This report is also available as an Acrobat file.
Authoring and Design for the WWW
PRINCIPLES AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS
Evaluating interactive information technologies
We can apply our understanding of the difference between
functional description and fixed formatting to the selection of particular
technologies. Even though, as we shall see, we are increasingly able to combine
elements of different technologies, it is still necessary to understand their
differing characteristics in order to use each effectively.
Here we offer an evaluation of three interactive publishing
solutions. The specific conclusions of this evaluation will become out of date as
individual technologies develop. However the underlying principles and the
issues raised will not. Readers will make their own decisions about which of
these are appropriate to their circumstances.
- Platform independence
There is no excuse for making documents which only
work on a PC, on a Macintosh, under Unix etc. Most HEIs have a variety of
machines running various operating systems and HEIs should not perpetuate the
balkanisation of proprietary systems. A number of packages such as Toolbook
(Windows only) and HyperCard (Macintosh only) are immediately ruled out by
The cost of authoring systems is one part of the economic
issue. In addition, if a licence fee is payable for each copy of the document (for
example because a player' package is required in order to deliver the
document), then for a large number of users this will in itself become a
Assuming the user has access to a suitable computer, will
the reader software be certainly available on it? Will the documents themselves
be readily accessible?
- Ease of use
Will the authoring software be easy for the originator to
use, and the delivery software likewise for the reader?
- Functions available
Will the technology chosen be able to support the range of
functions required? For example, what are the facilities for hypertext linking;
for displaying video; for useful forms of interaction?
We consider here just three technologies: those of
Macromedia Director, Adobe Acrobat and HTML. Our comments on their
current suitability for interactive multimedia publishing should not be taken to
imply any opinion about their value for other purposes.
- MacroMedia Director
This is a comprehensive multimedia package allowing a
wide range of effects to be achieved. In Director the screen is a stage' on which
objects appear at their due time and perform' either under the control of the
package itself, or in response to the user's actions. Until 1995 Director was
irrelevant to the World Wide Web, being dedicated to local use on hard-disk or
CD-ROM, but the development of Shockwave changed this. By converting
Director movies to Shockwave, they can be made available as components of
Web pages. In addition, Director is acquiring the ability to itself retrieve data
from the Web. Director is available for Windows and Macintosh, plus players'
for some other systems.
There are several other authoring packages for interactive
multimedia, but Director is a comprehensive package widely used and in this
evaluation can to a certain extent stand in for all applications of this type.
- Adobe Acrobat
The original emphasis of Acrobat was the on-screen
presentation of documents which also existed or were intended to exist on
paper, but it is increasingly seen as a system for creating screen-based material.
Available for Windows, Macintosh, DOS, Unix.
Acrobat is not the only system of its kind. For example
Envoy claims technical superiority to Acrobat while offering a similar range of
functions. However, Adobe are such a powerful company that it must be
doubted if other similar solutions will acquire a sufficient number of users to
HTML is not a package, but a format for information
transfer. Browsers (readers) for HTML documents on the Web are available for
DOS, Windows, Macintosh, Unix and other platforms. Familiar examples are
Mosaic, Netscape, Internet Explorer.
HTML was described p24-28 and there is a description of
Acrobat in Appendix Three, p104-7.
Virtual Environments Visualisation