Roll your own Web pages

by Alan Zisman (c) 1995. First published in Our Computer Player, May 1995

The HTML Sourcebook
by Ian S. Graham
John Wiley & Sons, Publishers
ISBN: 0-471-11849-4

Just a few years ago, the Internet was an obscure collection of university, government, and research lab computers, catering to a small group of academics and scientists. And within the Internet, the World Wide Web was an even more obscure corner, developed by Swiss physicists interested in sharing information with their peers.

Who would have imagined then that the WWW would be the cornerstone of and explosion of interest in the Internet-- making this an example of cyberspace poised that would seem poised to invade almost every corner of our lives?

Take a random issue of the Vancouver Sun newspaper, for example... on Saturday, April 1st, I found four mentions of the Internet-- none from traditional academic or scientific contexts. There was a real estate ad, proudly announcing their listings-- on the Internet. An article about a central address for Canadian business resources. An Internet site for information and demos of a soon-to-implimented fantasy world developed jointly by Fujitsu and CompuServe. And a star of TV's X-Files, faced with a female groupies, who discuss every bit of trivia of his life, on the Net.

Three of the four included World Wide Web pages.

It seems like every business, every school, every store, every art gallery, magazine, and record company, and a growing number of individuals either already has a World Wide Web home page, or is feverishly planning one.

What? You haven't posted your holiday photos and videos on the Web so the relatives can view them?

Ian Graham's THE HTML SOURCEBOOK is an approachable resource for anyone contemplating creating their own Web page.

HTML, short for Hypertext Markup Language, is text, coded with formatting hints and links to graphics, sounds, videos, and other Web pages. Add a pointer to a Web page on another computer a continent away, and a person viewing your page with a Web browser like Netscape or Mosaic is just a mouse click away from a near-instant jump to another country... HTML, along with URLs (Universal Resource Locators, the Web's standard addressing system) is the glue that makes the Web's magic possible.

From the book's title, you'd think you're getting a dry primer on the grammar of the language needed to create that. Instead, Graham does a fine job of putting HTML into a context-- what makes a good Web page, for example: a combination of good page design, and taking into account the needs of your readers-- the differences between various Web browsers and different platforms.

He does look at the grammar of the language, and at a wide range of helper applications-- programs developed to make it easier for users to create their own HTML documents.

He also looks at browsers for PCs and Macs, but also for Unix and NeXt, and yes, even for Amiga. Even the current generation, OS/2's Web Explorer, Netscape, and SlipKnot get a brief mention.

The book continues with issues about servers-- the machines that will eventually house your proud creation, and concludes with an analysis of several well-designed pages.

Inevitably, with something as fast-moving as the Internet and especially the Web, the long lead-time needed to produce a book means that by the time it's published, it starts to get out of date.

The latest news in Web-page creation, the addition of macros to both Microsoft Word and Word Perfect, allowing users of these word processors to create HTML-ready documents right from their familiar programs, isn't included.

Despite this inevitable omission, this book could be an invaluable primer for anyone wanting to get onto the Web, not just as a consumer of information, but as a provider.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan