Impressions of Angelfire
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Impressions of Angelfire

The construction of this site is my first excursion into the world of free Web hosting services. I've constructed personal and professional Web sites for clients, which are hosted on several ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and on corporate intranet (in house) Web servers. I was curious to compare such capabilities with one of these free services.

I'd decided to use a methodolgy I use frequently, writing a perl script which would read a text file which presented a terse description of the site, and would create the desired pages using a page template file. So I wrote a preliminary version of the script, selected and processed some photos which would be part of the site, constructed the description file and template page, and got it running nicely on my local Web server. So far, quite routine.

Angelfire provides online page creation and editing tools, which I'd not be needing. They also provide an HTML upload capability, as well as FTP (file transfer protocol) upload. Typically I'd use FTP, and am able to easily upload a batch of files in a single swoop (using MPUT), directly into the target directory. With Angelfire the FTP upload process is via a common upload shared by all users, a 15 minute expiration timer, and the requirement that the files individually be moved over to the user directory, one by one.

After looking at the available alternatives, the HTML upload route proved to be the most effective. This did also require that each file is uploaded individually, somewhat of a hassle with an initial installment of more than fifteen HTML pages, fifty graphics, and fifty thumbnail files. A simple seven-step process for each file, so to speak, and already tedious long before they were all in place. Hardly enticing, to say the least, that I've another 25-50 more photos (and companion thumbnails) that I plan to process and upload to complete the site.

Once I started uploading the graphics files I got my first surprise. Angelfire has limitations on file names which conflicted with my design and perl script. And which also happened to cause the thumbnails I was uploading to overlay the corresponding full-sided graphics. A perusal of the documentation for the service found not a clue. Some changes to the perl script, renaming of the thumbnail files, repeating some uploads, and things were alive and well.

I subsequently discovered another file naming limitation, that a hypen is not allowed within a file name. While a somewhat pesky bother, the fact that it does not seem to be mentioned in the documentation merits a serious black mark in my book.

Another quirk I encountered is that when a BODY tag is present in any of my pages Angelfire adds some JavaScript code into the page. Alas, the added code fails HTML validation at the W3C Validation service ( Oddly enough, leaving out the opening BODY tag (from my pages) resulted in (only my) HTML code, which validated as expected.

One of the services which Angelfire touts is a page counter, with the promise of being able to have one on each page. Alas, when the counter is used on each page, they all show the same result. It seems that the count is being maintained correctly, when actually invoked, but is presented in a manner which causes the browser (in my case Netscape Navigator 4) to repeatedly display a cached value. I was able to find a workaround which seems to work; by adding the name of each page as the path of the CGI call, something easy to do via my perl script, it both yields unique URLs (as far as the browser cache is concerned) and hence expected results. Besides, heck, what is still one more upload of each of my pages among friends (grin).

Perhaps the on-line editors will appeal to novices. Of this I can only speculate. At the same time I'd think that presenting a collection of photos, as I'm doing, is likely to be a common use for such sites.

Angelfire has an acceptable use policy which prohibits various things such as adult content. On one hand it is fair game for them to make whatever rules they wish to put into effect, as it is their site, and they are paying for it. At the same time, turnaround would seem to be fair play. I'd expect them to conform to similar expectations in the advertising which they host on their site. I've little doubt but that certain advertising I saw, from for sexual guide books, would hardly please many parents of younger children.

Overall, my reactions are mixed. Easier in some ways than I'd expected, but harder (or rather far more tedious) for others.

-- Harold A. Driscoll, February, 1998

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