Transcript from a Web Journal chat session on Compuserve

Rohit Khare (
Tue, 18 Feb 97 09:40:33 -0500

This Saturday, I had my first experience on the target end of a chat room conference.
"Advancing HTML", Web Journal issue 2.1 was the topic of the internet publishing
book review. It was a lot of fun, since I always like grandstanding and soapboxing, of
which you can see more below. Some of the topics covered:

In particular, I would appreciate it if some folks from the W3C side could check out
their relevant bits and let me know if I represented our work accurately.

The only downside was the attendance. I didn't have my eye on the meter while writing,
but I think there may have been only a dozen or so folks there. Still, a good precedent.
I want to suggest including similar 'town hall' sessions at WWW6; perhaps we can even
begin staging them ourselves when we release a Recommendation or somesuch -- a teach-in
of sorts :-)


       Anne Papina[Staff]   | Welcome to the Internet Publishing Forum
                            | Today's conference topic is Advancing
                            | HTML: Style & Substance
                            | Our guest speaker today is Rohit Khare, 
                            | editor of "Advancing 
                            | HTML: Style and Substance" which is part
                            | of The World Wide Web Journal
                            |  In this book, W3C offers expert
                            | introductions to HTML and CSS (Cascading 
                            | Style Sheets) and 
                            | takes a look at
                            | behind-the-scenes interviews with members     
                            | of the HTML 
                            | editorial review board.
                            | This book also covers some of the latest     
                            | user interface 
                            | features such as GIF
                            | animation and JavaScript interactivity as 
                            | well as discussing 
                            | usability
                            | engineering, accessibility for disabled     
                            | users and multimedia
                            | technologies.
                            | If you have a question for Rohit, please     
                            | type a single ? and 
                            | we'll call on you in order.
                            | Rohit, do you have anything you'd like to     
                            | add?
       Rohit Khare          | Thanks for the introduction, Anna. I'm     
                            | glad to have the chance to chat about the     
                            | Journal, about some of the technology we've 
                            | covered in this latest issue, and a bit     
                            | about the W3C (the Consortium) and the Journal     
                            | in general.
                            | This is a tough question to ask on-line,     
                            | but if you had to raise your hands, how many     
                            | of you have heard of the Web Journal, 
                            | or know about the W3C's activities?
       Anne Papina[Staff]   | Rohit, why don't you start off explaining     
                            | a little bit about W3C
       Rohit Khare          | OK.
                            | The Web Consortium was founded by the team 
                            | that invented the Web
                            | Director Tim Berners-Lee, who developed     
                            | the Web at CERN in Geneva in 1990
                            | wanted to ensure the open, interoperable 
                            | evolution of Web standards and technology
                            | so MIT, the European Commission and other 
                            | folks encouraged the concept
                            | of a vendor-neutral Consortium for     
                            | hammering out specs
                            | and developing new technology
                            | We have abot 160 member organizations and    
                            | 35 staff members 
                            | at MIT's Lab for Computer Science, INRIA     
                            | in France, and now, Keio University in Japan
                            | We are active in a great many areas  --     
                            | just scan the jam-packed homepage     
                            | for that! --
       Heidrun              | ?
       Rohit Khare          | so we jointly developed the Web Journal     
                            | with O'Reilly as a way to get our ideas out to     
                            | the public and stimulate technical debate.
       Anne Papina[Staff]   | Ready for a question? :)
       Rohit Khare          | That, finally, brings us to today's issue, 
                            | which is all about User Interface 
                            | technologies on the Web,
                            | one of our three domains. 
       Anne Papina[Staff]   | Thanks!
                            | Go ahead Heidrun
       Heidrun              | I have a question about the future of 
                            | JavaScript.
       Rohit Khare          | So do I :-)
                            | Can you elaborate?
       Heidrun              | It's about the only thing I know and I     
                            | like it, but I was told to be careful, 
                            | it might not work everywhere
                            | is it a safe bet, or are there     
                            | alternatives?
       Rohit Khare          | Yes, maybe, and yes...
                            | 1) no, it won't work everywhere
                            | 2) right now, it may or may not be a great 
                            | bet -- depends a LOT on your application
                            | 3) there are alternatives
       Heidrun              | what would you recommend as a "safer bet"
       Rohit Khare          | Of course, those are simplistic answers. 
                            | Here's the scoop as I  see it
                            | ... "a safer bet" depends on what you need     
                            | to do today...
                            | for example: are you relying on having an 
                            | 'archival' site that will live for years?
       Rohit Khare          | Or is it a weekly/temporary consumer site 
                            | which is supposed to be flashy?
                            | The reason I ask is:
                            | JavaScript, like several of its     
                            | competitors 
                            | (VBScript, Active Server Pages, etc.)
       Heidrun              | all I really need is a simple user     
                            | interface 
                            | to select documents interactively 
                            | based on a few limited criteria
                            | JavaScript is working very nicely for     
                            | this.
       Rohit Khare          | is still in development, and only just 
                            | beginning to be standardized.
                            | Ah: I see now.
                            | Are you talking about the common idiom for 
                            | 'menu' lists, 
       Heidrun              | that's right, e.g. by country, name, etc.
       Rohit Khare          | That's an excellent JavaScript-style 
                            | application
                            | Limited interactivity that should be done     
                            | at the client side
       Heidrun              | thanks, I thought so, too.
       Rohit Khare          | The issue, then, is accessibility to your 
                            | audience
                            | Of course, some vast percentage of users     
                            | out there
                            | have the latest and greatest Netscape or 
                            | Microsoft browser,
       Heidrun              | right again, it is already very     
                            | frustrating 
                            | to see the difference between 
                            | Netscape and Explorer on simple pages
       Rohit Khare          | but it may be that your audience is     
                            | actually 
                            | in the 'disenfranchised' remainder
                            | So it's important to have a backup, 
                            | just like a 'non-frames version'
       Heidrun              | is there a way to check whether a browser 
                            | will do JavaScript?
       Rohit Khare          | Re: frustration. 
                            | Right now, there's no reliable way to     
                            | check if a browser has feature X
                            | for X like: sound, Java, big screens, etc.
                            | Unfortunately, that reduced many advanced 
                            | site designers
                            | to keying off of the 'User-Agent' by     
                            | keeping track
                            | of the capabilities of all the hundreds of 
                            | products out there
                            | (like, for example). 
                            | And it's still not foolproof.
                            | Architecturally, the Web should handle     
                            | this case
                            | Just like Content Negotiation can deliver     
                            | a home page in the surfer's preferred
                            | language or graphics format, 'feature 
                            | negotiation' should
                            | tell us if a browser has X. 
                            | Right now though, that's only a thought 
                            | experiment in the Web developer community.
                            | I could say a bit more about the 
                            | standardization process and how ECMA is 
                            | handling JavaScript,
       Heidrun              | ... leaving us with the smallest common 
                            | denominator, usually not very pretty ...
                            | please do, uhless there are other     
                            | questions
       Rohit Khare          | a bit more on the importance of     
                            | accessibilty 
                            | for all browsers , or other questions
                            | OK, I'll tackle "lowest common     
                            | denominator"
                            | Standards, by their nature, are inherently 
                            | retrospective
                            | In this issue of the Journal, we include a 
                            | spec for HTML3.2
                            | That's the 'latest and greatest' features     
                            | --  as of early 1996!
                            | It takes a long time to hammer out the     
                            | small details, of course,
                            | and make political peace along with the 
                            | technology
                            | Sometimes, it's put as a black-or-white 
                            | question:
                            | "Do you obey standards?"
                            | I mean, the implied challenge is: are you 
                            | with-it, or are you hobbling yourself to
                            | only work with what EVERYONE already     
                            | knows?
                            | Well, I think it's better to turn it     
                            | around 
                            | and emphasize what standards protect 
                            | developers with
                            | Standards are the only way to protect our 
                            | investment
                            | and leverage access to the widest     
                            | audience. 
                            | 'locking yourself in' to a whiz-bang 
                            | proprietary innovation
                            | is NOT wrong -- it just has to be     
                            | carefully chosen.
       Rohit Khare          | The much-lampooned <BLINK> tag, certainly 
                            | isn't worth it, of course.
                            | But what if you're experimenting on the 
                            | cutting edge, with embedded
       Rohit Khare          | applets (Java, ActiveX, whatever). If you 
                            | dove in early on, you might have
       Rohit Khare          | used HotJava's APPLET tag.
                            | But as the HTML process went along, W3C     
                            | sat down with JavaSoft,
                            | Microsoft, Netscape, and ahost of others     
                            | to merge competing proposals into the
                            | <OBJECT> tag (published in our previous 
                            | issue, "Building an Industrial Strength     
                            | Web", v1 n4)
                            | Now, early designers may have to rewite     
                            | their pages and more to make this
                            | all work for the future. Was that 'risk' 
                            | worth it? Sure -- if it was carefully 
                            | evaluated to begin with
                            | Finally, sometimes standards ARE     
                            | proactive.
                            | For example, the Cascading Style Sheets     
                            | spec in this issue.
                            | The very first Web software ever written --
                            | over five years ago --
                            | already had browsing, images, even a     
                            | WYSIWYG editor, and style sheets to 
                            | separate the fonts, linebreaks, etc, from
                            | the *semantic* HTML markup.
                            | Over the last few years, the community and 
                            | our staff have developed more powerful
                            | propsals for Style Sheets. Today,     
                            | designers 
                            | who adopt this new standards can have
                            | MORE control than they ever did by hacking 
                            | around one vendor's tools:
                            | precision control of fonts, flow, layout, 
                            | colors, you name it.
                            | And the architecture is 'cleaner', too:     
                            | you can specify a style for a whole site in     
                            | one fell swoop.
                            | Most of all, we can now move on to     
                            | 'rendering 
                            | style' for disenfranchised communities.
                            | We can speak pages with aural stylesheets, 
                            | braille, etc.
                            | That's how the lowest common denominator 
                            | advances in W3C's view
                            | Whew. 
       Heidrun              | Talking about styles, can you recommend any 
                            | software for bulk conversions of 
                            | documents to HTML?
       Rohit Khare          | I don't have any particular packages to 
                            | recommend.
                            | Of course, it also depends on your source 
                            | document format.
       Heidrun              | WordPerfect
       Rohit Khare          | At W3C, we all have to 'eat our own     
                            | dogfood', 
                            | so we only use HTML to begin with:-)
                            | It's a grand experiment in trying to 
                            | coordinate a fast-moving global team
                            | using our 'own' Web technology. 
                            | WP->HTML? I don't know anything off hand.
                            | Of course, the beauty of the Web, and the 
                            | Internet, is that someone, somewhere, 
                            | certainly has.
       Heidrun              | When you talk about cascading style sheets, 
                            | what exactly is a "style"?
       Rohit Khare          | I guess your issue is 'bulk', right? That     
                            | may be hard to find.
                            | Re: CSS. 
       Heidrun              | (_very_ bulky)
       Rohit Khare          | CSS lets you bind formatting rules to HTML 
                            | elements.
                            | suppose you have a headline on a page, 
                            | <H1>President Shot</H1>
                            | That says that phrase is quite important,     
                            | a level one heading. But
                            | I may want to be more specific. I might     
                            | say this is a political
                            | headline. So I could use <H1     
                            | <H1 CLASS=Political>
                            | Now, over in my style sheet, I can say 
                            | "Anything in H1, make it 48 pt.
                            | Anything specifically H1.Political, make     
                            | Red, and indent it one inch".
                            | The Cascading part is that I can 'add' 
                            | another style rule, say, from my personal
       Rohit Khare          | browser preferences, which says "Also make 
                            | anything H1.Political +12 points bigger".
                            | As for the kinds of things you can control 
                            | today?
                            | color spacing drop caps columns
                            | fonts sizes margins 
                            | flow around images
                            | Coming up soon: z-order (layering in  depth) 
                            | and absolute positioning (this image is 1"     
                            | in from the top)
       Heidrun              | how about a simple TAB at the beginning of     
                            | a paragraph?
       Rohit Khare          | Again: the moral of the story is reuse and 
                            | protecting the investment.
       jim sorensen         | ?
       Rohit Khare          | (yes, first-paragraph indent is OK)
                            | Today, W3C'
                            | W3C's online slide shows are actually just 
                            | HTML with a 'slide style'. 
       Anne Papina[Staff]   | Go ahead, Jim
       jim sorensen         | That's all in html spec? I thought <font>     
                            | was netscape specific
       Rohit Khare          | Jim: one of the compromises in the HTML3.2 
                            | spec is the inclusion of the FONT tag
                            | (a matter of some controversy :-)
       Rohit Khare          | This was accepted because our goal for 3.2 
                            | was to establish a baseline.
                            | A first step in the process of getting these 
                            | often-fractious members around the table.
       BettyM               | ?
       Rohit Khare          | <FONT> may be deprecated in future     
                            | versions as 'for compatibilty only'.
       Anne Papina[Staff]   | Go ahead, Betty
       BettyM               | Any good book in HTML3.2
       Rohit Khare          | Betty: I can certainly recommend Dave 
                            | Raggett's "Definitive Guide to HTML3.2"     
                            | from Addison Wesley.
       James W. Phillips    | ?
       Rohit Khare          | Dave did a large chunk of the work on that 
                            | spec, working at the W3C. 
                            | But if you're looking for something a little 
                            | less wieldy, I highly recommend "Advancing 
                            | HTML" ;-)
                            | Seriously, one of the new editorial strong 
                            | points of our Web Journal is that we pair     
                            | up the
       BettyM               | Learned HTML really fast, is 3.2 easy too?
       Rohit Khare          | brand-new hardcore technical specifications 
                            | with how-to-guides
       BettyM               | Thanks
       Rohit Khare          | So in this isse, we include the 3.2 Spec, a 
                            | behind-the-scenes look at the team which 
                            | created it and
       Anthony D. Mather    | ?
       Rohit Khare          | a great overview article by noted HTML author 
                            | Chuck Musicano, "What's New in HTML3.2: 
                            | Formalizing Enhancements to 
                            | HTML2.0"
                            | Finally: there's really not much new to learn 
                            | in 3.2: it's just evolutionary improvements 
       Rohit Khare          | What happens is that smart use of HTML with 
                            | Cascading Style Sheets 1) obviates the
                            | need for all these
                            | of picture traffic and 2) it makes the HTML 
                            | more compact  by stripping out a lot of the 
                            | format and spacing hacks and
                            | providing a single central stylesheet.
                            | Similarly, developing better HTML object 
                            | models (an "html API") for client-side 
                            | scripting (the topic of our next issue),
                            | can reduce bandwidth by simulating a rich, 
                            | interactive rsponsive page without making 
                            | round-trips
                            | back to the server to validate every field 
                            | entry or insert your name here.
       Heidrun              | ?
       Rohit Khare          | 
       Anne Papina[Staff]   | Go ahead, Heidrun
       Heidrun              | I have some problems with character sets, in 
                            | particular in French documents, 
                            | how can I make characters like "oe" stick     
                            | and not disappear all the time?
       Anthony D. Mather    | That's good news.  As it stands now, it takes as 
                            | long (or longer) to obtain information on the  WEB 
                            | than it did on ARPANET!
       Rohit Khare          | Character set encodings have been a pain for 
                            | a very long time on the Internet, not just 
                            | the Web.
                            | You want to be international, but English and 
                            | 8-bit ASCII are so constraining that there 
                            | are too many fragmentary
                            | interpretations. And that's just for 
                            | positional representations, much less the 
                            | layered glyphs of Arabic, Asian languages,
                            | or even Latin ligatures and dipthongs, as 
                            | with 'OE'
                            | In this case, one answer is W3C's 
                            | Internationalization (abbreviated i18n) effort
                            | to encourage UNICODE characters on the net.
                            | With 16-bit characters, there is a single, 
                            | unique way to indicate 'oe' without trampling on any
                            | other languages use of the same id.
                            | Unfortunately, even in the latest HTML specs, 
                            | the 'ae' dipthong is in the SGML entity set: æ
       Heidrun              | where would I find a list of &...; 
                            | characters, maybe that would solve my 
                            | problem temporarily
       Rohit Khare          | but œ is not officially there. 
                            | Appendix D: Character Entities for ISO 
                            | Latin-1, in the HTML 3.2 specification, at 
                            | that Tech Reports (TR) url above.
       jim sorensen         | ?
       Rohit Khare          | (this is not HTML's fault: it's ISO-8859-1,    
                            | an effort to cram european languages into 
                            | the 256-position ASCII set. Just
                            | didn't have room for it, I guess)
                            | Jim:?
       jim sorensen         | how does unicode compare w/ 16 bit iso 
                            | charsets?
       Rohit Khare          | Religious wars ahead! ;-)
                            | Actually, that's a pretty arcane debate, at 
                            | the edge of my ken, so take what I say
                            | with a grain of salt.
                            | As I understand it, the original ISO proposal 
                            | was actually a *32* bit space, with 
                            | completely separate
                            | code pages for several Chinese-derived 
                            | languages. 
                            | by no means 4 billion glyphs (2^32), but
                            | more than 2^16. 
                            | UNICODE was actually an industry-led reaction 
                            | against the 'wastefulness' of 32-bit 
                            | characters
                            | that fit all major modern and a great many 
                            | dead languages into 16 bits by sharing
                            | some common Chinese ideograms. So it's more 
                            | efficient technology vs. more 
                            | go-along-to-get-along nonconfrontational
                            | international politics.
                            | W3C is co-sponsoring the next two 
                            | international conferences on UNICODE, so 
                            | perhaps you can find out more about
                            | this from our i18n pages (in the User 
                            | Interface area of our home page).
       jim sorensen         | ?
       Anne Papina[Staff]   | Go ahead, Jim
       jim sorensen         | does the style sheet physically go w/ the 
                            | html code? 
       Rohit Khare          | It can, but need not. 
                            | The css file can be at another URL, using the 
                            | LINK REL=CSS declaration in the HTML text, or
                            | can be directly encoded in the HEAD.
       Anne Papina[Staff]   | Tell us how we can get a copy of the book!
       Rohit Khare          | Well, as we wrap things up, I want to 
                            | encourage all of you to amble down to your 
                            | favorite bookstore, real or virtual, and
                            | pick up a copy of the Web Journal. We're a 
                            | unique publication that can offer insight
                            | at questions small and large,
                            | straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. 
                            | The latest issue, "Advancing HTML" covers
                            | a slew of advanced UI tips and 
                            | tricks.
       Anne Papina[Staff]   | The ISBN is 1-56592-264-6 by the way ...
       Rohit Khare          | Single copies are ~$25, annual subscriptions 
                            | (4 issues/yr) are $75 from O'Reilly and 
                            | Associates.
                            | Please see and 
                            | for more 
                            | information.
                            | I'd also like to highlight our previous 
                            | issue, which is all about Web Architecture 
                            | and infrastructure, "Building an Industrial-Strength Web" 
                            | and our next two issues, which will be on 
                            | scripting languages and Web Security (Summer '97).
       Anne Papina[Staff]   | And I'd still like  to have you back to 
                            | discuss that book as well :)
       jim sorensen         | Thank you RK.
       Heidrun              | thanks a lot, it was very very interesting
       Rohit Khare          | Thank you Anna, and thanks to all of you for 
                            | participating. I had a wonderful time and
                            | I'm looking forward to coming back
       Anne Papina[Staff]   | Thank you Rohit, for all the time & effort 
                            | you put into this 
                            | conference! We certainly had great
                            | discussion here today!
       Rohit Khare          | (and just in time too, my laptop batteries 
                            | just gave me the 2-minute warning)
                            | You're very welcome.
       Anne Papina[Staff]   | LOL
       Rohit Khare          | Please, if anyone has any follow up 
                            | questions, do not hesitate to contact me 
                            | directly,
                            | Good afternoon... RK

For more information about this and other conference transcripts, please email

Copyright 1997 Glenbrook Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved.