Stephen Pritchard tries a program that lets you set up a site on the Web without having to learn a whole new language
The World Wide Web contains a wealth of information, but, for most of us, surfing it is a passive experience. Most "home pages" are produced by professional designers, college students and hobbyists. Web pages are designed using Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), a programming code for layout that all Web browsing software can understand. The disadvantage is that although HTML is simple for a computer language, programmers must learn strings of cumbersome codes.

The explosion of interest in the Internet, however, has prompted software companies to produce utilities that allow the non-expert to produce decent- looking Web pages without having to learn HTML.

The most popular wordprocessors and desktop publishing packages now have some support for writing Web pages; ClarisWorks, Pagemaker, WordPerfect and Microsoft Word all include HTML. With this in mind, I decided it was time to write my own home pages.

My Internet service, in common with many others, gives away 500k of "free" World Wide Web space on its servers. It also divides home pages into business and personal categories. I decided that it would be more useful (and less egotistical) to use my pages to promote my business as a writer and photographer.

The next step was to choose an HTML editor. There are a number of free or shareware programs that can write Web pages, but I opted for Adobe's PageMill, a stand-alone commercial package. This is from the same stable as Photoshop, which I would be using to process the graphics for my site.

PageMill is a small program, taking up just 1.6Mb on my hard disk. It needs 3Mb of main memory (RAM), so it runs quite happily alongside Photoshop on a computer with 16Mb of RAM. Had I opted to use either Word or Pagemaker, I could not have used both packages side by side. It is also fully "wysiwig" (what you see is what you get), and pictures can be dragged straight on to PageMill pages from a Photoshop window.

The hardest part of designing a Web site, I quickly discovered, was not the computing but deciding on the contents and the structure. Files need to be small, so that visitors can move through the site quickly. Putting everything I wanted on the site would make it extremely slow, and more than a little messy.

Perhaps the best piece of advice in the PageMill manual is to sketch out an outline for the Web pages on paper first. Another worthwhile exercise is to browse the Web, and see how other sites work. The best make good use of links, which allow browsers to jump from page to page at the click of the mouse. The worst - and this includes some commercial sites - are seemingly interminable lists, with little order or logic to them.

My site is divided into distinct sections that link into one common title page. This is brief, and acts as a springboard to the rest of the site. The idea behind my page is to keep everything simple. If you only want to know about the computer articles I write, you will find out about them by clicking the mouse a few times. On the grounds of taste, as well as disk space economy, I decided not to include a mugshot of myself.

PageMill itself is surprisingly easy to use. This is partly because there are only so many text styles available in HTML, which is why most Web sites look so similar. On the other hand, it forces designers to be disciplined and to use text effects sparingly. More complicated effects can be created by importing graphics - although the more graphics there are, the slower the page is to view over the Web.

PageMill includes little in the way of graphics capabilities. A Web site without graphics is pretty dull, so a good graphics package is almost essential. For artwork, especially pictures, Photoshop is by far the best option, though a good drawing package such as Freehand or CorelDraw will also work. PageMill automatically converts graphics into the right format for the Web. The graphical nature of the Web means that anyone who is serious about creating home pages needs either a scanner or a digital camera, or at least a friend with one.

In all, it took about a day and a half to research, design and write my basic Web site. It is not quite complete: there are still images to be scanned, and a little more text to add. When that is done, it should just be a question of sending my pages to my Internet service, and waiting for the world to log in.

Stephen Pritchard's page can be found via PageMill is available from Adobe (0131-458 6842), pounds 81.08 inc VAT.