Preparing for the Future of HTML
Almost everything you have learned in this book 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
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
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
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
- 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.
Applets, and ActiveX") will allow programmers to control all of the previously
the fonts and positions of graphics to fit the size of an 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 20.
The Digital Media
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
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 book, 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 well tomorrow.
- 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 20.)
- 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
- 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.
Coffee Break: The completed 24-Hour HTML Café site is located at:
In addition to providing an easy way to review all the sample pages and HTML techniques
covered in this book, it offers many links to other great HTML resources and a few
tricks and tips that this book didn't have room for. As a way of refreshing your
knowledge of all that you've learned in this book, you might walk through the development
of the 24-Hour HTML Café site again. The pages named cafe1.htm through
cafe22.htm 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 HTML?
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
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 book. 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
- 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
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
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 book 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 book 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).