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May 19, 2008

No more tables!

The Software Times home page, created ten years ago, finally lost the last of its tables. The inside pages still rely on tables and they are a mixture of HTML 3.2 and XHTML 1.0 Transitional, reflecting their age. Bringing the almost 400 pages up to date is a daunting task. TIDY, which is included in BBEdit, the text editor that does not suck, has been a great help in converting HTML 4.01 to XHTML 1.0 but converting HTML 3.2 even with TIDY, requires a lot of work. Approximately 135 pages are still HTML 3.2 and they are 2001 vintage or older.

Software Times' tenth anniversary is coming up on June 1. That was the date I registered the domain. Initially it was a testbed for programing web applications using FileMaker Pro. I have to admit that it was not a brilliant choice by any means. FileMaker Pro was a great tool for creating desktop client-server database applications but the port to the web was a kludge. In time I transferred my efforts to LAMP and I have not looked back since.

My initial thought was to comment on web development, hence the domain name. But that was not to be. Instead, since the GTR Forum was also a bit of a kludge, but a place where one met some wonderful people, I decided to transfer my own posts to Software Times. The first post is dated September 22, 1999.

The first set of pages was created with Claris HomePage 3.0. As new web standards developed, the HomePage 3.0 output became obsolete and Apple did not have plans to bring this software up to date. Eventually I migrated to BBEdit, a great text editor for the Mac. But it took some doing. It was not easy to mentally visualize the structure of tables, the main structural design element back then. Approximately 135 Software Times pages are still 100% HomePage 3.0. Another 135 pages were created as HTML 4.0 with BBEdit and eventually brought up to XHTML 1.0 Transitional. The newest 120 pages started out as XHTML 4.01 Transitional.

Blogs or weblogs are more or less contemporaneous with Software Times but I didn't find out about them for quite some time. By then I had my own style up and running and I didn't see a need for change. As the site grew that need appeared. Originally the essays were logged in a FileMaker Pro database that produced a sortable index on demand. When I switched to a LAMP server I ported the database to MySQL. But having to log every essay into the database proved to be a chore. As I got more familiar with blogs I realized that they had an appealing structure that was easier to maintain than my database backed website. First I replaced the essay database with yearly archive pages and later I changed the design of the home page to look more like a blog. The fact that I was indexing the content with Atomz.com made the decision to drop the database a no brainer.

As a programmer I consider myself a tool maker. The tools that I'm using to author my essays are partly of my own making but they are not entirely satisfactory. I'm using a text editor to write the content which I later parser into web-page format with a php script and a template. It works but it is not something that I could sell to a client. I'm also developing a CMS-authoring system which will eventually replace my current method. Since I have to finish this CMS for a client, it will be done this year. smily

Something else I need to think about is a search function. I'm producing around 40 pages a year which means that I should reach the Atomz 500 free page limit in a couple of years. By then I'll need a replacement for Atomz. Since the CMS will be MySQL based, I'll probably use the MySQL full-text search function.

With the improved capabilities of web browsers like the built in spelling checker and the multiple Undos, it is becoming easier to write full function web applications. I'm looking forward to the next 10 years of Software Times.

Denny Schlesinger

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