Preparing for the Future of HTML
Almost everything you have learned in this guide is
likely to work flawlessly with HTML-compatible software for many years to come. There are
tens of millions of pages of information written in standard HTML, and even as that
standard evolves, tomorrow's Web browsers and business software will retain the capability
to view today's Web pages.
Some of the most exciting applications of HTML,
however, are still rapidly developing. This chapter introduces the latest HTML extensions
and helps you understand what these new capabilities will enable you to do.
You won't see any screen shots in this chapter,
because future Web browsers obviously don't exist yet. What you read here is, however,
based on "inside information" and prerelease copies of Microsoft Internet
Explorer 4.0 and Netscape Navigator 4.0. To Do: When this chapter was written,
"now" meant early 1997. Because you are living in "the future," you
can check to make sure my crystal ball wasn't too cloudy.
- Your best source for the latest HTML standards (and
proposed future standards) is the World Wide Web Consortium site:
- To see how the standards are actually implemented in
the latest Web browsers, and to see what nonstandard HTML extensions may be available,
visit the Microsoft and Netscape Web sites:
You can also get copies of the latest Web browser
updates from these two Web sites.
HTML as the
User Interface of the Future
The computer was once considered a device for
accounting and number crunching. Then it evolved into a device for crunching all types of
information, from words and numbers to graphics and sounds. Today and tomorrow, the
computer is above all a communications device; its primary use is the transmission of
information between people.
As the role of the computer evolves, HTML is
becoming more and more central to nearly everything we do with computers. HTML is the
global standard for connecting text, graphics, and other types of information together in
a predictable and presentable way.
The "Web browser" as a distinct program is
rapidly disappearing. Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0, for instance, does much more than
retrieve pages from the World Wide Web. It lets you use HTML pages as the interface for
organizing and navigating through the information on your own computer, including
directory folders and the Windows desktop itself. In conjunction with HTML-enabled
software like Office 97, HTML becomes the common standard interface for word processing,
spreadsheets, and databases as well.
The new Netscape Communicator 4.0 is also much more
than a Web browser. It uses HTML to integrate all types of media into e-mail, discussion
groups, schedule management, business documents, and collaborative project management.
Meanwhile, HTML support is being included in every
major software release so that every program on your computer will soon be able to import
and export information in the form of HTML pages. In a nutshell, HTML is the
"glue" that holds together all the diverse types of information on our computers
and ensures that it can be presented in a standard way that will look the same to everyone
in the world.
The New HTML
The bad news is that HTML as it exists today is
poorly suited for the enormous role that history has handed it to take on. Because it was
designed for the much more modest job of linking together documents on yesterday's
Internet, it doesn't let you do many of the things that a "universal information
glue" obviously ought to do.
The good news is that the next version of HTML will
include a number of essential capabilities specifically designed for the many roles that
HTML now plays. The new HTML will let you
- Keep "style sheet" information, such as
fonts, colors, background graphics, and detailed typographical specifications, separate
from the contents of individual documents.
- Allow fonts to be attached to documents so that
everyone will always see the document in the correct font.
- Position text, graphics, and any other visible
element precisely where you want them to go with x,y pixel coordinates.
- Place multiple layers of information on top of each
other, with the front elements automatically covering those further back.
- Include almost any conceivable type of information or
program in a document with one standard <OBJECT> tag. This will include
images, image maps, multimedia, applets, ActiveX controls, three-dimensional virtual
reality scenes, and anything else that comes along.
to Chapter 20, "Scripting, Applets, and ActiveX") will allow programmers to
control all of the previously mentioned features for dynamic interaction. For example, a
individual user's viewing window. The latest round of HTML viewing software also includes
more robust security and better support for streaming multimedia.
In addition to the new HTML features listed here,
the proposed platform for Internet content selection (PICS) standard provides a highly
flexible way for the content of any page to be rated according to any criteria that a
rating authority or individual user might select. Restricting access to adult-oriented or
confidential information is one of many applications.
Just A Minute: You can read more about style
sheets and new advances in font technology under "The Future of Web Fonts"
section in Chapter 6, "Font Control and Special Characters." More information on
streaming multimedia, interactive programming, and uses for the new <OBJECT>
tag can be found in Chapter 19, "Embedding Multimedia in Web Pages," and Chapter
The most important changes in the next few years may
not be in HTML itself, but in the audience you can reach with your HTML pages. Many Web
site developers hope that Internet-based content will have enough appeal to become the
mass-market successor to television and radio. Less optimistic observers note that the Web
has a long way to go before it can even deliver television-quality video to most users.
I won't pretend to have a magic mirror that lets me
see how and when HTML becomes a mass-market phenomenon. But one thing is certain: all
communication industries, from television to telephony, are moving rapidly toward
exclusively digital technology. As they do so, the lines between communication networks
are blurring. New Internet protocols promise to optimize multimedia transmissions at the
same time that new protocols allow wireless "broadcasters" to support two-way
interactive transmissions. The same small satellite dish can give you both Internet access
and high-definition TV.
Add to this trend the fact that HTML is the only
widely supported worldwide standard for combining text content with virtually any other
form of digital media. Whatever surprising turns the future of digital communication
takes, it's difficult to imagine that HTML won't be sitting in the driver's seat.
What You Can
Do Today to Be Ready for Tomorrow
If you've made your way through most of the chapters
of this guide, you already have one of the most important ingredients for future success in
the online world: a solid working knowledge of HTML.
Here are some of the other factors you should
consider when planning and building your Web site today, so that it will also serve you
- The multimedia and interactive portions of your site
are likely to need more revisions to keep up with current technology than the text and
graphics portions. When possible, keep the more "cutting-edge" parts of your
site separate, and take especially good care to document them well with the <COMMENT>
tag. (See Chapter 22, "HTML Tags for Site Management.")
- Though new technologies like Java and Shockwave may
be the wave of the future, avoid them today, except when you absolutely need the unique
features they provide. Even when everyone is using the new 33Kbps and 56Kbps modems, many
people will still move on to a different site before they'll wait for an applet or
interactive movie to download, initialize, and start working. (See Chapter 19 and Chapter
- Because style sheets will soon give you complete
control over the choice and measurements of type on your Web pages, it would be a good
idea to study basic typography now, if you aren't familiar with it. Understanding and
working with things like leading, kerning, em spaces, and drop caps has long been
essential for producing truly professional-quality paper pages. It will soon be essential
for producing outstanding Web pages, too.
- One of the most popular and important features that
will be added to many Web sites in the near future is interactive discussions and work
groups. If you only have time to evaluate one new technology, that might be the one to
pick. The new Netscape Communicator 4.0 package has especially strong support for group
collaboration and communication.
- When you design and lay out your pages, keep in mind
that you will soon be able to position graphics more precisely than you can today. So for
now, put them approximately where you want them to go and document in the comments where
you would place them if you could specify a more exact position.
- You will soon be able to layer images and text on top
of each other and choose fonts for text more reliably. That means that many things that
you need large images for today you will be able to do much more efficiently with several
small image elements and custom fonts tomorrow. Always keep copies of each individual
image element that goes into a larger graphic, without any text. This will let you easily
optimize the graphics later without recreating everything from scratch. (See Chapter 10,
"Creating Web Page Images," and Chapter 14, "Page Design and Layout.")
- When you design your pages, don't assume that
everyone who sees them will be using a computer. Televisions, video-telephones, game
consoles, and many other devices may have access to them as well. Some of these devices
have very low resolution screens (with as few as 320x200 pixels). Though it's difficult to
design a Web page to look good at that resolution, you'll reach the widest possible
audience if you do.
- Whenever you run into something that you'd like to do
on a Web page, but can't with HTML as it stands today, include a comment in the page so
you can add that feature when it becomes possible in the future.
In addition to providing an easy way to review all
the sample pages and HTML techniques covered in this guide, it offers many links to other
great HTML resources and a few tricks and tips that this guide didn't have room for. As a
way of refreshing your knowledge of all that you've learned in this guide, you might walk
through the development of the 24-Hour HTML Café site again. The pages named cafe1.asp
through cafe22.asp show that development process, step by step.
This chapter has provided a bird's-eye view of the
future of HTML. It discussed the new roles that HTML will play in global communications as
well as the specific extensions of the HTML standard that are now planned. Finally, it
offered some advice for planning and constructing Web pages today that will continue to
serve you well into the future.
- Q So what is the difference between "digital
communication" and other communication, anyway? Does "digital" mean it uses
A When information is transferred as distinct bits of information, which are
essentially numbers, it's called digital. It's much easier to store, retrieve, and process
information without losing or changing it when it is transferred digitally. Any
information from a computer (including HTML) is by its nature digital, and in the
not-too-distant future, telephone, television, radio, and even motion picture production
will be digital.
Q I've heard about this new kind of disk called DVD. Is it suitable for Web pages?
A Yes. The new digital versatile disk (DVD) standard will provide a minimum of 4,700
megabytes (4.7 gigabytes) of storage, and can transfer data to a computer at least twice
as fast as today's 6x CD-ROM drives. That will make DVD an excellent way to deliver
multimedia Web pages.
Q How soon can I start designing Internet Web pages that aren't limited by what I
can transfer over a 28.8Kbps modem?
A That depends on who you want to read your pages. There will be millions of 28.8Kbps
modems (and the marginally faster 33.6Kbps and 56Kbps modems) in use for many years to
come. But more and more people will have 128Kbps ISDN lines, 400Kbps satellite dishes, and
1Mbps (1,000Kbps) or faster cable, "copper-optic," and wireless connections,
too. Before long, the number of 1.4Mbps users will just about match the number of 14.4Kbps
users. That difference of 100x in speed will lead more and more Web page publishers to
offer separate "high speed" and "low speed" sites.
Q Man, I'm ashamed of you for not mentioning VRML in a chapter about the future of the
Internet! What gives?
A Hey everyone, did I mention that interactive, immersive three-dimensional worlds
will be the future of the Internet? Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) 2.0 is the
current standard for making it happen, and it's compatible with your Web browser today.
Unfortunately, VRML isn't quite ready for mass consumption and it's well beyond the scope
of this guide. But if you don't think it's going to change the world, think again. Go to http://www.vrml.org to read all about it.
- 1. List the five big changes to HTML that will
be supported by both Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 and Netscape Navigator 4.0.
2. What is PICS?
3. What types of information will you be able to include on a Web page in the future?
- 1. (a) Style Sheets (b) Automatically
downloading fonts (c) Exact positioning for graphics, text, and interactive elements (d)
Multiple overlapping layers (e) Use of the <OBJECT> tag to insert any
non-textual information on a page
2. The platform for Internet content selection, a proposed standard system for rating
Web pages by any criteria that a rating authority or individual publisher chooses.
3. The same types you can today: just about all of them! (It'll just be easier to
arrange and control them in the future.)
- Once you have your Web site online, I strongly
recommend that you take some time to review each chapter of this guide to pick up the parts
of HTML that you may have missed the first time around. Exploring the "Coffee
Break" and "Activities" sections that you might have skipped will help
build your HTML skills as well.
- This guide provides a solid foundation in all the HTML
tags commonly used by Web page authors today. Once you are familiar with those, any
information you find on the Internet about advanced uses of HTML will become much more
comprehensible and useful. An excellent place to start learning more about new HTML
advances and techniques is the Internet/HTML topic at Yahoo! (http://yahoo.com).