WebReference.com - Part 1 of chapter 1 of Cascading Style Sheets: Separating Content from Presentation, from glasshaus (1/5) | WebReference

WebReference.com - Part 1 of chapter 1 of Cascading Style Sheets: Separating Content from Presentation, from glasshaus (1/5)

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Cascading Style Sheets

A Short History of the Web

In order to understand why using CSS is vital to the health of the Web, one must know a little history. You may be tempted to skip this section, having probably read similar accounts of the Web's short life countless times. But I encourage you not to skip ahead, but to instead read on and think about the implications of the Web's short but rapidly evolving past.

In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee released the world's first web browser and launched the world's first web server, on which he published for discussion the specifications of many of the technologies that run the Web today over ten years later. His goal in releasing this software was to facilitate the sharing of research documents amongst scientists. He created an SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) application that he called HyperText Markup Language (HTML), which was a document format suitable for transmission over his new protocols.

The truly distinctive element of his whole system was the hyperlink, which put the "hyper" in HyperText Markup Language. The hyperlink may not seem all that revolutionary to you now, and in fact even before the Web it had been around as a concept for decades, and experiments in hypertext systems were not new; but before Berners-Lee, no hypertext application had been a part of a network the size of the 1990 Internet, and it was the combination of the network and hypertext that made his experiment a success.

As you know, the hyperlink's power is that it allows random connections between disparate bits of data. It escapes the traditional hierarchical data storage systems of computers, and allows documents to be "linked" to one another in arbitrary ways. It mimics the associative nature of the human brain, which connects memories and thoughts and information through a complex web of inter-connectedness.

The hypertext's usefulness is limited to the pool of data that it links together. Berners-Lee developed a system for linking data from any computer on the Internet to any other computer on the Internet, and in so doing maximized the power of hypertext. For this reason, an essential requirement for the Web as Berners-Lee envisioned it is openness: "I have fought since the beginning of the Web for its openness: that anyone can read web pages with any software running on any hardware. This is what makes the Web itself." (Quote from an email between Tim Berners-Lee and CNET.) As openness increases, so does the power of hypertext, and therefore the Web as a whole.

Berners-Lee invented HTML in order to maximize openness. This simple text document format could be transmitted easily using his new Internet protocols to any computer platform that implemented those protocols. Using standard ASCII text as a file format ensured that existing computer platforms would have no problem handling HTML documents, and choosing to build HTML as an SGML application, which was a platform neutral system for describing the contents of a document, created an open environment for platform specific browser makers.

HTML documents in 1990 were radically different from how they are today. The familiar look of the Web today, with flashing images, animations, and multimedia files, was an unimagined thing of the future. In order to understand how HTML got where it is now, we have to take a closer look at where it came from.


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Created: June 10, 2002
Revised: June 10, 2002

URL: http://webreference.com/authoring/style/sheets/cssseparate/chap1/1/