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Authoring and Design for the WWW


The future: the Web is changing

HTML is successful because it is (more or less) standardised across computer platforms and international boundaries. However, it is limited in its functions, and many people have ambitions to make it more complex. It is to be hoped that this does not lead to the sort of counter-productive format war from which computing and other technologies have suffered so much in the past, but sadly there are signs that this is happening.

Transparent HTML

HTML may underpin the Web, and currently it may be necessary for publishers to see it and edit its codes, but this need not remain so. Postscript is a page formatting language which is sent by computers to output devices such as printers and imagesetters, but few people have ever seen let alone edited any Postscript. This is because textual and graphical software packages offer visual and interactional means to users of specifying what they want, and the package then generates the Postscript code to produce the specified output. Development of similar tools for Web pages is already well advanced, but it is to be hoped that the advantages of HTML's functional description model do not get cast aside in the process, leaving the specification of Web pages as just another graphical layout tool, where none of the smartness of the computer which HTML uses is available.

Style sheets

We have said several times that HTML currently fails to provide the control over document appearance that many publishers want. The least controllable aspects are fonts and layout. Initiatives supported by the World Wide Consortium (see Web Resources) are working on solutions to both these problems. A key aims is that, by attaching style sheets to the structured documents of the web (e.g. HTML), authors and readers can influence the presentation of documents without sacrificing device-independence or adding new HTML tags.' Netscape, Adobe and Microsoft all claim to support this attempt to develop a common way of integrating style sheets into the Web's hypertext documents.' For up to date information refer to the Consortium's page under Style and Fonts.

Multimedia on the Web

The Web has gone from being predominantly text-based two years ago to a position where graphics are normal and other media types are rapidly being integrated into the browser surface. Any media type we can think of from sound, to 3D simulations, to live two-way video, is capable of being incorporated into the Web, the only impediment being the limitations of 1 the bandwidth of the networks and 2 the processing power of servers and users' machines.

The disappearing browser

It is becoming obvious that the conceptual divide between information which is locally resident on a user's computer, and information which is on the Web, is breaking down. Packages which hitherto ignored the Web are acquiring Web-retrieval capabilities, and operating systems are in development which either treat the Web as an extension of the desktop, or vice- versa. Whereas now browsers are major software packages which are supplemented by plug-ins to support specialised functions, it seems likely that this metaphor will be reversed, and that the browsing facilities of computers will themselves be plug-ins to other major activities.

The network computer

A related metaphorical shift is that from the model of the computer' being the box on the desk, connected to a network which is outside' it, to the network computer model, in which the computer' is the distributed power of the computing services at the user's disposal at any one time, regardless of where they are. An analogy might be to question whether using the phone' really means using the appliance on the desk, or using the telephone service to which it gives access. Java is the programming language most associated with this conceptual shift, since networking is inherent in it rather than supplementary.

Virtual environments

Another area of rapid growth is virtual reality. The VR equivalent of HTML is VRML, or Virtual Reality Modelling Language. By analogy with HTML, it aims to achieve cross-platform, trans-national standards for the specification and delivery of three-dimensional models on computer. It may offer some very important advantages over two-dimensional texts and other artefacts, but the discussion is beyond the scope of this handbook.
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