What's All This HTML Stuff? from the March 2000 Actrix Newsletter

by Rob Zorn

Strange as it may seem, just about everybody these days has heard about html. Just what is it and what does it have to do with web pages? If I want my own web page, do I need to know about it?

Html stands for hypertext markup language. That sounds complicated and html sort of is, and sort of isn't. At its most basic, html is simple to understand and use, but it is also capable of some pretty complex and incredible stuff.

One of the things that makes html so wonderful is the hypertext aspect of it. All this really means is that it is capable of more than just displaying information in interesting ways. Hypertext means that you can click on something (either text or an image) and your browser will take you to some other document or image. It is all these hypertext links together that make up what is called the world wide web. The markup language aspect of it just refers to the fact that it is a written computer language.

However, it is surely one of the least complicated computer languages in that it is written in plain text using symbols that are reasonably easy to understand and work with, even for the layperson. Basically, an html document is just a text file that your browser (e.g. Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer) comes along and reads. As it reads the html document, it displays a page the way the html code tags tell it to.

Html generally uses start and end tags that look like this: <bold>Hey, I'm bold!</bold>.

The browser sees this and knows that everything after <bold> and before </bold> should be displayed in bold text. If it comes across something like this...

<font face="Arial" color="#FF0000">Hey, I'm red Arial text</font>

...it knows that everything between the two tags should be displayed using the Arial font and the colour red.

If it comes across something like this...

<img src="norriepic.jpg" height="50" width="60">

...it knows it needs to find a picture of Norrie called norriepic.jpg and display it as being 50 screen pixels high and 60 screen pixels wide.

These are just some of the simpler html tags. If you'd like to see a little more html, get familiar with the view/source feature of your browser. In both Explorer and Navigator, View Source or View Page Source can be found under the View menu. We could move on to JavaScript and other active elements here, but they are more complicated, and you certainly don't need them to create your own attractive and functional web pages.

If this all seems too daunting, you can probably relax. Most web developers who write daily in html do so using one of the many, many html editors available. These allow you to create the page just the way you would like it much as you would using a word processor. The html editing program creates all the html for him or her behind the scenes.

One of the more readily available (read "free") html editors is FrontPage Express which allows you to create the page using basic drop and drag techniques and also look at what you've done in html. Using programs like this can really teach you a lot. FrontPage Express is freely available (you may already have it installed if you have Internet Explorer) from the Windows Update page. Norrie the Nerd will give you more specific instructions about getting yourself a copy below. Later versions of Netscape Communicator also come with Composer built in, the Netscape equivalent of Microsoft's FrontPage Express.

Getting your webpages up onto the web is also pretty easy. Each and every Actrix customer is allocated free web space when they join with Actrix - two and a half megabytes (ample!) for Dialup 1 and 3 customers, and five megabytes for Dialup 2 customers (double ample!). Once you have designed your pages you can upload them to your personal web space by going to our Customer Services section and using our page upload feature. This will give you a website at the address:

http://www.actrix.gen.nz/users/yourusername.



This guy's the limit!
If you'd like to go further than that and have your own domain (www.whateveryoulike.co.nz) that can be arranged too, but it is, of course, more costly. Please see the article below that outlines Actrix domain and hosting options.

This article has been intentionally cursory. It is designed to provide you with a very basic introduction to the sorts of things involved in creating your own web pages. Norrie the Nerd has been busy this month writing and publishing his own guide to basic html and creating Actrix user homepages, but he is going to tell you all about that below.

It has been a pleasure to have helped so many Actrix customers come to grips with html recently from the help desk. I would encourage you all to give it a go. It can be done cheaply and easily, and you certainly don't need to be any sort of computer guru. A very very basic knowledge is enough to start with, and with html continually growing and developing, there is always more to learn. By the same token, it is easy to learn enough in one night to be creative and productive. Go for it! As Norrie always says, "The sky's the limit!"