Establish an online presence for your business
David Bradforth takes a look at the options available for those looking to build a business website on RISC OS. He also speaks to Steve Holford of FastHosts to get his views on the essential requirements of a business website.
When you’re looking to grow your business, it makes sense to build a website. Above and beyond anything else, particularly in a market the size of RISC OS, a website provides a cost-effective means of publicising and ultimately selling your product. This is particularly useful if you can’t afford the hundreds of pounds that it can take to advertise within the print media.
To develop a website on RISC OS there are a number of options available. In the commercial sense, perhaps the longest-developed product is RComp’s HTMLEdit Suite. First introduced in 1995, HTMLEdit is a suite of applications aimed to compliment each aspect of the web design process.
The Web Designers Toolkit adds to this providing seven utilities that compliment the main suite. WebTable allows you to create visual tables of your information, in a form that will appear properly within all web browsers. Framer allows you to visually produced frame-based pages. ImageConv allows you to create animated GIFs and to use Drawfiles within web pages; even with batch conversion. WebMapper helps you to create image maps meeting industry standards. StripIt allows you to batch-process HTML and text files for use in DTP documents. HTMLink creates custom macros and tags for use with any application and finally DOSext converts filetypes to and from PC/UNIX file extensions to guarantee web page compatibility.
WebSpell is a spelling checker for HTML editors. Using the dictionaries from Ovation Pro it comes in two forms; one as a plug-in for HTMLEdit allowing in-page checking and the other as a stand-alone solution with the ability to check multiple pages at once. It also supports foreign languages, which will be essential for those producing a business website.
Perhaps at the core of HTMLEdit is WebsterXL. Now falling somewhat behind in terms of standards, it’s a capable web browser which includes support for many aspects of web life. It also supports standard RISC OS plugins for Java and Flash usage. I have to admit I do not have recent experience of WebsterXL so am unable to comment on its capabilities.
SiteMaster 3 provides a set of site management tools to aid the armoury of any webmaster. The main SiteMaster application provides the management and maintenance tools. You can rename files without breaking links, add file extensions to files and alter the case of filenames. Tree breakdowns can be displayed of your site, marking unused files, broken links, images without alternative text or files of a particular type, etc. WebUpload v2 handles the uploading via FTP to your webspace. Publish v2 adds a scripting function to the already capable publishing process of HTMLEdit, capable enough to automate the publishing process across the whole site.
The final component of HTMLEdit, Textures, provides a number of backdrops for use with any graphics package or on a webpage. Also included are a selection of textures for Studio 24 Pro owners; Studio 24 Pro is of course available at a discount to subscribers of RISC World directly through APDL.
One of the advantages Dreamweaver has above HTMLEdit is the ability to design a page as you would a word processed document. Being able to structure your web page as you would a DTP document can allow more focus on the content of the site and less on the technical background to it. For RISC OS users there are two current products that allow you to do this.
David Snell’s WebWonder (www.dsnell.zynet.co.uk) has been developed to help enthusiasts quickly and cheaply create and publish a website. With a visual representation of your site that grows as you develop it, it allows you to create a working website quickly. The interface is similar to RISC OS; the program automatically verifies links and manages tables/forms/images in a fashion you’ll quickly appreciate. In fact it’s a very nicely put together program. We particularly like the ease with which you can create contact sheets for photographs.
Produce contact sheets in seconds
Dansoft Developments’ SiteWriter is a similarly-featured alternative. Included in RISC World Volume 6 Issue 1 (available on the RISC World DVD) and a standard part of the VirtualRPC installations.
In the freeware sense, HTML3 by Richard Goodwin (www.houseofmabel.com) is one of the most capable web design packages around. Full stop. Like HTML Edit it requires a certain amount of basic HTML knowledge, but what it has as its advantage is its price. The author used to work for ArgoNet and developed a number of well-known RISC OS sites including acornarcade.com and iconbar.com. (He also provided the guestbook for The Cybervillage).
HTML3 is described as a RISC OS only macro inserter; allowing you to use your favourite text editor and use HTML3’s macros to develop your own website. There’s no question that it’s capable - after all, his website was developed using it - but it is rather technical in use.
Developing graphics for the Internet is something of a different story. If you’re developing a commercial website for the RISC OS world, you need to remember that the majority of users will not have an overly capable browser. Hence including Flash animation is of little use as your audience will not be able to use it.
With the likes of Photodesk and ProArtisan 24 you can edit and manipulate photographs; then save the result in JPEG format for uploading into tables (generated with the likes of HTMLEdit) for use on the Internet. The process does lack automation, but it works very well.
For something a little more vector based, take a look at either DrawWorks or ArtWorks 2. The latter has had extensive work placed into the development of its export capabilities; particularly with a view to bitmap graphic output. It’s also retained the look and feel of the original Computer Concepts development (1992) to such an extent that using ArtWorks is an immense pleasure. While it’s unlikely you’d be able to locate a graphics tablet for RISC OS these days, when used in conjunction with a stylus the freehand mode in ArtWorks is nothing short of impressive.
It’s worth remembering that if you’re developing a website for business use, a focus should be placed on developing an informative site that sticks out for the right reasons. Certainly use imagery effectively, but ensure that you also tell your reader why they should purchase your products above those of others.
Hosting & Email Options
So you’ve decided to build a commercial website. The first thing you’ll need to do is register a domain name. A domain name is your brand - it’s the way in which people will identify you and mostly will track you down when they want to buy your products. CJE, APDL and RISCOS are all instantly recognisable for being short, snappy and straight to the point. Many UK businesses use .co.uk as the extension, US businesses use .com although the distinction has become somewhat slimmer over the last five years.
The number of domain extensions has multiplied considerably over the years. There are new extensions such as .eu (for a European wide company) and .mobi (if you’re developing primarily for web use). Providers such as www.ukreg.com and www.fasthosts.co.uk provide everything from the domain names through to the hosting space for your site itself. They can also configure advanced options, such as forums and messageboards, to ensure you can immediately upload your data.
There are a number of companies offering hosting services; others such as UKreg have a focus on providing the best domain registration service they can.
For a hosting package in the business sense, expect to pay between £9.99 and £39.99 per month (depending upon your supplier). Remember to go for a service that offers a POP mailbox; this will allow your customers to get a reply from a professional email address rather than email@example.com when dealing with their queries.
As RISC OS users, we’re very lucky to have the likes of Paul Vigay within this market. He has extensive experience with both the platform and the Internet, and is hence will placed to provide practical advice to those needing a kick-start in developing their own commercial interests. Visit www.orpheusinternet.co.uk to contact Paul; do remember though that he’s running a business and hence may wish to charge for extensive support issues.