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With HTML Complete, Second Edition, you'll learn all about Web publishing—working with HTML, designing pages, and using page components—and you'll quickly take advantage of all that HTML has to offer. Get up to speed with HTML, ...
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Web designers and web developers today play many different roles, and need a tool kit with a wide variety of skills. Designing and creating a website includes both technical skills and design skills, as well as an overall knowledge of how the web and web technologies work. In this chapter, you will learn some fundamental principles of design and information architecture for the web and be introduced to the history of the web and the development of HTML.
If you were to venture to your local bookstore, you would find that web design books are for the most part split into two separate sections: tools/technology and design. Why is this? Aren't design issues important to those learning web design tools? Absolutely! Unfortunately, most tool-specific books on web design are just that: tool-specific. Readers buy them to learn about a specific program. Many people have difficulty seeing that the tool itself is just the beginning of web design. It's something you use to realize the creations that, if you've done your job right, have already been completed in your head and on paper.
This paper and brain production (sometimes referred to as predigital production) is the web design topic that appears in those other books in the other part of your local bookstore's computer section. What's the big deal about big picture web design issues anyway? It is that your website will sink or swim based on its design (a general term that covers many different issues that will be discussed in this chapter). As a result, even if you are focusing on a specific tool, it's a good idea to at least have a primer in the basics of web design.
This chapter is an introduction to the big picture of web design issues; there is no way that I could cover everything you need to know in one chapter. However, this chapter, which is part web history lesson and part web design starter, should give you a basic introduction to web design, along with an idea of what you might want to explore further on your own. At the very least, it will introduce you to some of the most important design issues, so that you don't inadvertently make a major blunder when you are building your HTML creation.
How the Web Works
As early as the 1940s, computers were seen to be instruments to manage and distribute huge amounts of information. Douglas Engelbart, upon reading Vannevar Bush's famous 1945 Atlantic Monthly article "As We May Think," noted that "If these machines [could] show you information on printouts, they could show you that information on a screen." Further, he saw a link between the TV-like interface and the information processor as a medium for representing symbols. An individual could steer through different information spaces, viewing data and graphics in different ways. Most importantly, however, was the fact that Engelbart saw the expansion of the medium into a theater-like environment in which one could sit with colleagues and exchange information simultaneously on many levels. The realization of these ideas, however, did not come to fruition for some 44 years.
Why should a humble web designer or web developer care about the roots of the web? In order to better understand the medium in which you'll be working, it's helpful to have at least a cursory idea as to how it all came about. After all, most traditional artists (whether they are painters, printmakers, or sculptors) benefit from a solid understanding of the particular form in which they are working.
This section of the chapter will start off with a brief exploration of how the web got started. From there, we'll move on to how Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the lifeblood of the web, works. Finally, we'll finish off this section with a brief look at the web as it exists today.
Not So Humble Beginnings
Originally developed as an initiative of the Defense Agency Research Projects Administration (DARPA) in partnership with several prestigious universities and research institutions, the Internet, which at that time was called ARPAnet, was a prototype communication system designed to withstand the inevitable electromagnetic pulse generated by a thermonuclear attack. It wasn't long before ARPAnet spawned a sister network for the research community, supported and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Called the NSFnet, the network soon found its way into most universities around the world.
For all of its technological wonder, however, NSFnet was little more than an obscure scientific endeavor. NSFnet, which ultimately became known as the Internet, required adeptness at cryptic computer programs and obscure protocols. Even if one mastered the necessary skills to take advantage of the Internet, where to go and what to do was pretty puzzling, and it wasn't useful for much other than e-mailing.
At its height, NSFnet was a massive library of some of the most advanced information on the planet. The problem rested on the fact that it was extremely difficult to identify and locate a given source of information. It was akin to walking down each isle of an enormous library in the dark and scanning each book to figure out what was available. Once you found something relevant to your needs, you had to "read" (that is, download) the entire book rather than browse just the parts that were of interest to you. Worse still, once found, a piece of information often referred to another valuable source without providing the means to locate it.
In 1989, tired of the perpetual hunt and peck of the Internet, a researcher named Tim Berners-Lee at the CERN atomic research center in Switzerland proposed software and protocols that would enable computers to browse the information contained on the NSFnet. This one event irrevocably changed the nature of how this global computer network was used.
CERN stands for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucleaire.
Berners-Lee's software (dubbed a browser) and protocols created the ability to browse information easily and navigate not only different documents on the same computer, but documents on other computers. Key to the technology was the concept of hyperlinks, which were highlighted words or symbols the user could click and be transported to the next "page" in the sequence. Berners-Lee's Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) made hyperlinks possible.
Within months of the release of the early version of the web browser developed by Berners-Lee, web software spread throughout the research community like wildfire. By July 1993, more than 130 servers were web enabled.
Shortly thereafter, a small group of students at the University of Illinois, among them Marc Andreessen (who later founded Netscape), took it upon themselves to rectify many of the shortcomings of the very primitive prototype web browser available to the public. Most significant among their accomplishments was the addition of a graphical user interface (GUI) to what had been mostly text-based software and the adaptation of the browser, enabling it to function on the Windows operating system. Following this, there was an incredible jump in the number of websites-a phenomenon that can be directly correlated with the release of the first version of the University of Illinois NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) Mosaic web browser (see Figure 1.1).
The rest, as they say, is history. NCSA Mosaic changed everything. Not only did the web become graphical, but it became accessible way beyond the academic community. Not long after Mosaic's introduction, Andreessen, along with five others, left the University of Illinois to found the Mosaic Communications Corporation, which later became the Netscape Communications Corporation, one of the first truly commercial web software ventures. Before you could say "holy alleged antitrust, Batman," Microsoft got in on the action, and thus begun the browser wars. However, before we discuss these and other browser-related design issues, there is some additional ground that needs to be covered in this section.
HTML: The Lifeblood of the Web
As mentioned earlier, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) was one of the things that made the web possible. In reality, HTML is not a computer language such as C++ or Pascal; it is a system for describing documents. A plain text document is "marked up" using a series of commands called tags (see Figure 1.2). A browser interprets the HTML document and displays it.
The fact that an HTML document is plain text is significant for a couple of reasons. First, because plain text can be interpreted by any platform (IBM, Macintosh, and UNIX), HTML is truly cross platform and universal. Second, because HTML is plain text, it can be written using the simplest of programs (such as Windows' Notepad or Mac's SimpleText).
The first incarnation of HTML (version 1) allowed very basic page layout, including font size, hyperlinks, and embedding of graphics. It is important to remember that HTML 1 was the standard only insofar as the first popular browser, Mosaic, was designed to interpret it. It wasn't until more browsers appeared on the market that a standard version of HTML was defined. As various versions of HTML were proposed and adopted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C, an organization that develops web standards), the language became more powerful. The inclusion of new layout features, such as frames and tables, allowed greater options for the development of web pages. In addition, image maps and new graphics formats increased the integration of images and basic interactivity.
The most recent version of HTML (version 4.01), which has been dubbed Dynamic HTML (DHTML), has some very exciting features that give web designers a lot more freedom than they previously experienced. Although each successive version of HTML offered unparalleled opportunities for publishing hypertext documents, the medium was not as malleable as many would have liked. HTML documents were far more difficult to lay out than traditional print documents. In HTML, text could be arranged only in a limited number of ways, making it hard to create a compelling visual experience. In addition, the way HTML treated graphics made it difficult to lay out a document. Finally, the interactivity in HTML documents was limited to the actual hypertext. It was not until the release of Dynamic HTML that many of these problems were solved.
Strictly speaking, Dynamic HTML is really just the most recent version of HTML. The difference, which is relatively substantial, comes from two primary new features: Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and the capability to integrate scripting languages more efficiently with HTML.
If you are particularly interested in learning how to create Dynamic HTML, see Chapter 18, "Bringing Pages to Life with DHTML and XHTML."
CSS lets the designer precisely define fonts, margins, line spacing, and other elements of an HTML document. Unlike HTML, in which fonts could be defined in only four sizes, DHTML allows type to be defined in point size. In addition, CSS allows designers to specify x and y coordinates to achieve exact positioning of elements within a document. Further, much like traditional print documents made with Adobe PageMaker or QuarkXPress, elements can be stacked one upon another by defining their position with z coordinates. Simply put, CSS gives designers the opportunity to lay out web pages with a greater degree of accuracy, enables much more control over how a document will appear in a browser, and provides for the stacking and composition of text and images.
The word element has a specific meaning when we talk about markup languages such as HTML and XHTML. An element in HTML and XHTML is used to define a structure in a document, for example, p is an HTML/XHTML element that defines a paragraph structure. For more details on using elements in HTML and XHTML, see Chapters 2 and 3.
Offered up by the W3C in January 2000, XHTML, a synthesis of HTML and XML, is the heir apparent to HTML. For more information on XHTML, go to www .oreillynet.com/pub/a/network/2000/04/28/feature/xhtml_rev.html.
Waiter, There's a Fly in My Soup
How does the web work? Without getting too crazy and technical, you can think of the web as a fancy restaurant.
Let's start off with a brief exploration, in very dry terms, of how the web works, and then we'll bring in the restaurant thing. It's important to know that the web works on what is called a client/server relationship. A client, the web browser in this case, is software that runs on a local computer that communicates with a server in another location. The other half of the equation is the server, which is a computer that performs tasks for other computers, such as sending out e-mail. When you type a URL into a browser (or click a hyperlink), two separate technologies (HTTP and TCP/IP) are used to send a request to a router. The router, which is a piece of hardware that sits between the user's computer and the web server, looks at the request and decides to which web server (there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, in the world) it should be sent. The server examines it, decides (based on the URL itself) which document is being requested, locates and retrieves the document from somewhere within its directory structure, and sends it back along the route from which the request came. On the way back, the router makes sure the requested document is sent to the client that originally made the request. The last leg happens when the client (the web browser) receives the requested document and displays it for the user's reading (or viewing) pleasure. That's the basics of how the web works.
A little confused? Don't worry; even a description as stripped down as this can be a tad perplexing. This is where the restaurant analogy comes into the picture. Imagine if you were to walk into one of your favorite restaurants and were seated at your favorite table. You peruse the menu and decide upon a delectable soup to start your meal. You put down the menu and signal your waiter. When he comes to your table, you say, "Good evening my good man, I would like to start off with a bowl of gazpacho, please." He nods his head, quickly moves to the kitchen and hands the order to the head chef, who gives the order to one of his newest chefs (it is only a bowl of soup). After a while, the soup is made. From there, it is handed back to the head chef, who hands it to the waiter, who takes it to your table, where you sit back and enjoy the beginning of a lovely meal.
Let's recap: You tell the waiter what you want to eat-that is, you type a URL into a browser. From there, the browser/waiter sends your request to the head waiter, who fulfills a task not unlike a router, making sure the request gets to the proper place. After your request/order has been passed on to the appropriate chef/server, it is fulfilled and handed back to the router/head chef, who then hands it back to the waiter/browser, who finally gives it to you for consumption. Make a little more sense?
We left off in our history of the World Wide Web somewhere in 1994. Netscape Communications Corporation had just released the first version of Netscape, affectionately nicknamed Mozilla. Not long after that, wanting to get in on the action, Microsoft released Internet Explorer, which quickly became Netscape's primary competitor. In addition, around the same time, Sun Microsystems developed a browser called HotJava, and America Online (AOL) developed one called the AOL browser.
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|Pt. I||Introducing HTML||1|
|Ch. 1||Introduction to Web Design||3|
|Ch. 2||Getting Acquainted with HTML and XHTML||29|
|Ch. 3||Creating Your First HTML or XHTML Document||59|
|Ch. 4||Stepping Out: Linking Your Way Around the Web||101|
|Ch. 5||Publishing Your (X)HTML Documents||133|
|Ch. 6||Planning for a Usable, Maintainable Website||153|
|Pt. II||Planning and Designing Your Web Page||195|
|Ch. 7||Formatting the Body Section of Your Pages||197|
|Ch. 8||Dividing a Window with Frames||235|
|Ch. 9||Layout Technology||269|
|Ch. 10||Adding Graphics||299|
|Ch. 11||Presenting Information in Tables||333|
|Ch. 12||Web Typography||381|
|Pt. III||Advanced HTML||417|
|Ch. 13||Optimizing Your Web Pages for Internet Explorer||419|
|Ch. 14||Optimizing Your Web Pages for Netscape Navigator||445|
|Ch. 15||Including Multimedia||463|
|Ch. 16||Using Style Sheets||487|
|Ch. 17||Developing Forms||541|
|Ch. 18||Bringing Pages to Life with Dynamic HTML and XHTML||587|
|Ch. 19||XHTML: HTML Goes XML||613|
|Ch. 20||Introduction to XML||627|
|Ch. 21||Fundamentals of XML||635|
|App. A||HTML and XHTML Elements and Attributes||649|
|App. B||Cascading Style Sheets Reference||863|
Posted July 18, 2004
This is an excellent book to learn all about web publishing. Any one can quickly learn all about HTML tags, adding graphics,formating a Web page, creating forms etc.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 26, 2000
Posted April 18, 2000
Posted April 11, 2000