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HTML: The Definitive Guide

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Is HTML 3.2 Really a Big Deal?

Depending on our mood, when people ask us about the "new" HTML 3.2 standard, we respond with a groan, a bemused smile, or uproarious laughter. Folks, HTML 3.2 doesn't shake any Web foundations. In fact, the new language standard simply confirms what most Web observers have known for some time now, that the browser manufacturers wag the tail of the HTML standards dog.

Until about mid-1995, people actually were serious about HTML standards. (Some of us still are.) Until then, standards guided the development of new browsers. After release of HTML 2.0, however, the elders of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) responsible for such language-standards matters lost control. The abortive HTML+ standard never got off the ground, and HTML 3.0 became so bogged down in debate that the W3C simply shelved the entire draft standard. HTML 3.0 never happened, despite what some opportunistic marketers claim in their literature.

What mired the development of new language standards was Netscape Navigator. Most Web analysts agree that Netscape's quick success in becoming the browser of choice for an overwhelming majority of users can be attributed directly to the company's implementation of useful and exciting additions to HTML. Today, all other browser manufacturers--in particular, the behemoth Microsoft Corp. who appreciates the meaning of "de facto standard" better than anyone in the business--have to implement Netscape's HTML extensions if they expect to have any chance of competing in the web browser marketplace. By pushing the W3C to officially release HTML standard version 3.2, which for all intents and purposes standardizes most of Netscape's language extensions, the other browser manufacturers gain legitimacy for their products without having to acknowledge the leading competitor. Internet Explorer can now be "HTML 3.2-compliant," rather than submissively "Netscape Navigator-compliant."

The paradox is that the HTML 3.2 standard is not the definitive resource. There are many more features of the language in popular use by both Netscape and/or Internet Explorer than are included in this latest language standard. We promise you, things can get downright confusing when trying to sort it all out.

We've managed to sort things out, so you don't have to sweat over what works with what browser and what doesn't work. This book, therefore, is the definitive guide to HTML. We give details for all the elements of the HTML 3.2 standard, plus the variety of interesting and useful extensions to the language--some proposed standards--that the popular browser manufacturers have chosen to include in their products, such as:

And while we tell you about each and every feature of the language, standard or not, we also tell you which browsers or different versions of the same browser implement a particular extension and which don't. That's critical knowledge when you want to create web pages that take advantage of the latest version of Netscape Navigator versus pages that are accessible to the larger number of people using Internet Explorer, Mosaic, or even Lynx, a popular text-only browser for UNIX systems.

In addition, there are a few things that are closely related but not directly part of HTML. For example, we touch, but do not handle CGI and Java programming. CGI and Java programs work closely with HTML documents and run with or alongside browsers, but are not part of the language itself, so we don't delve into them. Besides, they are comprehensive topics that deserve their own books, such as CGI Programming on the World Wide Web and Java in a Nutshell from O'Reilly & Associates, for instance.

In short, this book is your definitive guide to HTML as it is and should be used, including every extension we could find. Many aren't documented anywhere, even in the plethora of online guides. But, if we've missed anything, certainly let us know and we'll put it in the next edition.

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