I am most familiar with Tripod and Geocities. Also, you can contact your internet provider to see if they will give you a free web site.
It's a personal choice. For beginners I recommend using the quick page or basic page under Tripod or Geocities. No HTML is required. This way you can get your page up and running in a short time. I feel learning HTML is just as easy as learning how to use an editor. You can find HTML Tutorials on my "Home Page for Dummies" page. Also, if you want to learn an editor, you can download Netscape Gold 3.0 free. If you want to purchase an editor I have read MS Frontpage and Claris Home Page are very good ones.
There are many places on the web to get clip art. You don't have to create your own backgrounds and animated gifs. Make sure there is no copyright on what you are copying. Right click on a background or image you like. Save it to your hard drive. Then go to the upload part of your server. Choose the correct file and click on upload. Then type in the appropriate code in your web page. Voila! For graphics try Carol's Clip Art or The Clip Art Connection.
If you are using the quick page, you will probably only upload images. In Tripod (housekeeper) or Geocities (file manager) there is a spot to upload. You browse your files, choose the one you want to upload, click on submit or upload. If you are using HTML code you have more flexibility and can upload backgrounds and animated gifs too. You can also write your entire page in an editor and upload the finished page to your site.
You can buy a scanner, digital camera, or have Seattle Filmworks develop your prints. If you buy a scanner there are many different kinds. I think Easy Photo has been recommended and is relatively inexpensive. I have a UMAX SuperVista S-12. You can go to Kinko's and have them put your images on disk. Digital cameras are nice. I don't have one but they can get images into your computer. Seattle Filmworks is a relatively cheap alternative but they provide slow service at times. All graphics take up space on your hard drive and your web site. Also, your site can be slow to load if you have lots of graphics. Pictures should be scanned at 72 dpi and try for a file size of 30K or smaller, save to low resolution. You can purchase extra space from your server if you need it.
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