Some Thoughts on the Construction of Web Pages

Steven J. Searle

Web Master, TRON Web

As the Web master of TRON Web, I have been offered on multiple occasions the free services of people who would like to redesign TRON Web and turn it into a really snazzy Web site. I always decline, telling people that first and foremost TRON Web has to be viewable with the BTRON Basic Browser, which cannot handle frames, since there is information in the technical documents section on basic operations of the BTRON interface. Although the Mozilla and Firebird (predecessor to Firefox) browsers are also available to BTRON users, they are not installed automatically when the system is downloaded from the Cho Kanji 4 system CD-ROM. This is because they are both "unsupported freeware," and thus Personal Media accepts no liability for damages resulting either from their installation or their use. As it takes a little knowledge to unpack and install either Mozilla or Firebird, I like to keep TRON Web nice and simple, so that even foreign novice BTRON users can quickly get to it. An added benefit of the simple TRON Web interface is that it can be easily viewed from small screen handheld devices, such as PDAs.

It may surprise some of my readers to learn that I have yet to install either Mozilla or Firebird in my Cho Kanji 4 partition. One reason for this is the result of a very bad experience I had in a MS Windows partition a long time ago. Upon entering a particular Web site with a full feature browser with everything in default settings, I discovered to my amazement that the Web site in question had completely taken control of my interface after presenting me with a panel that allowed me to either click yes or no. The whole keyboard was locked, even the Windows menu key, to prevent any input other than a mouse click, and so I selected "yes" and rebooted the computer while their great content was in the process of being downloaded. That incident was followed by an even more startling incident in which my computer was invaded and turned into a zombie--a result of the maker shipping the computer with the firewall turned off--and to prevent me from doing anything about it, they made it impossible to get into the control panels. That led to me wiping my hard disk clean with Personal Media Corp.'s Disk Shredder and reinstalling.

After these bad experiences, plus numerous warnings about infected spam e-mail messages from the anti-virus software installed in the MS Windows partition, I came to have a completely new view of BTRON and the BTRON Basic Browser. I now download all my e-mail into BTRON first, and if I ever have to go into a Web site that looks dangerous, I switch partitions and use the BTRON Basic Browser. Since it's so primitive and has almost no automation in it, there is little chance of anything bad happening to my system, particularly since no one overseas knows anything about the underlying operating system. Yes, primitive equals safe, and safe equals a pleasant browsing experience on the World Wide Web. Having learned this gem of wisdom the hard way, I laughed one day when I read an opinion on a bulletin board where they were discussing the TRON Project and its latest incarnation, the T-Engine project. One knowledgeable guy told another that Prof. Sakamura had created a primitive operating system for personal computers called BTRON. Ha, use full-featured automation at your own risk, friends!

I have been using the Internet and the World Wide Web since the mid 1990s. I first started looking at Web content in Korea, not Japan, with the Mosaic browser, then I switched to Netscape, and I even used some of the first versions of Internet Explorer. At present, I use the Netscape browser in my MS Windows partition, and, as noted above, the BTRON Basic Browser in my Cho Kanji 4 partition. I have had a lot of different experiences on the Web, both good and bad. One thing I have noticed is that since it has moved from a primarily textual medium to a multimedia medium, it has become slow, clumsy, and intrusive. I wish people would remember that in order for the Web to be really useful, Web page designers have to exercise restraint. In other words, they should use only text where possible, and text and graphics where images add to ease of understanding. Considering how difficult it is to download multimedia content even with a broadband connection, it's best to use audio only when possible, audio with stills when necessary, full motion video at low resolution when possible, and full motion high resolution video as a last resort..

Simply put, conserve bandwidth whenever and wherever possible. This makes sense to those of us in the TRON Project, since our original goal was, and still is, to create real-time networks, but you can't realize real-time networks when clever Web page designers are constantly trying to create new experiences for Web surfers. I wish these Web page designers would ask people what is the one Internet function they cannot absolutely live without. They'd probably be surprised by the answer--it's e-mail. Then they should ask people what one thing on the Internet drives them crazy. They already know the answer to this one--it's spam, or unsolicited e-mail messages. The former makes our lives easy--in fact, it gives us the capability that only HAM radio operators previously had--and the latter drives us crazy and clogs up the Internet with unwanted messages that use up precious bandwidth. For Web page designers with a conscience, of whom I realize there are many, I have put together the following list of things that have caught my attention as things to avoid and/or remember when creating Web page.

  1. Don't resize the the viewer's window, unleash pop-up attacks (even if you've figured out a way around a pop-up blocker), change the font, or do anything that is similarly intrusive or takes control away from the the visitor
  2. Don't load your main Web page up with so many controls that it looks like the inside a fighter pilot's cockpit, don't use tricks to get people to push buttons, and never use flashing banners
  3. Don't use a font size that's too small based on the worst possible design concept, i.e., trying to recreate newsprint on a computer screen (compare the number of dots per inch between 10-point on the screen and 10-point type on a printed page if you don't understand why this concept is bad)
  4. Put the full registered name of the company or organization at the bottom of the first or main page, and don't annoy the visitor with the president's photograph and/or message to the world on the first page (likewise, personal Web page creators should keep kitty and doggie photos off the first page, unless the Web site is a site about cats or dogs)
  5. Don't use white as background color, since it hurts the eyes of a lot of people, particularly people who are viewing Web pages in a dark room for hours on end (turn the lights off and see for yourself)
  6. Don't create your Web pages in a manner that leads to them falling apart when someone expands the text by 50 percent to reduce eye strain (it only takes a second to test this one out)
  7. Don't use lots frames just to practice using frames; frames are only justifiable on huge sites where people need a table of contents to jump from one section to another
  8. Use Java sparingly, which is to say, don't use Java just to show someone some photographs or link to another page
  9. Don't load up the first page with audio-visual effects; if you have to, give the visitor a chance to opt out, since the visitor may be in a office filled with people who don't necessarily want to listen to musical effects you think are cool
  10. Don't try to make money directly from the Web, particularly automatically; use the Web for advertising and then allow people to call you via telephone for further information (yes, create receptionist jobs, because people would rather do business with a person than a machine, particularly in an age when credit card numbers are pilfered from computer systems so easily)

I realize that some people are not going to agree with me on the above list. Among my recommendations are things that some consider absolutely sacrilegious, i.e., those involving company presidents, cats and dogs, and, horror of horrors, making money. But we're all entitled to our opinions, and I believe that most people will be in agreement with me on most points listed above. I also believe that most people will agree with me that we should do all in our power to try to keep the Web simple, so that it can remain responsive, and maybe just provide Web page contents in real time. Some people will be of the opinion that merely by increasing the bandwidth, the problem of real-time responsiveness can be solved, but that ignores the fact that there are lots of people ready to think up all sorts of monstrous creations to take advantage of higher bandwidth. Give everyone a gigabit broadband connection to their homes, and they'd probably start conceiving things like life-size holographic images. But if the network is the computer, then the network has to be designed and maintained like a computer with maximum throughput kept first in mind.