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HTML was so easy, what have we done?

posted under category: General on December 4, 2007 at 2:00 am by Nathan

We all remember it. HTML was easy. That's how we all got started. For a beginner, just starting out (over a decade ago for me), it was straight forward and easy to get into. Make (or take) some images, put them on a page, maybe use a table. FTP it to geocities or one of those bargain basement $50/month web hosts. Bam! 300 visitors a month, easy.

Now what have we built for ourselves?

These days, to make a good site, you're pretty much required to have advanced HTML and XHTML skills, CSS mastery including managing floats and positioning, fine tuned event-driven object-oriented javascript abilities, DOM manipulation, command over Photoshop (or whatever you prefer), firm knowledge of AJAX, XML and JSON, and also have a handful of frameworks under your utility belt.

Then your site is useless unless it can connect to a database (SQL knowledge required) and do some neat tricks (knowledge of ColdFusion, PHP, ASP.NET which is the .NET library, the ASP tag library mixed into HTML and a language like c# or VB.NET, or, Java, for which you would know JSP, JSF and/or plain Java servlets, and probably Spring and Hibernate). Use of a server-side language then requires an architect, a business analyst, requirements gathering sessions, high-level and low-level diagrams, usability studies, flowcharts, requirements docs, use cases, test cases, project managers and so on.

Of course you get more traffic now, too, so you probably need dedicated servers, clusters or server farms. Virtualize some of that to save space (and add complexity). Redundant hardware load balancing is a must, along with redundant firewalls, redundant switches, redundant servers and redundant disk arrays with redundant hard drives. And what about disaster recovery? You'll have to get a redundant datacenter in Arizona with redundant power and cooling.

Now what have we built for ourselves? Job security, higher salaries, and a big industry with lots of workers. That's what.

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It's been amazing to watch it grow from a garage operation in the 90's to what it is today. Amazing. Astounding even.

The first Microsoft.com web site I visited was made by one guy and it ran from a cluster of 4 servers. One day he deleted the home page. Microsoft.com, seriously. The FTP site was far more interesting than the HTTP site. Archive.org's oldest record is from October 1996, by that time they had some real features, and were toting IE 3.0. Now it's multiple data centers with thousands of servers and workers.

This whole thing is amazing, and it's all because we all got into HTML in the 90's. Good job, team. Thanks for employing me. I hope I've helped make it complex as well and helped employ some of you. Of course simplicity is always the goal, sometimes the simplest way to do something requires the most complex solution, but that's another story.

Now, the down side is that it's harder to get into. Much harder. What was simple HTML and leeching images is now a large handful of connected technologies, which you must know to contribute nearly anything more than your myspace page. Try breaking into the world of web development today and I'll ask to see your master's degree. A lot of those ho-hum web guys are ones who got into it late and didn't get those foundational elements.

That's why the smart software companies are opening up easy routes in. Microsoft's free express tools are exactly that. ColdFusion is always there and Adobe Elements is a great effort, but aimed more at those who will never make it all the way into the industry.

The web business is more complex, but it employs us, and I think software companies forget how hard it was to get us here.