Frequently Asked Questions
These are some frequently asked questions about what we do and what's available for people who need help getting a web site or other online service going. Click the questions to see the answers.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEM is Search Engine Marketing, which typically includes a certain amount of SEO, but covers other efforts as well. See our SEO/SEM FAQ for more information.
A CMS is a Content Management System. In the olden days, web sites were created one page at a time, and each page was completely contained in its own file. If you wanted to change a menu item that appeared at the top of every page, you had to edit every page. If your site has five pages, this isn't so bad, but when it grows to a dozen or more, things get messy.
Content Management Systems make it possible to manage your content through a web interface, so you don't have to edit and upload files. They typically also offer useful editors, so a site owner can edit content without knowing HTML. They also separate the content, which is unique to each page, from the design and navigation of the site; so once you have your overall design in place, you can add and edit pages and content without needing a programmer or designer.
Two of the best CMSs available today are Drupal and Wordpress. Wordpress is primarily a blogging platform. Modules have been created which allow it to do many other things, but the main focus is blogging. So if your site's main feature will be a blog or any sort of regularly updated news stream, Wordpress is a great choice.
Drupal is a more general CMS, which includes modules for blogging, but also for just about everything else you might want to put on a web site. A fairly simple Drupal site is the one I did for St. Rose of Lima Church. It has an event calendar, blocks of information that show up on each page, a news section that automatically shows the latest news items, a photo gallery, and a few other pages. All those things are done with drop-in Drupal modules, and occasionally a little tweaking to get things just right. If I'd had to do all that 10 years ago, it would have meant patching together several different programs, and maybe creating some from scratch, and it would have been an exponentially bigger project.
Wordpress and Drupal are both open-source, free software. Many web hosting services provide one or both of them as options.
There are also specialized CMSs, like E-commerce platforms designed specifically for managing online catalogs. Many of these are open-source as well.
We like to keep our sites clean and clear, easy to use and navigate. It's no accident that Google became the top search engine out there, with a home page that's little more than a logo and one search field. Just as with paper documents, it's important to balance text, graphics, and white space to present the information visitors are looking for without overwhelming or confusing them.
Of course, that still leaves a lot of room for variation, and most owners won't want a site as stark as Google, so we always try to design to our client's wishes. Ideally, we like clients to point out 3-4 sites that they particularly like the looks of, to give us an idea what kind of look and feel we're going for. Matching the aesthetics you like to the functionality your site needs is the key.
Over the years, we've administered a variety of Unix and Unix-like systems, including SunOS, HP-UX, NextStep, Domain/OS, SCO Unix, and others. In recent years, we've concentrated on the open source *nixes, Linux (RedHat ES, Ubuntu, Slackware, Mandriva, Fedora, etc.) and the BSDs, especially FreeBSD. They're all similar enough that we can work with any of them.
We offer full administration of any such systems, from installing services to troubleshooting and security.
We can set up firewalls, both on servers themselves and on Cisco routers. We can test your server from the outside, to see if it has any exploitable security holes, and then plug those. We can monitor the programs you're using, and inform you as soon as security updates are released for them, and install them for you.
And if your system or web site has already been compromised, we can clean it up and do everything possible to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Lots of different Unix tools come into play, but some of the things we use every day are:
- Firefox for web browsing (We just use IE when we need to make sure it displays a site correctly).
- Digital Image Pro and Gimp for image editing.
- Emacs and vi for editing files. Mostly vi for quick edits and emacs for longer programming sessions, or long files like this one.
- Qmail is my preferred mail server, though I'll work with any of them.
- FreeBSD is my favorite server platform.
- I particularly like the DJB tools for things like DNS and server logging.
- Apache with PHP and/or mod_perl for web servers.
- MySQL for databases. I know it's probably not the best SQL server out there, but it's the one 99% of programs are written for, so a web server almost has to have it.
I didn't list a web page editor like Dreamweaver, because I've never seen one that didn't cause more trouble than it was worth. Rather than creating pages in a supposed WYSIWYG editor that does who-knows-what to your HTML code, you're much better off today using a CMS with a good design, and then creating your content within that.
I (Aaron) started working with Unix in 1994, and writing perl programs and creating web sites in 1995. Most of the tools we use today didn't exist back then, so it's been a constant learning process to keep up. I've been administering servers and web sites and writing programs for them ever since.