Actrix User Homepages

from the April 2007 Actrix Online Informer
by Rob Zorn

As we mentioned last month, most Actrix customers are entitled to some free web space for their own non-business site. You can have up to 20 Megabytes of personal space as part of your connection deal. It's already set up for you - all you have to do is log in and upload.

User homepages are a good place to begin experimenting with your first website outing, but there are a couple of provisos. You  can't use this personal space in conjunction with a domain name, and you can't use this space for business purposes. The web address you get is probably not the most professional look for a business anyway, but personal web space is a fine way to publish your resume or upload family news and photos for friends and family to access from overseas.

When you're ready to begin, log into My Actrix on our main web page (www.actrix.co.nz). Inside My Actrix you'll find a link called User Homepage. This will allow you upload your own website to your personal web space. To see how your site looks, just go to http://users.actrix.co.nz/yourusername/.

Writing and Designing

Basic everyday web sites are built using a language called HTML. HTML is so simple to understand that an eight-year old can master it, and many of them do. It is written in plain text so you donít need any special software to write it, and there aren't too many weird symbols or anything. Its principles are easy to grasp and there are a large number of websites online that offer tutorials in how to produce your first site from scratch. A good basic online guide can be found at http://www.w3.org/MarkUp/Guide/, but there are literally thousands of similar sites, and a quick Google search on HTML tutorial, will help find the one that is just right for you.

If you want, you can also use a "wysiwyg" program to make web pages. Wysiwyg is short for "What you see is what you get". FrontPage and DreamWeaver are the most common, but these are expensive to purchase. You can download some free HTML editors, and Coffeecup is one that I highly recommended. You can download a 30 day trial from www.coffeecup.com, but if you want to keep using it for more than 30 days, it will cost you US$49. Other html editors recommended by the help desk crew include:

Mike Cooper: NVU (pronounced N-View) has a wysiwyg interface and is a completely free open source program available from http://www.nvu.com/index.php. It's useable on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Pete Cranston: Araneae is basically a glorified Notepad that automagically distinguishes between various pieces of HTML using colour coding which is pretty handy. No wysiwyg, but completely free from http://www.ornj.net/araneae/.

Eric Waterson: PSPad is fairly simple and easy to use. It has highlighted syntax in source code, but no wysiwyg. Freeware from www.pspad.com/en/.

Damian Kissick: Crimson Editor is a free source code editor for Windows that's quite small (can be copied on one floppy) - no wysiwyg - http://www.crimsoneditor.com/.

Jim Breen: What could be easier than the old  NS Composer now renamed, updated and bundled with SeaMonkey browser for Win, Mac and Linux. The price is right at $0.00 - http://www.mozilla.org/projects/seamonkey/.

 

I don't really recommend it, but you can also use Microsoft programs like Word and Publisher to make html pages. Create the pages so they look the way you want them, and then choose to save the pages as HTML. The reason I don't recommend programs like Word and Publisher is that they're not primarily tools for producing web pages. When they do save as HTML, they tend to create very bloated and inefficient code which makes them larger in file size (longer to download) and they often use Microsoft's version of HTML which doesn't work all that well in browsers other than Internet Explorer.

FTP

As you're looking around for a program you may want to download and use, you may come across "FTP." This is short for "file transfer protocol", and is the process used to transfer web pages from your machine to the website. For Actrix User Homepages, you don't need to worry about whether your chosen program has FTP ability. The user interface found under My Actrix will allow you to upload the files you need without FTP, and FTP doesn't work with the homepages anyway. The programs will still be fine for creating the pages, whether they have FTP built in or not.

Basic uploading tips

Main page: The first and most important thing to know is that your main page should be called index.html or index.htm. When a browser comes to your website, this is the page that it will find and load by default. So, when you've designed your main page, save it with either of those names.

Linking to images and other pages: When you're making a website it's really helpful to keep in mind that, at least at first, everything is in the same directory on your hard drive. When you've saved index.html somewhere, also save any images you want on that page in the same directory along with any future pages you create that you want to link to from your main page. This makes it easy to also upload them into the same directory so that a web browser knows exactly where to find the images it needs to display in your web pages and the pages it needs to link to.

The process should go something like this.

  1. Create index.html and save it in a new folder under My Documents called "website."
  2. Find any images you want to put in the page and also save them in the "website" folder.
  3. Use your wysiwyg program to insert the images from the "website" folder into your pages(s).
  4. Also save any new pages you create in the "website" folder.
  5. When you upload your pages and images, put them all in the main folder of your website.

The Actrix User Homepage system calls folders "directories" but it means the same thing.

Keep your images small: Before you insert images into your web pages, you will probably need to make them smaller than they currently are. Many digital cameras save images at well over a megabyte each, and this is way too big for web page use. Images should be reduced to around 20-30 kilobytes each if possible. Up to 100 kilobytes each might be okay for broadband viewers, but people on dialup will get frustrated and aren't likely to stick around at your website waiting for images to appear.

You can reduce image file size by making dimensions smaller, and by increasing the amount they are compressed. There's an Actrix Online Informer article from back in November called Downsize my photos that provides some ways just about anyone should be able to do this

Working with sub directories

As your webpage expands, you may want to think about incorporating some sub-directories into it. A lot of designers, for example, put all their images in a single directory, and all the pages that have to do with a certain topic in a single directory. If you're just starting out and have only a few pages and a few images to worry about, then don't let this distract you, but if you're planning something larger in scale, subdirectories will help you keep your files organised and able to be found more easily.

Just remember that things in different directories will need to be linked to differently. If a page wants to display an image that is in the same directory as itself, the code would be <img src="imagename.jpg"> If the page wanted to insert an image from a different directory, the code would be <img src="directoryname/imagename.jpg">. This sort of thing is called a pathway, and will probably be the thing that frustrates you most when using different directories, but once you get it, it's pretty logical and straightforward.

As an aside, most people who are into web design will tell you that at first, the simplest things seemed to go wrong, and they would spend ages poring over code they'd written trying to find out where the mistake was. Usually it was just a misplaced " or / in a pathway, and once they'd found the problem (and kicked themselves for having missed something so simple) they never made the same mistake again. If this happens to you when you're starting out, don't worry - you're normal, and these days you have the advantage of being able to "google" whatever your problem is. Be sure others have struggled with the same thing.

Using the interface

While Actrix User Homepages are only for personal use, Actrix can certainly help host your business site (with no set-up fees!). More details are available here: http://www.actrix.co.nz/webservices/hosting.php.

Once you've logged into My Actrix and chosen the User Homepage feature, the interface will open up before you. If you've never uploaded anything before, it should all be blank, and it will be connected to your root directory by default. Your root directory is the main one where your home page (index.html) will go. You can use the Upload Files feature on the right to browse for and find individual files to upload. Just click the Browse button to navigate to the files you want. When you've selected them (up to five at a time) click the Upload button and up they go. Files uploaded will now appear in the main screen to the left of the interface, with any existing directories included at the top.

If you're just doing a simple web page, that should be all that's needed. Now you're ready to go to your homepage at http://users.actrix.co.nz/yourusername/ to see the result. If you're happy, you can start sending that link out to friends and family if you want them to see your latest handiwork.

For those feeling advanced enough to start using sub-directories, the Make New Directory tool allows you to do just that. The "Create in" tool below it allows you create a directory inside a directory you've already created, if you want to get that complicated. Just remember that in creating directories, you basically want to replicate at your website what you've done on your hard drive.

Doing other stuff with uploaded files

The User Homepage interface also allows you to do a few other things with files you've uploaded. Each file or directory appears with a tick box next to it. You can use the tickbox to select one or more files to either delete, rename or move, and the tools for these functions appear to the top of the interface.

Listing in the index

There is an online index of existing Actrix user Homepages. If you'd like to include your home page, click the Options link over to the left. This will allow you to add your page, as well as up to 80 words of description. If you'd like to see examples of pages that currently exist, see http://users.actrix.co.nz/.