HTMLX – An Universal Container
Ash on Jan 11, 1998

1. Where is HTML4 now?
HTML has come as long way since it was first invented. All the new languages, document formats, etc., which were supposed to kill it, failed. The beauty of HTML is its simplicity. It only expresses how the document should be displayed. This is a powerful concept, tell people what you want, instead of how to do it. That way, a left-handed person can use his left hand to hammer a nail, instead of following step by step instructions written for a right-handed person.

HTML has ended up as an universal visual container. From applets, ActiveX controls, audio, video, etc., it is used to embed objects, which interact with the user. HTML browsers are the most popular applications of all time. Unfortunately, there is no standard way of interacting with objects.

Beside, sharing screen space and supporting scripting, embedded objects do not really interact with the HTML. Even then applications using HTML as the UI are much more flexible than legacy applications.

2. HTMLX Universal Visual Container
HTMLX should allow integration of different datatypes like text, vector graphics, audio, video, 3D, etc. HTML4 allows objects to be inserted, but this does not allow interaction between the datatypes.

The problem is that, there is no relationship between the different objects on the page. They only interact through scripting. What is needed, is a way for other datatypes to interact with HTMLX. For example, a <DIV> container could be wrapped around a 3D cylinder, displaying the text, graphics, hyperlinks, etc. on the curved surface. <DIV> containers could follow animation paths defined by vector graphics. HTML could be embedded on the video display for interactive scorecards and statistics.  <BGSOUND> tag is too weak. HTMLX should allow audio to be integrated in a better fashion. >The CDF file stores the sitemap information.
On a Multimedia display like Digital TV, the browser uses a multimedia 3D stylesheet.
On a handheld PC, the sitemap is looks like a simple tree.
On a Pager, the sitemap is a numbered Table of Contents.
On a AutoPC, the sitemap is spoken out using a speech stylesheet.
This allows the same sitemap to be visualized in different ways, depending on the display.

Figure 1 – Multimedia 3D style relations applied to a CDF sitemap

<DIV> containers can contain any datatype. This allows other datatypes to transparently interact with the DOM.
The 3D car object traces a vector animation path defined in the HTMLX page.
The 3D interstate symbol can display <DIV> containers on it’s surface.
Clicking on the Inet Post will behave like a normal hyperlink.
The cube below can display video streams on it surfaces.
3D surround Audio can be linked to interactions.
An Agent can communicate and listen to the user and interact with HTMLX objects.
And drawing a simple line connecting two tags will be finally possible.

Figure 2- HTML Text with 3D Multimedia objects interacting with vector animation paths

3. HTML Authoring/Publishing/WorkFlow
HTML4 is optimized for the browser application. If HTML wants to be the universal document format, It needs to support the entire life cycle of a document. The lack of standards has made the text editor the authoring tool and proprietary server architectures like CGI, ASP and others. HTMLX should provide a Data Source Object that allows a HTML document to connect to data sources like Databases, COM/JavaBeans components, XML files, HTML files, Workflow servers and other data sources.


Figure 3 – HTMLX Workflow : The Document as the center of the Universe

In the above scenario, one logical document completes the whole transaction. The document is the center of the universe and not the applications that use it. HTMLX documents can contain routing information and each application can embed it’s own specific information in them.

Joe’s Supervisor electronic signing applet may add encrypted billing information, but Joe may not see this. Only the Purchase applet on the backend will understand how to decode the billing information. Information is transparent transferred into the logical HTMLX document container. It does not have to be manually entered reducing the possibility of errors. Security is enhanced using public key encryption.

This entire workflow can be done using only the mouse. If you need to add your address, just drag-drop your xml address on the HTMLX document. Agents could simplify the process even more saving your wrist from repeated motion disorder.  Keyboard entry will seem as quaint as using punch cards for data entry.

This above scenario is not a part of a big vision thing. We have all the building blocks to make it come true in the next two years. What is needed is a Standard for the Glue to hold it all together.

4. Proposed new feature for HTMLX : XML compliance
HTMLX should be expressed as an XML application. This would allow for simpler browsers to be built.
XML brings an alphabet soup of buzzword features like

  • XML DTD/XML Data
    Provides more structure for the document.
  • RDF Searching
    RDF can expose the relationships between the document for better searching.
  • XML Embedding in HTMLX
    XML Embedding will allow MathML and other specialized XML applications to be integrated. This could be done using XML namespaces.
  • Extensibility
    Tags could be added to extend HTMLX, without breaking it.
  • Extensible Style
    Multimedia, 3D, etc. style information in XSL. This allows Multimedia Filters for Digital TV to handle effects from alpha channels to visual blends.
  • Consistent event handling/bubbling
    IE4 bubbles events in the normal HTML tree. DOM events should to bubble across unknown elements.
  • XML Namespaces
    Avoids Tag name collision. This allows different applications to add their own proprietary stuff without affecting any other application.
  • XML links
    Provides intelligent links that offer pop-up menus.
  • Other XML features.

5. Conclusion
HTMLX brings the web to low end devices as XML browsers are smaller and don’t have to handle all the special cases of HTML. Combined with an extensible stylesheet language like XSL, there is no need for HDML or Compact HTML. Browsers can become simple instead of all the bloat they are carrying around, to simulate visual side effects of the other browsers. Authoring tools and other application can use standard ways of manipulating HTMLX, instead of all the proprietary ways they developed. And we can finally start beaming HTMLX information into space, instead old TV signals. Maybe HTMLX can be the catalyst for First Contact :-).

6. Links
The W3C is in-charge of the HTML and XML standards. Microsoft’s Dynamic HTML supports some amount of datatype integration in IE4, via scripting languages and DirectX components.

7. References
XML 1.0 standard
HTML 4.0 standard
A Proposal for XSL
Cascading Style Sheets, level 2
Internet Explorer 4.0 Dynamic HTML Technologies