Visual Development Lab

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The lab's computers offer six web browsers. Most people will want to use the simplest of these, Safari and Camino. Safari and Camino look similar but they are completely different under the hood, so if one does not work with a web page, the other one ought to. Both adhere to the formal standards of the Web and they are comparably competent overall. Aside from personal preference, there is no reason to choose one over the other.

Although these browsers will handle almost any web page, using them will sometimes bring up a message that the site works only with FireFox or Internet Explorer. This is almost always a false message generated by poor programming of the web site. The site has been coded to behave differently depending on the browser accessing it, with no sensible provision for unspecified browsers. The solution is to tell your browser to misidentify itself, so that the site sees it as something it knows. This is easy to do.

Safari. Go to Safari > Preferences, click on Advanced then select "Show Develop menu in menu bar." Now you will see a new menu called "Develop". The second item allows you go choose a different user agent.

Camino. Go to Camino > Preferences, click on the User Agent icon then choose one from the pop-up menu. Note that the User Agent icon may be too far to the right for the toolbar to display, so you may need to click on the rightward pointing arrow.

Note that it might be prudent to avoid commercial transactions through any site that requires this. Such a site is ignoring some of the most basic technical standards of the Internet. If a mechanic puts your tires on backwards, he is hardly the person to trust for an engine job. If a company's programmers ignore simple technical standards, there is no reason to assume they will adhere to the arcane and complex standards required to assure the security of your credit card.

Besides Safari and Camino, OmniWeb, Firefox and Opera are also available. OmniWeb uses the same engine as Safari but offers more features. Firefox uses the same engine as Camino but offers greater customizability at the expense of integration with other applications and the operating system. (Note that if you use FireFox in its default installation, it offers no advantage whatsoever over Camino.) Opera provides more features than any other browser and is also standards-based but is altogether different both under the hood and in its user interface. If you want to use any of these, let Charlie know and he will make sure an up-to-date copy is available.

Depending upon the browser and the computer that you are using, Word and/or PDf files may be displayed. If you see a Word or PDF file in your browser, you are actually seeing it in a plug-in, an independent programme working under the aegis of the browser. You will need to control the display with the plug-in's controls, not the browser's—with the controls inside the browser's window, not with the browser's menus or buttons on the window's toolbar.

Downloading Movies

You can download movies or any kind of file in Safari. To do this, open the Activity window (under the Window menu) then look for the file you want to download. Flash files will end with .swf, YouTube movies will be big. If you want to make sure you have the right file, double-click on it to open it in a new window. After you identify it, download it with option/double-click. If it's a YouTube movie, change the name to end with the extension .flv. Flash files you can open in a web browser; YouTube movies you can open in VLC or QuickTime Viewer. (Note that QuickTime Viewer uses the preference pane Perian to open .flv and some other files.)

Creating a Web Page

Web pages are based on text marked up with tags like <i> for italics </i> and <b> for boldface </b>. Those tags are defined in a "hypertext mark-up language" called HTML. If a web page is to work properly and predictably with every computer no matter how it is set up, then the HTML coding needs to be syntactically correct. Also, if a web page is to be indexed by search engines, then the code needs also to be simple and sensible enough that a robot can cope with it. Most programs that generate web pages create syntactically invalid code, code that is likely not to work as intended under every circumstance. This includes all of the well-known commercial applications, including the one that McMaster supports. (To see this, check some of Mac's web pages with this validator.) Apple's iWeb may be an exception but it generates code that is so complex and arbitrary that search engines will likely be unable to read it. If you want to use an application to generate your code, your best bet is likely to be Create. From the same developer we also have PhotoToWeb to generate pages of photographs, GIFfun to make animations, and SliceAndDice to convert parts of images to links.

If you want to use an application to generate your web pages, Create is the one to try, but you may spend less time overall if you learn the rudiments of HTML and write the code yourself in a text editor. You don't need to know much to turn out an attractive web page. An easy way to learn HTML is to use PageSpinner.

The standards-setting body for the Web is supplies a host of free tools and resources, including a three-part introduction to coding web pages, a validator that will check the code of any page on the Web, a link-checker that will check out all the links on a site, and a complete reference to HTML. More tutorials, explanations and reference materials can found at the Web Standards Project.

To upload your web pages to a web server, you will usually need an FTP client. The FTP (and SFTP) client on the lab's machines is Fetch. If Fetch asks you for a license number, you are free to use McMaster's. (To access that link requires the first eight characters of the lab password.)


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