Developing the Web Dial-Up Style

webeditMy first experience of the internet arose from a newly formed internet cafe, down in the beach-side suburb of Glenelg in Adelaide. It was 1994 and I recall attempting to view as many web pages as possible given it was charged by the hour for the privilege. The cafe was using 486 PCs running Windows for Workgroups, with Netscape Navigator 2.0 as the web browser of choice. Although a number of people had connected to BBS since the 1980s, the internet in the form of the World Wide Web was still rather primitive at the time and largely mysterious.

Web pages were regularly displayed with a solid colour or occasionally a tiled background, with fluorescent text for hyperlinks often using the Times New Roman or Courier New fonts, and small animated GIFS. Images such as these were common place on websites albeit smaller.

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While web standards weren’t as sophisticated as they are now, connectivity from home usually consisted of a 14.4, 28.8, or 33.6 Kbps modems around this time, which influenced the need to optimise web sites for what are now considered horrendously slow internet speeds.

The below comparison shows BMW’s M3 web page from late 1996 to today. In the earlier web site for instance, the largest image showing the interior of the car is only 200 x 125 pixels in size at 17.7 KB. For comparison the image showing the current model is at 1,680 x 756 pixels using up 168 KB. A 28.8 Kbps modem could theoretically download no faster than 3.6 KB per second over an analog phone line. This would have meant the small photo alone would take around 5 seconds to download, whereas the large photo would need at least 47 seconds. With all the other content it’s easy to see why early web pages kept it minimal if they were to retain engagement from the user.

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It wasn’t really until the release of Windows 95 that the internet gradually became more accessible to broader society and marketed as the next big thing. The very public legal battle between Microsoft and Netscape placed the spotlight on this, though outside of tech circles there was generally indifference on the outcome. Nevertheless Netscape was forced to scrap the concept of selling and packaging a web browser in shrink wrap.

While Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator were competing for web browser domination, they were not the only software products that were highly contested. A steady influx of HTML editors were released by various vendors to capitalise on the expanding interest in web site hosting and development.

Here’s five of some of the more popular editors used in no particular order. The list isn’t exhaustive so feel free to comment on any others.


Microsoft FrontPage

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Microsoft FrontPage ’97. (2.0, 1996)

FrontPage originally developed by Vermeer Technologies Inc. was acquired by Microsoft in January 1996 for $133 million US as part of their agenda to become a dominant player on the web. Vermeer developed version 1.0, and after the acquisition Microsoft released a minor update as 1.1 before making it truly their own with 2.0 within 12 months.

A WYSIWYG editor, it also included a desktop web server for testing purposes and and a component named FrontPage Explorer allowing you to browse the site’s files and trace hyperlinks and dependencies. Wizards also existed as a foundation for easy web page creation. Although only GIF and JPEG images were used for graphics, it allowed conversion from other formats such as BMP and TIFF easily enough. VBScript, JavaScript, and ActiveX controls could also be used.

Not long after FrontPage ’97 was released a Macintosh version was made available, and a free simplified edition for Windows known as FrontPage Express.


Netscape Composer

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Composer as part of Netscape Communicator 4.08. (1997)

By version 4.0 Netscape expanded from solely being a web browser to include other tools such as e-mail and a HTML editor known as Netscape Composer. The feature set was more closely aligned with Microsoft’s FrontPage Express and hence more suited to basic web page editing and creation. Composer did have wizards and templates however to access these it required Netscape’s website which has long been made defunct.


Adobe PageMill

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Adobe PageMill 3.0, the final version. (1999)

Like Microsoft, Adobe wasn’t foreign to acquisitions and in this case it was PageMill originally developed by Seneca. The product was highly capable for the majority of web page authoring, though received mixed reviews on some of the more advanced features.

A couple of useful functions were the preview mode without the need to use a web browser (minus any Java applets), and the ability to easily determine the time it will take to download the page or selected components from it. Being an Adobe product meant it’s also easy to incorporate PDF documents. Unlike FrontPage however, one isn’t able to view the HTML source code at the same time.


Claris Home Page

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Claris Home Page 3.0. (1997)

Generally Claris software was more widely used on the Macintosh, and Home Page was no exception. As with Adobe PageMill, you’d need to alternate between design view and HTML source code. While Microsoft FrontPage allowed AVI video clips, Home Page would allow QuickTime video instead, obviously influenced being owned by Apple.

One notable feature was the ability to easily implement a web site connected to a Claris FileMaker database.


HotDog

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HotDog Pro 2.5 (1995)

HotDog by Sausage Software was a no-frills HTML editor aimed for the more experienced who felt comfortable diving into the code. The interface although not difficult to navigate around wasn’t quite as intuitive to understand for those that needed a WYSIWYG view to work with. An FTP program, HotFTP, was included for uploading directly to the web server.

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