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Getting Started With Coding

Learning HTML is a lot like learning English. Anyone can learn it, but if you don't learn the many irregular rules, you stand a good chance of being mis-interpreted. (In this instance, by a web-browser.) There are numerous ways to achieve the same basic visual results. Sometimes one is no better than another, sometimes there is a world of difference in terms of the end-user's experience. This is a result of two basic factors:

1.) HTML is not a programming language. It is a mark-up language, originally intended to manipulate text on a page. Many programmers in fact find dealing with HTML rather annoying because of its inconsistent results in different browsers on different platforms.

2.) Browser evolution. Due in part to the "browser wars" (Netscape vs Explorer) as much as due to developer choices not to agree on established web standards, the most commonly used browsers, throughout their evolution, have failed to render HTML in the same fashion.

A page that looks fine in Explorer on a PC might "explode" in Safari on a Mac. This is probably one of the toughest aspects of web design, if you care about reaching all of your viewers with the same information. One option: give up and design everything for the latest versions of Explorer on Windows.... and proceed to lose some of your best and brightest visitors, many of whom will be scientists, moviemakers, or just plain smart people using Apple products. In any case, about seventy percent of Internet users are still using some combination of Windows and IE as of April 2005.

New Standards
As with anything computer-related, things change rapidly when it comes to web standards and commonly used code. The current standard is XHTML, which folds HTML 4 into a formulation that it is hoped will bring much more consistent rendering of content across various platforms.

Cascading Style Sheets
CSS is rapidly becoming much more common for entire page layouts, replacing the cumbersome and code-heavy table-based layout (The page you're viewing is layed out with tables, CSS is only being used for text formatting).

In conclusion, there are many ways to achieve desired visual results. We hope the links here give you a good start on learning how to combine these tools to develop the code you need to get the job done.

Recommended Reading:
Elizabeth Castro's "Quickstart" volume is well-established as an easy to digest and well-assembled starter for HTML:
HTML Quickstart
HTML for the World Wide Web with XHTML and CSS: Visual QuickStart Guide, Fifth Edition
For reference and more advanced users, this book bridges the gap between a dry reference book and a learning aid:

HTML & XHTML: The Complete Reference (Osborne Complete Reference Series)

Recommended Links:

You can actually learn as much on line about HTML for free, and the info is also more likely to be up to date. Some good starting points:

A kinder, gentler intro to HTML.

Quick Tag Reference:
What's that tag again?

Serious Reference:
W3C (WorldWideWeb Consortium) has reformulated HTML 4 into XHTML™ 1.0

DHTML For Cheaters:
Dynamic Drive
Free cut-and-paste
scripts for your site.

Fun & Informative:
Probably the best-assembled,
most entertaining tutorials around.

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