Stone-age HTML was created using only simple text editors, with each and every tag composed by hand. Today, a mere eight years later, hand-coding HTML is no longer the only way to do it, although some authors still prefer it. The latest generation of HTML editors declares that you can build Web pages without knowing HTML. Amazing . . . or maybe not.
HTML editors are intended to make Web page creation easier, but editors that claim to do all the work for you make us a little nervous. Imagine a word processor that claims to know English grammar and writes your documents for you. Newfangled HTML editors fall just short of a similar declaration, and thats kind of scary. Before we go on to discuss such editors, we digress for a moment to make a case for why you should know HTML, whether or not your editor gets involved in the process of creation.
Theres a boat-load of reasons why you should know HTML, despite what any HTML-editor marketing gadfly may tell you. We could write an entire book about this, but thats not why were here. Heres a brief point-by-point rundown of our arguments instead:
You need to know what HTML can and can't do. HTML has many capabilities, but it has just as many limitations. If you dont know HTML, you wont be completely aware of either side of the puzzle. For instance, even with the latest HTML 4.0 markup, you cant be sure that a complicated table, image, or text format will look exactly as you expect. You have to contend with too many variables -- different browser types and versions, user preferences, and more. On the flip side, if your editor doesnt support the latest HTML attributes, you wouldnt know anything about them, much less be able to use them in your pages. Generally, ignorance is a bad thing. This statement is doubly true for HTML.
You need to know HTML to identify problems and fix them. To figure out whats wrong on a page, you have to know whats right. Your pages may look great in an editor or even in your browser of choice, but chances are they wont always stay that way. Broken links, corrupted files, and new tags and interpretations can all change the way your HTML looks. If you cant identify errors or changes because you cant recognize them for what they are, then you wont be able to troubleshoot your pages without the help of a professional, and we dont come cheap (but we can be had!).
You need to know HTML to know what tags to use. Whats the difference between <STRONG> and <B>? They look the same, but one is logical and the other is physical. One conveys meaning while the other creates only a textual effect. If you dont know HTML, you only see boldface text. Another more extreme example is using <PRE> to create columnar data instead of the <TABLE> tag because you dont know about table markup. Although you can build a page in a variety of ways, usually theres only one best way. If you know HTML, you can figure out the best way that meets your needs.
You need to know HTML to implement the latest cool stuff. That HTML editor you invested so much time and money in may not support frames, but what if you want frames on your pages? If you know HTML, the solution is simple: dust off your text editor and code them by hand. If you dont know HTML, you must wait until a new version of the editor -- presumably, one that supports frames -- is released. In short, if you dont know the HTML tags yourself, your pages are limited to those that your editor supports.
We know that you bought HTML 4 For Dummies because you are interested in learning HTML and therefore wont fall prey to the attractive promises of the many editors out there and give up learning HTML because you dont think you need to. Take it from us, you need to, even if the editor does 99 percent of the work.
Despite our lecture on why you should know HTML, we dont want you to think that editors are the spawn of the devil, to be avoided at all costs. Rather, we want you to understand that they are tools like any other tool you use in the development of HTML. Editors have a definite role in page creation. Most of them support drag-and-drop technologies, file linking, site mapping, and more. We use editors for preliminary design and prototyping. After all, its much easier to drag-and-drop an image than it is to manually alter the HTML and reload the page in a browser to see if right justified is better than centered. Its also about a thousand times easier to sit back and have a drink while an editor creates a site outline than it is to code one by hand (we know this from firsthand experience).
Because HTML editors seem to have multiplied as quickly as rabbits, wed like to give you a few tips on how to choose a good one. Keep in mind that shareware editors arent as multifunctional as those that cost real money. If you write a lot of HTML and manage a large site (or more than one site), you may find it better to invest in an editor that can handle many different tasks. At the very least, your editor should
|Most of the major software players, including
companies like Adobe Systems, Symantec Corp., and Microsoft, have jumped
into the HTML editor fray, making it difficult to choose an editor for your
toolbox. Fortunately, About.com maintains a terrific Web site that includes
reviews of most of the major HTML editors available. This site is a great place to start evaluating
an HTML editor for your own use. You can reach the site online at
During our last visit, he had reviews listed for 30 separate HTML editors, with an easy-to-follow rating scheme. Nine of the editors rated the highest five-star rating, and five of these also rated as Carls picks, including: Microsoft FrontPage 98, Allaire HomeSite v2.5, SoftQuad HoTMetaL Pro, and Luckman WebEdit. Please check Carls site for changes and further details.
After you select an HTML editor, you may find that it performs many of the other functions we discuss here. If so, good for you (although maybe not for your wallet). But if not, dont worry; you dont need a fancy-schmanzy editor to manage your site. A lot of other tools are available to help you out.
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Revised -- January 16, 1998