While you can use the barest of barebones text editors to create HTML and XHTML documents, most authors have a toolbox of software utilities that is a bit more elaborate than a simple text editor. At the barest minimum, you also need a browser, so you can test and refine your work. Beyond the essentials are some specialized software tools for developing and preparing HTML documents and accessory multimedia files.
At the very least, you’ll need a text editor, a browser to check your work, and, ideally, a connection to the Internet.
Some authors use the word processing capabilities of their specialized HTML/XHTML editing software. Some use a WYSIWYG-like (what-you-see-is-what-you-get, kind of) composition tool such as those that come with the latest versions of the popular word processors. Others, such as ourselves, prefer to compose their work on a common text editor and later insert the markup tags and their attributes. Still others include markup as they compose.
We think the stepwise approach—compose, then mark up—is the better way. We find that once we’ve defined and written the document’s content, it’s much easier to make a second pass to judiciously and effectively add the HTML/XHTML tags to format the text. Otherwise, the markup can obscure the content. Note, too, that unless specially trained (if they can be), spellcheckers and thesauruses typically choke on markup tags and their various parameters. You can spend what seems to be a lifetime clicking the Ignore button on all those otherwise valid markup tags when syntax- or spellchecking a document.
When and how you embed markup tags into your document dictates the tools you need. We recommend that you use a good word processor, which comes with more and better writing tools than simple text editors or the browser-based markup-language editors. You’ll find, for instance, that an outliner, spellchecker, and thesaurus will best help you craft the document’s flow and content, disregarding for the moment its look. The latest word processors encode your documents with HTML, too, but don’t expect miracles. Except for boilerplate documents, you will probably need to nurse those automated HTML documents to full health. (Not to mention put them on a diet when you see how long the generated HTML is.) And it’ll be a while before you’ll see XHTML-specific markup tools in the popular word processors.
Another word of caution about automated composition tools: they typically change or insert content (e.g., replacing relative hyperlinks with full ones) and arrange your document in ways that will annoy you. Annoying, in particular, because they rarely give you the opportunity to do things your own way.
Become fluent in native HTML/XHTML. Be prepared to reverse some of the things a composition tool will do to your documents. And make sure you can wrest your document away from the tool so that you can make it do your bidding.
Obviously, you should view your newly composed documents and test their functionality before you release them for use by others. For serious authors, particularly those looking to push their documents beyond the HTML/XHTML standards, we recommend that you have several browsers, perhaps with versions running on different computers, just to be sure one’s delightful display isn’t another’s nightmare.
The currently popular—and therefore, most important—browsers are Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Safari (for Apple), Opera, and Netscape Navigator, though the last is rapidly disappearing from the Web landscape. Most versions run on the variety of popular computing platforms, such as the various Microsoft OSes, Linux, Mac OS, and so forth. Different browser versions often vary in the elements of HTML and XHTML that they support. We make every effort to point out those differences throughout this book. Nevertheless, it helps to download not only the latest versions from their web sites, but also previous browser versions in order to better test your work for compatibility. This is particularly important given that several millions of the estimated more than one billion Web users worldwide still operate the ancient Internet Explorer version 5!
If you’re serious about creating documents, you’ll soon find that all sorts of nifty tools are available to make life easier. The list of freeware, shareware, and commercial products grows daily, so it’s not very useful to provide a list here. This is, in fact, another good reason to frequent the various newsgroups and web sites that keep updated lists of HTML and XHTML resources on the Web. If you are really dedicated to writing in HTML and XHTML, you will visit those sites, and you will visit them regularly to keep abreast of the language, tools, and trends.