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Web-enable Your 1-2-3 Data

Web-enable Your 1-2-3 Data

Use Lotus 1-2-3s ability to print to a file to create dynamic World Wide Web page templates

By Carl Merkle

The growth of intranets and their powerful potential to enhance the way people work and communicate adds a whole new dimension of value to the version of Lotus 1-2-3 on the palmtop that didn't exist before the popularization of the Internet/intranets.

This article explains why, and gives you some ideas how you can use the ultra-portable, low-cost PC that is with you or your employees anytime, anywhere to create and update useful Web pages to facilitate communication, to deploy corporate knowledge and to efficiently execute methodologies on a private network.

Web Page Background

Web pages are documents on the Internet and intranets (which are private networks based on Internet standards). Web pages are just simple plain-text files like the ASCII files produced by MEMO or the note sections of PHONE, DATABASE and NOTETAKER on the palmtop. When viewed with a Web browser, the most popular of which is Netscape Navigator, those plain text documents can appear to be richly formatted sometimes taking on the fancy graphical appearance of a high gloss magazine advertisement

Since browsers are fun and easy to use, by putting a Web face on corporate data many of the paper reports currently used in business today can be replaced with an electronic version in its place. The electronic report can be viewed by any authorized person from anywhere in the world. The high costs of distributing and storing paper-based information can then be eliminated.

On the palmtop, a freeware graphical Web page browser known as HV is available which was created by author Dr. Andreas Garzotto. HV stands for the first characters of the words HTML Viewer. If you don't have this browser, I highly recommend it. And of course the price is right its free!

An introduction to HTML

Web pages are called HTML files or HTML documents. HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language. HTML files contain nothing but letters, numbers, punctuation marks and other plain printable characters.

What distinguishes HTML from any other plain-text file is the presence of markup codes called tags. These tags tell the Web browser that you are using how to display the formatting and layout of the document on your computer, specify hyperlinks to areas in the document or to other documents on your intranet, and how to do many other things. Of course, different Web browsers render the same document in different ways color, font types, font size, and so on.

The really nice thing about Web pages is that any currently popular or previously popular computer can see them. That makes a single Web page universally viewable by a widely distributed group of people which can even be international in scope, each using different types of computers and different browsers.

Also, large documents can have links to other parts of the document or links to other documents on different computers within the intranet, making it fast and easy to view the linked sections with a Web browser. Web browsers take little or no training to use. Thus people who are new to computers can instantly benefit from viewing documents with them.

Create a simple Web page

HTML markup codes are surrounded by special markers to set them off from the text displayed by the browser. These symbols are the right and left angle brackets shown as follows: < and >.

HTML markup codes are usually included in pairs, one to mark the start of a browser instruction, and one to mark the end of a browser instruction. The end of a browser instruction starts with the following two characters: </.

There are only four tags necessary to create a Web page. They are: 1.<HTML>, 2. <HEAD>, 3. <TITLE>, and 4. <BODY>. Thus the following document, produced by your favorite word-processor that produces plain ASCII text, is a legal HTML document that can be displayed in a Web browser

. begin example

<HTML>

<HEAD>

<TITLE> First Doc Title </TITLE>

</HEAD>

<BODY> My First HTML Document. </BODY>

</HTML>

end example

The <HTML> tag defines this as an HTML document. The <HEAD> identifies this as the beginning of the document and includes document information, such as the title of the document enclosed in the <TITLE> tag. (In this circumstance, the title is First Doc Title.) The information you see displayed as a Web page is contained in the <BODY> of the document. (In this circumstance the only information that will be displayed by your Web browser is My First HTML Document.)

If you've been following along, use MEMO and just save the text above, as plain ASCII text, to a file called FIRST.HTM and then try to view it with your favorite Web browser like HV. Be sure to include the .htm extension, since this identifies it as HTML.

HTML tags are important, not spaces or carriage returns

Web browsers running on different computers pretty much decide for themselves how to wrap lines of text. The end-of-line characters or leading spaces you may have put into an HTML document will likely be ignored. This means you must specifically mark paragraphs, or cause line breaks. Thus the document you created above would be displayed in a Web browser the same as the following:

<HTML><HEAD><TITLE>First Doc Title</TITLE></HEAD><BODY>My First HTML Document.</BODY> </HTML>

As you can see, HTML is pretty basic and is simple enough for the average person to learn the basics.

Why use 1-2-3 to create Web pages?

After you've created a few HTML documents, updating certain fragments of them (especially the lists and tables) can get pretty monotonous. Word processors are useful for text entry, but they tend to be more static with information that is in them.

Spreadsheets, by contrast, are more dynamic. Just think about what a spreadsheet is useful for. It is great for crunching numbers, working with tables, and updating information in formula driven templates that would otherwise take a long time to work through manually. They also manipulate string (text) data very well with 1-2-3s string formulas, which can be a big time saving tool over MEMO. Macros can also be used to speed the process of data entry, to save files with unique names, or even to import information from other HTML documents.

Why take data from a spreadsheet and re-enter that data in a word-processor, when you can do it directly from 1-2-3? A spreadsheet is useful for directly creating Web pages that benefit from the template paradigm. This includes fairly repetitive activities such as daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly reports used by all commercial enterprises.

Of course, if you have a Windows 95 machine and the most recent Microsoft, Corel or Lotus software, you can use those tools to easily create HTML documents. However, many people don't have those tools or are not always near those tools when they want to do something. Instead, they can easily roll their own tools with 1-2-3 on the palmtop and do this anytime, anywhere.

Creating text files from 1-2-3

In the November/December 1996 issue I demonstrated how easy it is to copy-and-paste information from a 1-2-3 spreadsheet into MEMO. Using that same technique, it would be easy to copy a small amount of tabular data from 1-2-3 to an HTML document in MEMO. Using the tag <PRE>, tabular data copied-and-pasted from a 1-2-3 worksheet is displayed in its original format on a Web browser. Otherwise, extra spaces will be ignored or otherwise displayed improperly.

The copy-and-paste technique works fine if the amount of tabular data is limited. The copied data goes into the palmtops clipboard, which cannot handle large chunks of data. So what do you do if you have a larger report?

Easy you print the report to a file. Printing to a file, instead of to a printer, creates a plain-text document like those used by Web browsers. Since you can print to a file, you might as well put all the HTML tags in the print range and create an HTML file.

Steps to print to a file

Lets walk through a simple example. The spreadsheet in Box 1 has two ranges, an input range and output range. The input range allows data to be entered in cells B3 and E3, which in turn flow through to the output range below. Cell A7 has the following formula: +<HTML><HEAD><TITLE>&B3. Cell A12 has the following formula: + Month Ended &E3.

Notice that entries in the input range flow through to the output range. The output range is located in cells A7 through H20. To print to a file, press (MENU) Print File. Set the file name as 96JUN.HTM, set the range as cells A7 through H20. Set Options Margins None. Press Other Unformatted. Press Quit Go.

This creates an HTML file which can then be seen by HV, or you can view it with MEMO or the FILER view option.

Of course, you could get much more complicated than this simple example. The purpose is just to give you an idea of a few of the possibilities.<screen: Box 1: Creating an HTML file in Lotus 1-2-3.>

This is where the growth is

Expect to see intranets continue to grow at an exponential rate between now and the year 2000. This powerful new medium has completely taken the software and hardware industry by storm. Virtually all the major hardware and software vendors have seen the handwriting on the wall and are racing to Web-enable their major products. My research, including visits in November 1996 to the Fall COMDEX in Las Vegas and in March 1997 to the Spring Internet World in Los Angeles, convinced me that the Internet and intranets and widespread use of browser technologies as an information and knowledge transfer medium are clearly a major long-term trend.

However, intranets are a trend still in the early stages, and most of the people who will use them in the future still either don't know about them, or don't know how simple and useful it is for the average person to create their own Web pages for sharing and disseminating information to others.

Applications to solve business issues are just beginning to surface, and success stories are just beginning to come to light. Expect many more stories over the next year or two.

It doesn't take much imagination to see that combining the power of a low-cost, ultra-portable network-centric palmtop PC with the broadcast and storage power of an intranet opens the door to applications that could never have been dreamed possible before.

The computing and template power of 1-2-3 to create and update Web pages enhances the number of things that can be done by the average person with a little bit of spreadsheet and computer knowledge.

Id like to know your views about combining intranets with palmtops and 1-2-3. Send me an e-mail letting me know if you disagree with me or if you also see the value of this combination.

Shareware Freeware mentioned in this article

iPhone Life magazine


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