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Flipping the Linux switch: Linux web tools - Pt. 6

Small image map example with my skype avatarHave you ever looked in a real DIYers toolbox? Or maybe even the toolbox of someone who's pretty handy, but who has a messy streak? So all the hammers might be together, or all the screwdrivers will be together, maybe even with some sort of arrangement as to Phillips or Torx heads... but there is almost inevitably, in some corner compartment of the toolbox, or some drawer (and maybe several of them, even) an area set aside for what amounts to a whole lot of miscellaneous "everything" bits. These pieces might logically be found with hammers, or dry wall tools, or about a million other things... But they aren't quite the same, and they aren't always used in the same manner. So they end up in a big pile, that you hope stays manageable enough you can find them again.

This week's Linux switch, the last of the web development stuff for a bit, is like that compartment. These are all nifty little tools, and great when you need them. But they are mostly small, and have a strange distinction of not always being associated with any one particular type of task.

Some, like FTP programs and plugins, are associated with other programs. But what if you love your editor and hate the uploading functions it has? Image maps can be a nuisance to set up, and we think that's probably part of the reason why you don't see a lot of them. But sometimes, they just fit the project at hand.

And you know how we said we'd go easy on the editors? Seriously, we meant it. However, there's one more editing tool we want to mention that's probably beyond most casual users, but will make Linux users who want to develop SWF9 applications pretty happy. We are not covering it in any great depth, because we are not any sort of whizzes with Flash development -- but we have to point it out. It's been a long time coming!

So welcome to our odds and ends compartment of web tools!
File Transfers - Even less complicated than bus transfers

Transferring your files to a remote server seems like such a little thing, once you've dealt with things like design, and the number of clicks it takes to get to any one spot on your site. Because it seems like such a little thing, that makes it infinitely more obnoxious when the interface isn't what you're expecting.

You've probably already guessed that there are more than a few tools in Linux outside the HTML editor that can get your files on to a remote server. These run the gamut from glitzy cross platform tools that you might already be familiar with, like FileZilla, to integrated programs that run along with your Linux desktop, like gFTP, to interesting command line tools, like sitecopy.

Sitecopy has the interesting twist that it mirrors a local folder on your computer to a remote web server. It supports FTP, WebDAV and various HTTP authoring servers. If you want to add or remove a file locally, you can do so and it will synchronize with the server. It's even possible to rearrange locally, synchronize, and have the new arrangement reflected on the server. It can be a bit of an adventure to set up, but the sitecopy man page is pretty straightforward in explaining the basics. In terms of quick and dirty transfer, it comes in handy.

We want to remind you, though, not to overlook the most basic uploading tool of them all -- your file manager. A great majority of file managers (such as Nautilus, and Dolphin) allow you to make network connections through them. Though the procedure varies a bit depending on desktop environment, it usually involves adding a network location through a networking screen, or going to the file manager and connecting through a server through the "File" menu.

Nautilus connected to my happy remote server

There is certainly some beauty in this arrangement. Moving files is drag and drop easy. Remotely deleting and editing files is simpler. The remote server, we've found, is just easier to visualize when the layout is represented like our local files. We can also add quickly accessible links right to our file manager side bar.

KImageMapEditor - Like 1997, only better!

Image maps -- remember them? They were all the rage back in the day, when grunge music began its decline, when Flash was a twinkle in Macromedia's eye, when Netscape roamed the earth crushing browsers and cavemen in its fearsome teeth.

There is of course, still a time and place for image maps, pictures with embedded clickable links. They have not gone the way of the <blink> tag, because they are useful for certain sites, they don't induce muscle twitches and headaches, and they can look pretty classy. You don't see them too often, though. Flash can accomplish the same effect, and much more. Problem is, if image maps were a royal pain for the amateur/semi-professional web master, Flash is even more complicated to use effectively.

If you should be drawn to image maps, though, KImageMapEditor really isn't a bad choice to eliminate any associated pain. It's associated with the kdewebdev package, and is even integrated with Quanta Plus (though it can easily be integrated with sites designed elsewhere).

It's really simple to use. You don't need to know coordinates, or even what an x or y axis is. You need to know how to click. You can insert an image into the application, and pick a selection tool (there are rectangles, circles and all sorts of freehand polygon types of action going on). When you've selected your area, a nice little dialog pops up.

Area Tag Editor Image Map

So you can see we chose a rectangle, put in the link the area is associated with, and the alt text and title (we didn't set a target, but don't let that stop you). Really, of course, all that's needed to link is the HREF field, but random areas of images leading to random web sites can tick viewers off (so if you leave these blank, make sure your image has some sort of indication that you aren't Rick Rolling your visitors). Coordinates can be adjusted here, and certain JavaScript functions can be controlled here as well (things like "on click" and "on doubleclick").

KImageMapEditor showing edited regions

Simply repeat until you've got that lovely image littered with links. The side bar allows you to view the code, the links, and the map areas as they are inserted and edited. When you're done, you can save the whole thing as an .html file. The code written isn't fancy (and you'll need to add style sheets if you want your text and links to behave in a certain way) but it takes a lot of the work of traditional "by hand" image map creation, and is definitely one of the simpler image map editors we've tried.

OpenLaszlo - Running with the big penguins

OpenLaszlo is one of those tools you have to be really, really careful with, or else you'll put your eye out. You might notice that many Download Squadders wear glasses. We don't know how willing we are to risk what's left of our vision to give an indepth review of OpenLaszlo.

Or maybe it's because even when we're working with Flash in Windows, the best some of us can do is get little circles to bounce around and follow a path. But yes, take heart, we did just say "...working with Flash" and this is a piece about Linux.

Want to work with DHTML and Ajax? You can do it with OpenLaszlo. Want to work with SWF9 and Flash? Knock yourself out (just wear protective eyewear, okay?). There are many dynamic web applications that OpenLaszlo is suited for, and they have some great demos that illustrate the depth of the program. Many sites, such as Pandora and Sears have utilized OpenLaszlo for site and application design.

Your web toolbox is now a decently equipped arsenal, and we hope we've given you enough variety and touched on applications that'll make you the coding warrior you've always wanted to be. At least, we hope we've given you enough information you won't hurt yourselves too badly. Next week, we'll take a break away from the web development battle and take a look at other Linux horizons.

Tags: filezilla, flash, ftp, ftp-client, image map, ImageMap, kimagemapeditor, linux, linux-switch, open source, openlaszlo, OpenSource