Embrace, enhance, eclipse?

The clash between Microsoft’s XAML and Adobe’s SWF formats for the Rich Internet Application (RIA) development space is only part of a larger struggle over the humble web page itself. When Tim Berners-Lee devised the World Wide Web in 1989, he deliberately downplayed its design aspects to make writing and displaying web pages as simple as possible – jot a few HTML (HyperText Markup Language) tags in Notepad and the page’s text flows in a single column with all typography delegated to the browser. It was this simplicity that enabled the explosive development of the web.

Embrace, enhance, eclipse?

Microsoft was notoriously late to spot the web’s significance because it believed that Word, with its rich DOC files, already provided a superior universal electronic document format. In 1995, having almost missed the boat, Microsoft snapped up Spyglass’ Mosaic, to form the basis of Internet Explorer (IE), and Vermeer Technologies to provide a proper HTML development package. The result, FrontPage, tried to make HTML authoring similar to that in Word: column-based layouts were out of the question, but Word-style tables enabled a degree of page control, while the toolbar let users apply fonts as in Word.

Adobe came late to the party, too – believing its PDF was a superior electronic document format – and, also in 1995, it recognised that HTML was here to stay and began the development and acquisitions that led in 2000 to GoLive. As with Adobe’s PageMaker DTP application, GoLive enabled you to place textboxes and graphics on a blank page, then converted your layout to an HTML table behind the scenes. GoLive also supported DHTML-based animation and QuickTime movies, and would even automatically convert short sections of text to bitmaps for enhanced typography.

Microsoft and Adobe raised the design standard of web pages by reinventing HTML in their own images – web authoring as WP or DTP – but they both shared the same fatal flaw: the code they output. Translating

-based layouts produced sprawling and ungainly HTML, but the numerous tags were even worse because they meant nothing unless end users had the specified font installed. At least
and were eventually made official HTML tags – a bigger problem was Microsoft’s introduction of its own proprietary tags. For example, FrontPage’s WebBots locked you into using FrontPage to author all your pages, and a Microsoft-enhanced server to host them, while HTML extensions, such as the infamous tag, only worked if the end user was browsing with Internet Explorer. And while FrontPage generated code tailor-made for IE, it ignored all other browsers. Unless the author was aware of all such pitfalls, a page produced in FrontPage would almost certainly display correctly only in IE.

This lack of standards support not only breached the spirit of the universal web, but had a more sinister motive: splitting the web into competing camps (IE versus Netscape), forcing designers either into extra work to code for both, or else to make their life easy by joining one camp (most likely Microsoft’s). Microsoft could come to dominate the web not despite but because it offered an incomplete and non-standard solution. Microsoft’s approach to HTML, as with Java and JavaScript, was a classic application of divide-and-rule, or as critics dubbed it “Embrace, Extend, Extinguish”.

By contrast, with no browser of its own, Adobe championed standards compliance, so GoLive avoided proprietary tags and generated HTML compatible with all browsers, not just IE, but at a price: its output was littered with tags and a nightmarish stack of nested

tags needed to recreate its wysiwyg layouts. Nasty kludges such as masses of tags and blank GIFs ensured correct display in both major browsers, making GoLive code horrendously bloated and slow both to download and render. Its resort to slow-downloading, unsearchable bitmaps for text was the last straw.

Disclaimer: Some pages on this site may include an affiliate link. This does not effect our editorial in any way.

Todays Highlights
How to See Google Search History
how to download photos from google photos