Low End Mac Needs a Content Management System

As I noted in my crisis article, Low End Mac Needs Your Help, I wear a lot of hats here at Low End Mac. From the earliest days, I was a writer, a researcher, a proofreader and editor, and a designer.

I used link exchange banners to promote what was initially a subsite of my personal webspace at Iserv.net. This was my chance to learn about website design and internet publishing, and it must have struck a chord, because a few months later we had the opportunity to go commercial.

It Works, but It’s Messy

From meager beginnings in April 1997, Low End Mac grew and grew and grew. And for all those years, I’ve done things pretty much the same way: Write and edit articles using Claris Home Page, use whatever version of Photoshop Lite or Photoshop Elements I had to work with images and save them for use on the Web, and use a text editor (first BBEdit Lite, and later TextWrangler) to do global seach-and-replaces. And then I used Claris Home Page to upload all the changed content.

Over the years I started using HTML include files for entire sections of code so it didn’t have to be repeated on every page – things like the boilerplate footnote/copyright notice, our logo and navigation system, and parts of the page header. And when I discovered Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), I began to use that rather than coding each and every paragraph with the names of various display fonts they should use in order of preference. Between them, those made pages a lot smaller.

Because Home Page is so dated (it supports HTML 3.2, which is ancient), I started using the Tidy to XHTML service to clean up its source code in TextWrangler. That makes sure our pages work better across a wide range of browsers than they would without tidying.

I also use KompoZer 0.7, a free open source WYSIWYG webpage editor that lets me apply CSS style sheets – something ancient Home Page doesn’t even know about. It’s not a complete replacement for Home Page, but great for that specific purpose. And on my Intel Mac mini, I use BlueGriffon for the same thing (it’s Intel-only, and all my other Macs are PowerPC). Both produce somewhat messy code, so I open the files in TextWrangler, run Tidy to XHTML on them, and save the cleaned up code.

I put a bit of work into every image we publish, often resizing and then choosing whether to save as GIF, JPEG, or 8-bit PNG. With JPEG, I carefully choose the compression level, and with GIF and PNG, I experiment with number of colors and the type of color palette.

When I first tried to use PNGs on Low End Mac, they didn’t work. That’s a shame, because in almost any instance, an 8-bit PNG is smaller than the equivalent GIF image. It turns out the Home Page was munging those images, so now I upload them using Cyberduck – one more step in the process.

And I forgot to mention that PNGs came along after Home Page, so I can only view GIF and JPEG images when working in Home Page. My solution is to save both GIF and PNG versions, use the GIF during design and testing after uploading the page and images, then using Cyberduck to re-upload the PNGs to replace the munged ones, then use TextWrangler to replace ever .gif with .png, and then back to Home Page to upload the modified page(s).

Thanks to the September 2012 issue of Macworld, I discovered another useful utility, a program called ImageOptim that can analyze JPEG, GIF, and PNG images, clean them up, and make them even smaller with no loss in quality. I don’t know how it does its magic, but I’ve seen some images 25-40% smaller after using this little freeware app.

Mirror Drive Door Power Mac G4And did I mention that I need three Macs to make this work? One dual 1.25 GHz Mirrored Drive Door Power Mac G4 (2002) runs OS X 10.4 Tiger with Classic Mode so I can use Home Page. My 2007 Mac mini runs OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, which has Rosetta and lets me run legacy PowerPC software including AppleWorks, Photoshop Elements 3.0, and Microsoft Office 2004. Between them is a second Power Mac G4, which is sometimes a dual 1 GHz MDD, sometimes a dual 500 MHz Mystic (2000), and currently a dual 1.6 GHz CPU-upgraded Digital Audio (2001).

You can tell that I take the “low end” in Low End Mac seriously. I don’t need up-to-date gear to be productive. The only reason I ever set up an OS X 10.5 Leopard Mac was that a NetNewsWire update required it if I wanted to sync my RSS feeds.

The only reason I have an Intel-based Mac mini is that I figured it was about time – and then chose the oldest model capable of running OS X 10.7 Lion just in case I ever want to go there. And then I discovered Teleport, which lets the mouse and keyboard on the Leopard Mac control the other two.

What a Content Management System Adds to the Mix

Right now, every article published on Low End Mac is proofread, link checked, and edited by yours truly. And the less time I have to invest in that process, the less new content we have.

With a CMS, I can stop being the bottleneck. Contributors will be able to submit articles online, where someone else will proofread them, check links, and polish the prose a bit. And once the editor and writer agree that everything is good to go, it can go live. I won’t have to be involved in the process if I don’t want to, others with editing skills will be able to use them, and we can speed up the publication process.

That also means we’ll be able to have more writers creating more new content. All in all, it’s a win-win situation with just one humongous drawback: I just can’t wrap my head around the template systems.

I’ve experimented with Drupal but ultimately gave up. I’ve tried Joomla, and eventually threw in the towel. I’ve actually got WordPress up and running for testing purposes, but I just can’t create the page layout I want. Several of our writers are already familiar with WordPress, and it appears to have all the modules necessary for our future plans.

That’s a shame, because it keeps Low End Mac from reaching its potential, and it keeps us from adding new features. We’d love to host our own forums (currently on Google Groups). We want to eventually add a classified ads and/or auction component. We’d like the option of letting readers submit comments and send messages writers online instead of having to send an email.

All that and more is possible with CMS, but it’s just beyond my reach. I need help, but with our current finances (see Low End Mac Needs Your Help), we can’t afford to hire someone proficient in WordPress to help hammer out the layout templates we need to move ahead.

If that’s you, and if you’re willing to work for fame and/or possible future payment, please email me using the link at the beginning of this article. Thanks!

Update: We moved to WordPress in early 2013.

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