Q:
I would like to start programming for the Internet.
What do you recommend?


A:
(Nothing like specifics! :-) Internet programming covers quite a bit these days, so I will try to touch on the most common aspects.

1. Web Pages (Layout)
Most web pages are written in HTML. HTML looks more like a word processor than a "language" and does *not* have native algorithmic functionality. No looping, branching or variables! You need to invest in a good HTML editor to save yourself some grief. While it is true that you can write HTML in any text editor, complex layouts including tables and frames require something a bit meatier. I like Dreamweaver because many of the gnarley tasks are done automatically and the table tools are fairly intuitive. Also, the HTML stays exposed so that you can learn and edit in HTMLwhile using drag and drop. Bill's company gives away Front Page Express with Windows 98 and I think for free from their site. It a good start and can do most of what Dreamweaver does without the price.

2. Javascript, JScript, VBScript
These languages run as interpreted code within the browser. They are used for mouse over image changes, auto scrollers, form validation, cookie (client variables) manipulation and other simple applications. Scripts live along side the HTML and are downloaded within the individual pages. The distinction between all of these is probably one of the most confusing aspects of web programming. The reason being is their lack of cross browser support. JavaScript was created by Netscape. (note: It has almost *nothing* to do with JAVA by Sun. (see below) JScript is Microsoft's almost compatible version of JavaScript. VBScript is the JavaScript native to Internet Explorer and does not work in Netscape. Two good resources for learning more about these client side interpreted scripts is http://www.projectcool.com and http://www.builder.com

3. JAVA by SUN
Wow! Remeber all the free hype? This language similar to C++ without pointers creates compiled applications that are embedded within the HTML. Each applet can be a complete individual program. Ideal for Intranets where the browser is controlled, but often buggy (except for small news tickers, etc).

4. DHTML
DHTML is HTML with layers and time sequences, but is still in its infancy. This language is interpreted and supported by 4.0 browsers and above, but most functions are treated differently between the browsers or not supported at all. There are some fine examples and of DHTML out there, but most developers are holding off at least until a finalized spec is completed and supported.

5. FLASH AND DIRECTOR SHOCKWAVE
Easily the most exciting new tool to hit the Net. Applications while still natively limited to single pages can push the boundaries of what can be done. In order for applications to work on the surfer's machine, they must have the Shockwave Plug-in correctly installed. However, I believe that the 4.0 browsers come stock with it. Flash and Director are their own distinct lanuages and require dilligence to master, but the payoff is high. Competing productsare emerging, but Flash easily has the largest installed base.

6. CGI
This is the term used to describe server side scripts most commonly used for reading text files, processing forms, light database stuff and more. It literally stands for "Common Gateway Interface" and CGI scripts can be written in just about anything including Visual Basic, C, C++, Python, Tcl/Tk, but usually people think of Perl because it runs everywhere (not just NT), is very compact and there is a huge database of free scripts already written. Perl is a bit of a terse language that is very suited to people familar with Unix, but great for anyone. It is free and well supported. Pick up an O'Reilly book if you want to know more.


7. Server Generated Pages
If you are at the level where HTML is old hat and Perl is old shoe, then you need to discover dynamically generated page using Active Server Pages again by Bill or Cold Fusion by Allaire. Both are fairly well supported. ASP is Free when your server is NT. Cold Fusion is $300 but requires a special support from the server.


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