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Hour 24

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 pages.

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.



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 people.

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 way.

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

Enhancements to JavaScript, Java, and ActiveX (refer to Chapter 20, "Scripting, Applets, and ActiveX") will allow programmers to control all of the previously mentioned features for dynamic interaction. For example, a JavaScript might adjust 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 Revolution

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 high-definition TV.

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.

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?

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?

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?

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 speed" sites.

Q Man, I'm ashamed of you for not mentioning VRML in a chapter about the future of the Internet! What gives?

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.

Quiz Questions

1. List the five big changes to HTML that will be supported by both Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 and Netscape Navigator 4.0.

What is PICS?

What types of information will you be able to include on a Web page in the future?


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 page

The platform for Internet content selection, a proposed standard system for rating Web pages by any criteria that a rating authority or individual publisher chooses.

The same types you can today: just about all of them! (It'll just be easier to arrange and control them in the future.)