Network: Web design

What's new with HTML 4.0? Well, to be honest, almost nothing. Nothing, that is, that you probably haven't already been using to design Web pages for months or years.

It's no big secret: HTML is not a designer's dream come true, and the latest incarnation, HTML 4.0, doesn't really do much to change this. In fact, in many ways, HTML 4.0 is two steps backwards to take a small step forward for designers.

HTML was originally conceived by scientists to display technical research and papers and share them with other researchers around the world. Kind of a universal word processing document but with little of the control that designers demand.

Gradually, new tags have been added that allow designers more and more control over the appearance of documents - things such as tables, frames, justification controls and JavaScript. But what designers can't do with HTML they have to hack together using graphics. Not a very elegant system.

Part of the problem is that HTML itself is a moving target. There is the "official" HTML as defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (http://www.w3.org), and then there are the Netscape and Microsoft versions, euphemistically referred to as "extensions" to HTML. These extensions, created by the two big browser makers, are what have given HTML its design power in the past. But these different versions are either incompatible or work differently, depending on the browser, the platform, and, apparently, the phase of Mars's largest moon.

This is where HTML 4.0 comes in to the picture. Released a little over a month ago, it sets forth the new official version of HTML. The good news is that both browser manufacturers have agreed, at least in principle, to use this new specification when constructing their next generation (5.0) of browsers.

What's new with HTML 4.0? Well, to be honest, almost nothing. Nothing, that is, that you probably haven't already been using to design Web pages with for months or years. In fact, the only unfamiliar tags you will find are mostly for dealing with grouping different types of data together (form, table, list) and providing disabled and international access to Web content, which is, although important, of arguable use to designers. Oh, and the new designation for hypertext references is URI (Universal Resource Identifier) as opposed to the more specific term URL, which is just for Web addresses.

So why the 4.0 designation? Well, besides the fact that the computer industry just loves new numeric designations, HTML 4.0 finally incorporates and standardises many of those great extensions that we've all been using for years. Things like frames, inline-frames, embedded objects and the tag.

Many of the design-related HTML tags, if not abandoned by the new standard, are slated to be made redundant. But there is a method to this madness. The HTML spec now also includes Cascading Style Sheets, a standard that had previously been separate, for controlling the appearance of the content which is laid out using HTML. If you don't know about Cascading Style Sheets, drop whatever you are doing - after finishing this article - and go to the Web Design Group's CSS reference (http://www.htmlhelp. com/reference/css) to find out what's going on.

The W3's thinking is this: style sheets should be used to "relieve HTML of the responsibilities of presentation". Translation: "Don't bug us with requests for HTML tags to do layout, use style sheets instead."

And that's probably a good idea. It means that anybody can use HTML tags regardless of whether they are Jo Web Designer or not. But Jo can reassign standard HTML tags to do whatever she wants them to do.

So this all means that you can use CSS, frames and embedded objects safe in the knowledge that it's all official now. Right? Well, almost. The problem this time is that the standard has leap-frogged the current browsers, and neither Navigator nor Explorer actually implement HTML code in their browsers exactly as standardised by the W3.

Fortunately for Microsoft, due to lucky timing, Internet Explorer is closest to full HTML 4.0 compatibility. The HTML 4.0 committee was still deciding whether to have cream-filled or jam-filled doughnuts for breakfast when Navigator 4.0 was released early last spring. But the final roughs of the report were released when Explorer 4.0 hit the market last fall. So the minds in Redmond were able to tweak their code to make it fall in line. The thing is that, despite Bill Gates's best efforts, a lot of us still use Navigator. So, if you want to stay cross-browser compatible, you will have to hold your breath a bit longer before embracing HTML 4.0.

The official HTML 4.0 spec can be found at http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40- 971218. Comments, questions, and gripes about this column should be sent to: mshadow@dircon.co.uk

Jason Cranford Teague is the author of `How to Program HTML Frames: Interface Design with JavaScript' (pounds 37.50, Macmillan).

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'