarchy offers more capabilities and tools. I personally used to use both when I used System 9. I used Fetch to upload to my website. And I use Interarchy for all of it's many features. Under System X I now exclusively use Interarchy. It's the best choice for X. It saves passwords securely in the keychain, integrates with System X on every level, can mirror either direction or both, and has functions that are only available on Interarchy like FTP Disks. I keep a bookmark of my web server in my dock. One click and I'm connected and have the listing. Then it's just drag & drop to upload files.

Web Browsers
For web browsing, I recommend using FireFox, but also having both MSIE and Netscape installed. And a copy of Safari would be a good idea as well. I use FireFox as my primary viewer because it's the most useful for day to day browsing. But I always check reformats because it's the more uncooperative and non-compliant with HTML standards of them all. On more complex pages or major style changes I check them out with each of the browsers. 95% of the people out there use one of these. And most of the others use the same source code as Netscape. So with these you're pretty covered.

Most HTML editors have a "preview" window that is supposed to show you what the page will look like when viewed by a browser. Don't trust this window. When the editor has an error in the way it encodes HTML, it will use the same error to render your page in it's preview. Until you look at it with an actual web browser you have no idea what it's going to look like to everyone else. That preview window is not what people looking at your site will be using, so neither should you.

I also check out major changes in format on both Mac and Windows machines. Things can go very wrong or be completely unviewable on the other platform. (This is more of a problem for people who use Flash or Shockwave multimedia content, which is way overused on non-entertainment sites.) Both platforms are common so you should know someone who has the one you don't have. Many public libraries have one or both as well.

Of course, your best bet to make sure everyone can get your message is to stick to the KIS principle as much as possible when writing your HTML. (Keep It Simple.)

Graphics Software
The king of Graphics is Photoshop by Adobe. For a fifth of the cost of Photoshop you can get most of the functionality with Photoshop Elements. It works just like Photoshop and uses any plug-in for the full version.

There are alternatives. Nothing in particular sticks out on the Windows side. But for Macintosh, ColorIt! by MicroFrontier is outstanding. The interface is actually a little better than PhotoShop, especially for a webmaster. It can use PhotoShop plug-ins. And it has about 80% of the functionality of PhotoShop, the most commonly used 80%. The only down side is it hasn't been updated to work with System X yet. It will run under Classic with a couple quirks. I used both PhotoShop and ColorIt! under System 9 because they each have their strengths. I prefer the ColorIt! interface for scaling and cropping.

A fantastic graphic application for the Mac is called GraphicConverter by Lemke Software. It can open any format from any computer platform. And it can save to most formats. I prefer it's size to quality ratio when saving to JPEG. So I typically work in PICT or TIFF format with Photoshop and convert to JPEG using GraphicCoverter for the web. It runs native under System X and has the most extensive and customizable options of any application in it's preferences. I couldn't do without it.

Graphic Formats
Graphics need to be in GIF or JPEG formats to use them in web pages. This is supported by every browser and you don't have to worry about compatibility.

GIF allows you to have a transparent color so the background of the webpage will show through. But GIF only allows 256 colors. This is a good choice for titles where you want to use fancy fonts that people may not have installed, or to mix words with graphics. (An example of both of these is the logo at the top of this screen.)

JPEG supports Millions of colors, but doesn't have transparency. This is the format to use for photos. JPEGs are a compressed format that uses a lossy form of compression. What this means is that they take up less space by compressing the file and losing some resolution in the process. At higher quality settings this is not noticeable unless you use this format for editing and revisions. Each time you save the file, the quality degrades. After three or four generations the quality noticeably suffers. So keep your working files in PICT or TIFF format and only export to JPEG the finished pictures.

Scanning Techniques
Pictures for browsing should be 72 DPI (Dots Per Inch) resolution. But when you scan a photo use a much higher resolution. You should have about 210% to 410% of the pixel width and height as you want in the finished picture. For example, if I wanted a picture that was 200 x 100, (200 pixels wide by 100 pixels high,) I would scan the picture so the the resulting scan was 880 x 440, (or 440 x 220.) Next I would crop the picture down to 800 x 400, (or 400 x 200,) to have clean edges. Then I would scale the picture 25%, (or 50%,) getting rid of any imperfections inherent in the original or caused by scanning. This results in a picture the size I want, but much smoother and sharper than if I had scanned at the final size.

Try to stick to even scaling sizes. This means that the same number of pixels go into one across the graphic. For example at 50%, four go into one, (two vertical by two horizontal.) A 25% scale would make sixteen pixels average into one, (four across by four down.) A 20% would be twenty five to one, 10% would be a hundred to one, and so on. If you use 30% then it's not an even number of pixels going into one pixel. This results in a less smooth scaling, even with the advanced algorithms PhotoShop offers. But if you need to, you need to. Just try to avoid it. And don't forget to change the DPI of the file to 72 before you're done. (That is the standard screen viewing DPI.)

Questions? Email the address at the right.

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