Things move on
Mark Newton starts a new column and decides on a web makeover without Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen
As regular readers of this magazine will have noticed by now, there have been a few changes to the Real World Computing section, not least to the pictures of us contributors - it's rumoured that some of them are being cut out and used to frighten horses and small children. The demise of the Web Business column I wrote with Paul Ockenden is sad, but things must move on, and nowhere is this more true than in the world of the internet. When we first started that column, e-commerce was difficult to do and it was impossible to get a secure certificate unless you had an American bank account, while DHTML was still a twinkle in the W3C's eye.
How times have changed: now e-commerce is available to anyone with a PayPal account, and simple cut-and-paste gives you a shopping basket. Forums, content management, diaries, blogs and image store add-ons are all available free, and the list just goes on. It looks as though things have got a whole lot easier, and in some ways that's true - you can now build an acceptable store without writing any code using the many free hosting systems out there. The problem is that user and client expectations have increased enormously to match, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to come up with something different. The competition is huge and the wealth of options for the developer and IT manager more confusing than ever.
Browser incompatibilities have - thanks to style sheets - reared their ugly head again after a quiet spell while Internet Explorer ruled the roost and Apple users remained in posh seclusion. Now Apple-based browsers represent a significant number of visitors to most stores, and the differences in the way the various browsers render style sheets will give me a pile to write about in this column. The move away from straightforward HTML to XML and the use of "proper" programming languages for web applications, combined with the increasing use of web services, means we need to reassess the way we build a particular website. There's still a place for the traditional static site maintained using products like Dreamweaver, but parts of them may need to be replaced by web applications that perform some particular function in a more pleasing way than a jerky sequence of static pages can.
It's this new environment that led PC Pro to rename this column, shifting the emphasis from pure e-commerce business to web applications of all kinds. This doesn't mean the new column will be all code and programming, though: Kevin Partner and I will cover all aspects of running a site, along with anything else you tell us you might be interested in. Meanwhile, Paul has moved over to the Mobile & Wireless column, as a confessed laptop addict, and I'll be picking his brains frequently on such topics, as I plan to be writing from time to time on remote Scottish Islands (another love of mine). In short, Web Applications isn't just going to be about writing web-based applications, but about how to apply the web to make it work for you and your business. I hope you'll find it useful and interesting, and please email me with any feedback you have.
Makeover in ASP.NET
First off this month, I thought I'd show how approaching an existing website and applying web application ideas to it can lead to a better customer experience and a slicker look. I'll be keeping the code on these pages as simple as possible to highlight those bits needed to make things work, rather than obscure it with lots of error-checking code, so apologies to any hard-core programmers. As it happens, this example doesn't involve any code writing, just a little customising of a query at the end, such is the power of the development tool I'll be using.