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Authoring Tools

Authoring Tools

While there are many expensive tools available to write websites the only thing needed to write a site is a personal computer (PC or Mac), text editor, a host and an ftp program. Some of the most sophisticated sites were written with very few tools.

There are two basic approaches to authoring a website and the difference is where is the site written. The traditional approach is to write on a personal computer then upload to the host with an FTP program. The second approach is to install an authoring system on the host and create the site online. When I wrote my first sites there was all done locally then uploaded. For very complex sites this is still the approach. One challenge of local development is how to share the work with multiple developers.

Host based authoring has become popular in the last few years. A package such as WordPress (www.wordpress.org) is installed on the host and when combined with a database becomes the core of the website. Host-based authoring starts with an software package. This was written with a set of goals and purposes. Each authoring package has strengths and weaknesses. WordPress is one I am very familiar. This site was written in WordPress. As WordPress is a host based authoring system, it is ideal for sites where several authors are adding content.

WordPress was originally written as a package for blogging. It revolved around a number of concepts including a post, page, category, link and comment. Capabilities were expanded with plugins and the look defined with a template. For me the key was separating the content from the look. A ski resort can have a winter look for skiing and a summer look for mountain biking. Switching from one look to the other is a click. I am also not a graphic person. I surf catalogs of WordPress themes seeking a look for a site. Even commercial templates cost around $50. Another advantage of the theme approach is consistency of interface. Imagine a TV where every channel had a different way to adjust the volume. But in older websites the menu would change from page to page. Very frustrating for the user. A theme establishes the look and feel for the whole site. The variety of plugins and themes have expanded the use of WordPress to more traditional commercial websites.

Oh did I mention WordPress is free? I will write another article on open-source software. There are things to watch out for with open-source software but I am a huge fan.

Visitors to your website use a variety of browsers. Unfortunately a website written for one browser may not work on another. A quality authoring system, be it PC or host based, will provide support for all browsers. Visitors will not change browsers to see your site. The only exception to that rule for now is corporate intranet site (websites used exclusively inside a large corporation.) This is still dominated by Microsoft Internet Explorer. For browser discussion see the Browsers articles.

A final recommendation, before selecting a host authoring system it is important to define the purpose and goal of the website. My first WordPress site was painful. The challenge was getting my head around the WordPress metaphor. Few guides existed back then. But the best advice is get out there and write a site. Nothing teaches you like doing it.

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