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FrontPage ™ Is the Last Page, In My Book

by Robert Marcom

d o you read HTML? Sure, you do -- every time you look at a web page on a computer. Hyper Text Markup Language.

Hyper Text: words, usually underlined, which can interact with people. They usually interact through a computer mouse.

Everything you see on that computer screen -- all the colours, all the clickable tags, all the pictures and animations -- are there for one reason. That reason?

Someone typed, in plain text, an instruction to Web Browsers which tells the browser how to instruct the computers. You "mark up" to the machine with plain, everyday MS-Dos ASCII text. Or the Apple ™ equivalent. Or Unix; or any of the "prime time" operating systems.

That is what makes HTML such a fine, useful network tool. All operating systems read ASCII. ASCII means the same thing to all computers, so I can design web pages, pouring out all the creativity my poor knowledge of programming can provide for. Then, they can be seen on most any computer, anywhere in the world.

HTML is a minor programming language, but it is getting more powerful every day. Writing an HTML web page of any degree of complexity requires programmed options and nested commands. That is the stuff of programming. And, the options to the web page creator are becoming truly wonderful.

But it's not the wonders of HTML which astound me. That was gonna happen because REAL programmers were gonna kick out the jams and develop the language. Nope, its not that -- it's something else which astounds me when I think (or write) about HTML.

I started writing HTML the old fashioned way. I started by typing words on a screen, then saving them in a plain text file with the "htm" file extension. I still do most of my writing in that manner. I may not be able to do all the wondrous things on a page using this method, as I would be able to do with a Really Neat HTML PUBLISHING PROGRAM, but at least, when I'm done, I know how (and why) everything works.

I occasionally load a page into one of the web-pub programs to debug. Shane turned me to a program which has the best debugging feature I've yet seen. It reminds me of that wonderful old debug for dBASE version 4. And my, oh my, did DB 4 ever need a good debug.

I recently made the mistake of looking at my web pages in "MS Windows 98 Front Page." Front Page is the HTML editing program which comes built in to Win98. Do you write HTML?

If you do, then it won't be hard to understand what emotions ran through my mind, my body, my essential frame, when I discovered that Front Page had rewritten my code. FrontPage decided I obviously didn't know where my files were. I wanted the browser to look for my files out in "http://" land. FP could *see* my files! They were right there, on my "file:///c:\" drive.

Well, as all superiors do, FP just changed all my hyper-text links. It didn't ask me, and didn't bother to tell me after the fact - just rewrote them quietly. It also inserted a double tag in one page. Marvelous!

What astounds me is this program, "Microsoft FrontPage." Microsoft can afford the very best programmers. Programmers MUST understand something so basic as HTML. How could programmers write something like FrontPage, leave it so dangerous, and allow it to go on to prime-time exposure?

Yes, that truly astounds me. Da Noive 'o' Dem People!

Robert Marcom is currently the administrator of "The Writers' Room," an on-line writer's community.
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