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Lab 5.1 Exercises

5.1.1. Understand the Characteristics of the Web as a User Interface

a) Discuss different applications that are being converted to understand and display Web pages. Are there any applications that are using the Web technology?

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A1:

Answer: Most office and business products are now capable of at least displaying HTML pages. Word processors, spreadsheets, and even some databases are capable of generating Web pages. There are even file and directory managers that are not only capable of understanding and displaying HTML pages, but can do so on servers that are only accessible through Internet protocols other than HTTP (such as FTP).

As we discussed previously, many help systems are already using hypertext. However, many have taken the next step and have converted to HTML. This allows the user to access the help information with needed a separate application.
b) When we disable a function in traditional graphical interface, the menu item is grayed out. Discuss how can this be accomplished in a Web page.

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A2:

Answer: Using standard HTML, you could simply not include a link to any URL behind the menu item. Therefore, that particular item would not appear as the other menu items and clicking on it would have no effect.

Because links are typically displayed as underlined text, having a line that is not underlined in a menu would indicate to the user that there is something different about this entry. Clicking on this menu item would have no effect, since it is just like any other text. Some browsers allow the user to control the appearance of the link so this might be a problem. However, the user will still have a problem trying to figure what text is a link.
c) Discuss the difference between the traditional GUI and the Web page user interface.

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A3:

Answer: The traditional GUI is platform-dependent and is used to implement freestanding Web page browser applications. The Web page user interface refers to the contents of the Web page itself, viewed in the main browser window. The contents of this window should be platform-independent.

Another key difference is the range of controls that you can provide using a standard GUI. Basically anything is possible with a typical GUI, but you are extremely limited with HMTL. Most GUI development packages provide predefined controls with built-in functions. You might be able to create similar control in some cases, but you are still limited in scope.

Unfortunately, the platform-independence of Web pages is not guaranteed by any means. One common example is Microsoft's Jscript, which is a “dialect” of the Web standard Javascript. Web pages that are written in the non-standard Jscript tend to make non-Microsoft browsers spit out one error after the other. The result is that they cannot be effectively viewed on platforms that do no have Microsoft browsers, such as most UNIX variants. However, platform-independence is fairly certain using standard HTML (assuming it is supported by your browser version).

ActiveX provides the ability to have basically the same range of controls provided in a standard interface. However, it is only available on MS-Windows browsers and therefore not available for Unix.

Using Java you can gain platform-independence and still have access to most control types. Once again, Microsoft has provided its own nonstandard version, which is not the same as the standard defined by the creators of Java, Sun Microsystems.

5.1.2. See How Consistency, Simplicity, and Context Apply to the Web

a) Saying that WYSIWYG is dead on the Web reflects the fact that browsers have never displayed a Web page in any exact format. Load up several Web pages and make changes in your browser configuration to see how the appearance changes. Discuss how this applies to the statement that WYSIWYG is dead on the Web.

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A1:

Answer: Modern browsers allow you to change how different things are displayed on the screen. Even something as basic as whether a link appears as underlined text can be controlled by some browsers. Therefore, a Web designer may think that elements on a page will be displayed in a particular way, but there is no guarantee that the user did not configure his or her browser differently. What the developer sees is not necessarily what the user gets.

b) Discuss the statement that the Web page user interface ever changing.

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A2:

Answer: There are two primary reasons that the Web interface is considered to be ever changing. The first is the media itself. Web documents consist of individual pages and text is extremely easy to update. In contrast to printed documents, making changes to Web pages takes almost no time at all with almost no effort. Quick changes can be made “on the fly” that are immediately available to visitors. This enables Web authors to provide literally up-to-the-minute information.

The other aspect is that users have come to expect that Web pages be continually updated with new information or that old information is kept up to date. Readers generally accept the fact that printed material is already out of date by the time it is printed. Since books have publishing cycles upwards of six months, it is no surprise that they are outdated, particularly when you consider how fast the computer industry changes. However, users know how easy it is to change Web sites and therefore it is expected that the sites are up to date.

In contrast to books, there should not be a sense of version number, rather a record of the last date of change. Most Web servers allow you to add special HTML tags to your pages that automatically display the date the page was last changed. The less frequently you change the pages, obviously the less current the information. People start visiting your site less and less often and eventually stop coming all together.

There has been more than one occasion when I was on the CNN Web site and while I was visiting the site, the home page changed with some breaking news. Even if I had simply stayed on the start page, it would have eventually refreshed itself using the HTML tag:

<META http-equiv="REFRESH" content="1800">

This means the page would reload after 1800 seconds or 30 minutes. If CNN can have up-to-the-minute news, you certainly can make changes once a day, if necessary.


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