1.2 Background to HTML
In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee proposed a global hypertext project, to be known as the
World Wide Web, while he was working at the CERN particle physics laboratory in
Geneva, Switzerland. He wrote the first web server, httpd, and the first browser,
WorldWideWeb, in late 1990, and these programs became available on the Internet at
large in the summer of 1991.
The language used for document exchange was HTML,
HyperText Markup Language, and was invented by Berners-Lee for this particular
As a structured hypertext language, HTML is worlds apart from PDF. Based upon the
notion of separating content from presentation, it includes tags to denote paragraphs,
heading levels and lists. These tags are understood by the client’s browser and used to
render the page in an appropriate form on the screen. This is why HTML files often
look different when displayed on different platforms or different browsers. HTML
even allows the use of external style sheets which separate the formatting information
in a different file, making it possible to alter the presentation of a whole web site by
changing only the style sheet, independently of the content.
As time has passed, technology has moved on and web designers, particularly when
working on commercial sites, felt the need to give their sites an original, distinguished
look. This required playing tricks with tables and tags such as
(space) to subvert HTML’s principles and get the site to display how they wish. Even
then, different browsers often interpreted the HTML differently and it was necessary to
design separate sites for different browsers! The “browser war” in the late ’90s only
added to the confusion as both Microsoft and Netscape invented their own tags, such
as the ubiquitous
, in a hope to gain market share.
Today, HTML is used alongside other technologies, proprietary and open, such as
scripting, Flash, streaming audio and video and even PDF, to create the very rich
content that we now see on the web. Very often, HTML is not used in the way it was
originally intended, and modern HTML files include so much formatting, metadata and
other information that they are very difficult to edit. The advent of HTML editing
tools, such as Dreamweaver, has improved this situation somewhat, but it is still true
that editing a modern web site is usually more difficult and time-consuming than it
needs to be.