Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is an authoring tool that is used in creating Internet Web pages. When using HTML a block of text is surrounded with tags that indicate to an Internet browser how the text is to appear (for example, in bold face or italics). HTML is a collection of platform-independent styles (indicated by markup tags) that define the various components of a Web document. It is the preferred tool for creating Web pages because it is understood by all Internet browsers. Many Web designers who use HTML find it simple to learn and easy to use, because it offers a stripped-down approach to Web design that does not rely a lot on extraneous features. Another aspect of its popularity is its ability to deal quickly with bandwidth-friendly text documents.
Internet lingo is full of acronyms and buzzwords. When you consider what each letter in HTML stands for, it may be easier to understand exactly what it does and how it works.
As Joe Burns stated on www.htmlgoodies.com:
"Hyper is the opposite of linear. It used to be that computer programs had to move in a linear fashion. This before this, this before this, and so on. HTML does not hold to that pattern and allows the person viewing the World Wide Web page to go anywhere, any time they want.
"Text is what you will use. Real, honest to goodness English letters.
"Mark up is what you will do. You will write in plain English and then mark up what you wrote. More to come on that in the next Primer.
"Language because they needed something that started with "L" to finish HTML and Hypertext Markup Louie didn't flow correctly. Because it's a language, really—but the language is plain English.
THE HISTORY OF HTML
HTML, along with Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP) and uniform resource locator (URL), were created by Tim Berners-Lee in the latter part of the 1980s. Berners-Lee was collaborating in Switzerland at the CERN physics laboratory with another scientist by the name of Robert Calliau. When Berners-Lee was faced with the problem of organizing his notes, he created HTML to make the information accessible and easy to link.
At first, Berners-Lee was faced with the problem of only being able to use his creations on his own personal computer. In an article on Berners-Lee for Time magazine, Joshua Quittner asked the question: "But what if he wanted to add stuff that resided on someone else's computer? First he would need that person's permission, and then he would have to do the dreary work of adding the new material to a central database. An even better solution would be to open up his document—and his computer—to everyone and allow them to link their stuff to his. He could limit access to his colleagues at CERN, but why stop there? Open it up to scientists everywhere! Let it span the networks! In Berners-Lee's scheme there would be no central manager, no central database and no scaling problems. The thing could grow like the Internet itself, open-ended and infinite'¦. So he cobbled together a relatively easy-to-learn coding system—HTML—that has come to be the lingua franca of the Web. It's the way Web-content creators put those little colored, underlined links in text, add images, and so on."
Because of his accomplishments, Berners-Lee is considered the father of the World Wide Web and he has received many awards and accolades for his contributions to the world of computers and technology. Awards and accolades may be the only thing he received for his creations. As Quittner put it: "You'd think he would have at least got rich; he had plenty of opportunities. But at every juncture, Berners-Lee chose the non-profit road, both for himself and for his creation."
HOW HTML WORKS
HTML helps to define the structure of a Web page. It is useful to help set up paragraphs, headers, and default fonts so that a user can always read the text regardless of whether or not they have the font installed on their own personal computer. The acceptance of HTML by Web page designers has allowed them to think of a document as a way of accessing information, rather than a collection of static pages that can only be read when downloaded.
When someone types in a URL or clicks on a Web page link, the browser requests a document from a Web server via the Hypertext Transport Protocol, or HTTP. The server then sends the document back to the user, which is displayed on the browser. The things that the are contained in the document (text, photos, audio and video files, etc.) were all put there using HTML structure.
THE DRAWBACKS OF HTML
HTML is not a perfect tool for designing graphic-intensive sites or those that contain a large overall amount of information. The fact that the documents contained in a HTML structure are static pages does not make it the tool of choice for sites that contain animation, either. It is getting better in that department thanks to the development of different HTML extensions and other upgrades.
HTML also lacks the ability to create custom window sizes, compress files, and other standard navigational controls. Distribution size is also a crucial issue because the standard HTML file format is not suited for delivering a large amount of content over a network. In addition, an HTML programmer may have difficulty dealing with a large number of HTML and graphics files at once. Certain software does exist to help deal with all of these problems.
DYNAMIC HTML AND OTHER COMPETING TOOLS
Because of HTML's weaknesses in the area of graphics, dynamic HTML was created to enhance the capabilities in Web page design. As William R. Stanek stated in PC Magazine: "With dynamic HTML, you can create Web pages with eye-popping special effects, animation, and much more without relying on server-side scripts, database engines and hundreds of lines of complicated markup code. One of the key design goals in creating dynamic HTML was easing the complexities involved in interactive multimedia presentations on the Web. An important part of that goal was building the necessary support framework into the browser. The result is that you don't have to rely on controls, plug-ins, or other helper applications to achieve special effects, animation, or anything else that dynamic HTML enables."
Dynamic HTML allows Web page designers to create impressive graphics and animation with minimal coding. These features are visible to viewers almost instantaneously. As Stanek explained, "The key to dynamic HTML in both Internet Explorer and Navigator is a live update mechanism that allows a browser to modify sections of a Web page in the background. Once the page has been modified, the browser reformats it as necessary and displays the changes. Anyone viewing the page sees the updates instantly and doesn't have to wait for the browser to reload the page or access another page. The browser makes the changes without ever having to go back to the Web server for additional content."
In addition to dynamic HTML and other advancements in that area, there are several other tools that were designed to directly compete with HTML. One such tool is Java, which is hailed as a complete programming language, with many features that are compatible with other applications. Another innovation is eXtensible Markup Language (XML) that allows for the standardized exchange of information between computers. XML is being touted as the next big Internet standard, the heir apparent to the HTML throne. It is still an evolving tool that has a maximum potential which remains to be seen. Another tool known as XHTML is also being developed. It is a version of HTML that is based on XML.
HTML AND SMALL BUSINESS
If a small business owner intends to set up his own Web site, there are several steps to consider. First, the site should be carefully planned out, and its content should be determined. The Web site should be designed by a person with a strong sense of graphic design in order to make it visually appealing for the users. When the site enters the programming phase, a basic knowledge of HTML will come into play. If someone within the company is familiar with HTML, then he or she could easily do it. If not, a professional programmer should be called upon to lend his or her expertise. This person will then write the code around a text that the company provides and build the graphics and aspects of the Web site's structure.
The person doing the implementation of the HTML code should take into consideration the range of browsers and browser versions that exist. Since the Web site is a potentially important part of any company with an online presence, a knowledgeable programmer should be hired to do the design work. After the programming is done, a Web host should be chosen and efforts should be made to promote the site once it is posted on the Internet. Only through proper promotion will traffic to the site be generated.
Klein, Leo Robert. "The Joys of Interactivity." Library Journal. January 2000.
Quittner, Joshua. "Network Designer: Tim Berners-Lee. From Thousands of Interconnected Threads of the Internet, He Wove the World Wide Web and Created a Mass Medium for the 21st Century." Time. 29 March 1999.
Slocombe, Mike. "Construct a Foolproof Navigation System: Notch up more hits by helping visitors find their way around your site." Internet Magazine. October 2003.
Stanek, William R. "Creativity and Control." PC Magazine. 20 January 1998.