Web design: On the Web, yesterday's bleeding-edge technology is today's standard
Tuesday 24 March 1998
What was wrong with good old inches, feet and yards? These units were the standard for centuries. The problem was that the Imperial measurement system had some rather vague and arbitrary conversions between smaller and larger units - I can never remember how many yards in a mile - while the metric system allows you to convert from smaller to larger units quickly and efficiently. But despite the fact that most of Europe - and the world, for that matter - has switched to the new and improved system, there are several hold-outs in the world, most notably the US, who are stuck in a rut using the old standard and refusing to change.
This brings me to my point: standards are great, but if we didn't try to improve our standards we would all still be swinging from tree to tree, trying to figure out which one had the best bananas.
In the world of the Web, yesterday's bleeding-edge technology is today's standard. The stuff you complain about crashing your browser now may well be the accepted norm with the next browser release. That said, these things only become standards if we, the people creating for the Web, actually use them.
Consider frames and columns. Netscape introduced both of these tags a while back, hoping to give designers better control over layout. But while designers have embraced frames - since there was really nothing else that could do what they do - no one has really used the column tag because the table tag did a good enough job and most browsers supported it. Frames are now a part of the official HTML specification, but no one really remembers the column tag.
In last week's column, we looked at several of the current standards on the Web, but what about the future? Right now there are several standards coming out from the World Wide Web Consortium that will change the way you work with the Web. Although many of the abilities of these coming standards are either not yet available on the Web, or only in the 4.0 browsers, they are the ones to watch and be ready to use.
Cascading Style Sheets - Level 2 CSS2 picks up where CSS1 left off, improving on most of its features. Some of the exciting design improvements coming with CSS2 include the ability to set up different layouts for different output media (screen, printer, overhead projector, etc), the ability to control the appearance of the mouse cursor, and the ability easily to add sound to your document.
If this brief introduction has left you wanting more, never fear. Over the next few weeks we will be looking at some of the bleeding-edge technologies available on the Web, how to use them and ways to use the new technology without keeping older browsers out in the cold.
Jason Cranford Teague can be contacted at indy_webdesign @mindspring.com
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