The difference between amateur web sites and professional web sites is largely determined by the skills and the tools of the developers. This page is meant to give an introduction to the many important tools and skills that Noetic Harbor, LLC brings to bear on web development projects.

We develop on both Macintoshes and PCs, and use both for testing purposes. The reason you need to test on both machines is that the browsers operate a little differently and have different features on the two machines. Text that fits in a box on a PC may not fit in the same box on a Macintosh. We host our sites on UNIX boxes so we need expertise in three classes of operating systems (MacOS, UNIX, and Windows).

Internet Explorer is by far the most popular browser at the present time with almost 60% market share as of mid-2007. Firefox has moved up into second with 34%. Trailing far behind are Safari (Apple), Netscape Navigator, and Opera, each with under 2% of the market. It is important for your website to be viewed and tested in the current generation and previous generation of all popular browsers on both PCs and Macs.

Adobe Photoshop is the tool of choice for manipulation of images, especially photographs, but it is heavyweight software. Adobe Illustrator is sometimes needed for graphic design, especially line drawings and logos. A program for Macs, GraphicConverter, is an excellent lightweight program for simple image manipulation and conversion from one image format to another. The equivalent program we use for Windows is Paint Shop Pro.

Animated Graphics
A rotating set of photographs or banner ads can be an effective tool for making a page interesting. We have done this with Macromedia Flash (now universally supported by browsers) or with JavaScript (see below). Animated gif images are tedious to build and are less frequently used in websites today.

Web Authoring
The vast majority of our design work for a site is done using a web authoring and management tool called Dreamweaver by Macromedia. This is an exception to our suggestion to use open source tools. Dreamweaver is better than the alternatives available and worth the price. Products such as FrontPage by Microsoft require special handling and generate non-compatible code. Therefore, they are not used on our sites and not allowed on our servers. More frequently we are now finding good designs in open source repositories such as Open Source Web Design.

The Extensible HyperText Markup Language (XHTML) has taken over as the successor to HTML as the language that browsers understand. It has eliminated many of the ambiguities of HTML and has allowed content to be prepared for many more devices (such as mobile devices) apart from traditional computers. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are a method of isolating the content of a website from the formatting. While we formerly used tables to position content, that technique has been denigrated to the use of style sheets. The web authoring tools go only so far in putting the finishing touches on a website. We use a text editor for the Macintosh called BBedit which understands the structure of XHTML and makes XHTML programs easier to edit. A program called … is used on our Windows machines.

Client Side Programming
“Client Side” is the computer where your users are running their browsers. JavaScript is the language of choice for Client Side Programming and is supported by all the major browsers. It allows the website designer to run programs on the remote machines that alter content. For example, you could have the page change based on dropdown selection boxes that are chosen on a form on the page. JavaScript has been evolving over time and the designer has to be careful about which browsers support which features.

Server Side Programming
“Server Side” is the computer where your pages actually reside and are “served” from. We use PHP (open source) for server side programming. PHP is more internet friendly and has largely replaced “CGI programming” using languages such as Perl and Tcl. It has great interfaces to databases. It is “lighter weight” and easier to use than either ASP or NetObjects Fusion (neither of which is open source).

We use a lightweight open source database system called MySQL. It performs nearly all the SQL functions at a very low cost as compared to a database system such as Oracle. Not only does Oracle incur a heavy startup cost, but it requires a cadre of database experts to sustain it. MySQL is the perfect database system for almost any size website.

Since the beginning, Noetic Harbor, LLC has had good success using PayPal. In the early days they had a few rough spots (particularly when they were first acquired by eBay), but now they offer many features and are easy to use without glitches. PayPal accepts all major credit cards, payments from foreign countries, provide shopping carts, e-mail payments, and excellent record keeping and accounting tools. They do not require you have a “merchant account” with a bank as many credit card services do. They have been adopted by over 100,000 sites and have become the E-Commerce provider of choice on many auction sites, such as eBay and Craig’s List. Other services, such as Cybercash, have been taken over by PayPal.

We generally host all our sites, but do not provide hosting for sites that we do not develop. We have a dedicated server with RackAid in New York City. RackAid provides not only the infrastructure support for our server, but also provides systems support for any questions or problems that we haver. They provide the primary backup services, but, in addition, Noetic Harbor does daily backups of its sites and databases for even more redundancy.

Tools on the Web
We’re not shy about using free graphics, fonts, and tools that are offered on the web. For example there are graphics archives, font archives, banner generators, image manipulators, and search engine submission services which are free and available to all who know where they are.