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Authoring and Design for the WWW
PRINCIPLES AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS
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.
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.
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'
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
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.
Virtual Environments Visualisation