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Most tax professionals are under pressure to establish a Web presence. Networked computers and Web browsers have created a powerful mechanism for communicating in a new and different way. It is a mechanism for career enhancement already being exploited by many tax practitioners (e.g., www.willyancey.com/tax_faculty. htm) and professionals (e.g., www. yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/ Companies/Financial_Services/ Accounting/Firms). Specific classroom Web development tools are highlighted later in this article.

Overview

Whether the goal is to use the Internet to deliver existing information about professional activities or as a tool to reengineer professional processes, a successful Web presence entails a carefully choreographed interaction among:

* The person who prepares and maintains the site content.

* A Website administrator who provides the specialized hardware and software.

* The audience, which must be able to access the content.

Planning and designing a Website, then developing, delivering and maintaining its content, is demanding. It requires access to (and skill with) the necessary hardware and software. This article focuses on the software, with an emphasis on that available for reports, presentations and analyses.

Content Development

The process of developing content no longer requires specialized software skills. The word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and database applications on personal computers can do many of the tasks previously available only through Web page development applicators. Content can now be developed with either the applications in a typical software suite (e.g., Lotus SmartSuite, Corel WordPerfect Suite and Microsoft Office) or with specialized software.

Software Suite Applications

Applications dedicated to Web page development provide many "bells and whistles" However, a viable Web presence can be established without specialized software, using the applications in the popular software suites. The following discussion centers on how to create Web content with the applications in Microsoft's Office 97, which include Word 97, PowerPoint 97 and Excel 97.

There are three important aspects when using these applications for Web development. First, each application uses an Internet assistant (wizard) that aids the user in the process of converting content prepared in those applications to hypertext markup language (HTML). The Internet assistants for each application must be installed from an Office 97 installation CDROM before they can be used; otherwise, the menu choices discussed below will not be available.

Second, while these applications generally produce a less sophisticated and polished Web page than specialized software, they also impose very few additional costs of acquiring new software or skills. The same concepts and commands are used in each application, regardless of whether a final document is prepared in the original file format or converted to HTML.

Third, it is easy to hyperlink any file or Web page in any document prepared with Office 97 applications. For example, a Word document on a network (or Website) could be linked to an Excel document, whether or not they were converted to HTML. Clearly, this powerful ability facilitates navigation between documents; a developer simply selects Insert, then Hyperlink from any application's menu bar.

Word 97. Word 97's Internet assistant provides two approaches to preparing Web documents. The first involves converting an existing Word document to an HTML document, by first selecting File on Word's menu bar, then selecting either:

* Save as HTML or

* Save As, then specifying the HTML document in the Save As type.

A prompt that specifies a file name and location will appear, just as with a regular Word document.

The second approach is starting a Web page from scratch. A user selects File on Word's menu bar, then selects New, and clicks on the tab in the resulting dialog box (labeled Web Pages). The easiest option is to select the Web Page Wizard icon, which allows a choice of several types and visual styles. It also clearly indicates where to enter information. The more difficult option is to select the Blank Web Page icon, which provides a blank page and no obvious guidance. However, the text can be formatted using the same procedures used for preparing a regular Word document. Neither option requires knowledge of HTML code.

Nonetheless, some fine-tuning and enhancing of the Web page may be needed. To edit the HTML source code, select HTML Source under View on the menu bar. To insert multimedia enhancements (such as audio and video elements), an array of tools are available under Insert on the menu bar.

PowerPoint 97. PowerPoint 97, another useful tool for developing Web documents, is increasingly popular for academic and business presentations. However, it has a more specialized scope and limited capacity than Word 97. HTML source code cannot be prepared or edited in PowerPoint; only existing presentation slides can be converted into Web-based presentations. Thus, PowerPoint is appropriate for preparing Web-based materials for delivery over the Internet (or an intranet) in a prescribed sequence, to an audience that is separated by time or distance. For example, the 1998 AICPA Tax Education Symposium presentation that elicited this article is accessible at www.sbea.mtu. edu/rrtidd/AICPATaxEd.htm; Sandi Smith delivers presentations about the Y2K problem from her Website (www.sandismith.com/); and the University of Georgia provides a slideshow on distance education (www.griffin.peachnet.edu/distance/ biesinger/index.htm).

To start the conversion process, a user selects Save as HTML under File on PowerPoint's menu bar. This opens up a Web wizard (the Internet assistant) that uses dialog boxes to guide the user through six steps. All but two are relatively self-explanatory:

* Graphic type: Allows a choice between a static or a dynamic (animated) presentation. The former can be viewed with a Web browser; animations and sound added to the original file are lost in the conversion process. The latter can be viewed only with Microsoft's free PowerPoint Animation Player.

* Graphic size: Allows a choice between four monitor resolutions and four display sizes. Larger values result in higher quality graphics, but also increase the size (and download time) of files; they also might exceed the display capacity of a viewer's monitor.

PowerPoint prepares a picture of each slide in the presentation, positions it in an appropriately sequenced series of Web pages and creates a folder containing all of the graphics and Web pages necessary to deliver the presentation via the Web. That folder and its content must be posted to a Website, and links to a uniform resource locator (URL) number must be provided for the Index.htm file in that folder.

There are two other options for delivering dynamic PowerPoint presentations. Both allow for the insertion of sound and voice (e.g., narration), and convert the presentation to a streaming audio)video format that can be viewed with an appropriately configured player. Microsoft's player and converter for its Advanced Streaming Format are free for downloading from its Website; RealNetwork's player (RealPlayer) and converter (RealPresenter) can be downloaded from its Website, but cost $39.99 (www.realaudio. com/products/tools/presenter/index. html). Once either converter is installed, it can be accessed under Tools on the PowerPoint menu bar--Activate Microsoft's conversion wizard by selecting Publish to ASF, and RealPresenter's by selecting Publish to Real Media. Instructions are provided in the dialog boxes.

As noted, PowerPoint's conversion methods do not create a conventional Web page. Rather, they create Web-based presentations that will display a slideshow as if it were being presented in a classroom or boardroom. This specialized and dynamic Web presence is easily created, but, because the presentations are graphics-intensive, they take longer to download. As more multimedia enhancements are added, download time increases, which tends to erode viewer patience. The streaming audio/video formats combat audience impatience by displaying the slideshow before it is completely downloaded from the Web. However, an audience must have the appropriate viewer, or the effort is wasted. Streaming or animated formats should not be used if there are any uncertainties about the speed of an audience's Internet connections or its software, unless the static (unanimated) version is offered as well.

Excel 97. Excel 97 is probably the least useful platform for establishing a Web presence, but very useful for preparing Web pages with highly specialized content (including charts, tables and spreadsheets). As with Powerpoint, the content must be prepared in Excel, then converted (using its Internet assistant) to an HTML document. A user selects Save as HTML under File on Excel's menu bar and responds to the relatively straightforward directions. Unfortunately, an Excel file looses all of its functionality when converted (i.e., formulas no longer work), but its contents can be edited in Word or in an HTML editor. Thus, Excel could be used to distribute solutions or examples of spreadsheet analyses to those without Excel.

Summary. The preceding discussion focused on the conversion of files created in software suite applications to HTML files. The HTML format is especially useful when an audience:

* Has Web browsers, but not necessarily the same hardware or software as the developer; and

* Does not need to manipulate the information being distributed (beyond reading it).

Alternatively, documents can be left in their original file format (i.e., the format of the application used to prepare them). This is preferable to HTML and appropriate if the audience has compatible hardware and software and needs to manipulate the files distributed. To do this via the Web, there must be at least one Web page (in HTML) that contains links to the Word, PowerPoint or Excel files distributed. Those files must reside on a computer server accessible from the Web (usually the Web server used to distribute the Web pages). Colleagues or students can then, for example, access and work with an Excel spreadsheet for tax planning, any time and from any site having Web access.

Specialized Applications

A wide range of specialized software can be used to supplement Web page development efforts. Broadly speaking, the applications can be classified by whether they are used to (1) prepare Web pages or (2) manage a Website. Web management software is necessary if an extensive Website is going to be developed or the developer will also serve as the Website administrator. (These topics are beyond the scope of this article.)

If the desktop applications discussed above are not going to be used to prepare content, an HTML editor is essential. Information about the currently popular editors can be found at several Websites, including The Software Review Source (www.reviewsource.com/), TUCOWS (www.tucows.com/) and Stroud's (cws.internet.com/).

These sites can help a user develop multimedia content, including sound, still and animated icons, graphics and video. However, it is probably not necessary to create multimedia content; many developers make their creations available for free in exchange for a reference to their Websites. Some of the graphics available for downloading can be found at the sites maintained by Laurie McCanna (www.mccannas.com/), Denton's Dimensions (www.copzilla.com/ dimensions.html) and the Animated GIF Artists Guild (www.agag.com/).

Course management software deserves special mention because of its increasing availability and popularity. Typically, this software is licensed to and installed by a university, which provides an integrated package that facilitates establishing a Web presence via the use of templates. In the parlance of Office 97, the templates represent an Internet assistant or wizard that elicits typed input about the course. Once the input is entered, the program converts it into a comprehensive Website with pages for the syllabus, announcements, schedule, student email list, etc. Except for keyboarding, little knowledge is needed, as long as the software has been properly installed on the network. The University of Maryland provides a review of the use of several Web course management tools at sunil. umd.edu/webct/, including:

* WebCT (homebrewl.cs.ubc.ca/ webct/);

* Web Course in a Box (www.mad duck.com/wcbinfo/wcb.html) and

* TopClass (www.wbtsystems.com/).

In addition, publishers such as South-Western Publishing (cyberclass. swcollege.com) have established Websites to help educators exploit the power of Web-based learning.

Conclusion

Establishing a Web presence should be a career-enhancing process that does not devour an individual's resources (especially time). The software already in use (desktop applications in software suites) provides an effective and efficient means of creating Web pages. In addition, the Web itself is a gold mine, with all the resources needed to develop, deliver and maintain valuable content. Clearly, the costs of creating a Web presence are decreasing, while the costs of not creating one are increasing.

Editor's note: Ms. Rubin chairs the AICPA Tax Division's Tax Education Committee.

If you would like additional information about this article, contact Dr. Tidd at (906) 487-1877 or rrtidd@mtu.edu.

FROM RONALD R. TIDD, PH.D., CPA, MICHIGAN TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY, HOUGHTON, MI
COPYRIGHT 1999 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:tax professionals
Author:Tidd, Ronald R.
Publication:The Tax Adviser
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 1999
Words:2102
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