ZachHolman

Only 90s Web Developers Remember This

February 26, 2014

Please sign my guestbook.

Have you ever shoved a <blink> into a <marquee> tag? Pixar gets all the accolades today, but in the 90s this was a serious feat of computer animation. By combining these two tags, you were a trailblazer. A person capable of great innovation. A human being that all other human beings could aspire to.

You were a web developer in the 1990s.

With that status, you knew you were hot shit. And you brought with you a score of the most fearsome technological innovations, the likes of which we haven't come close to replicating ever since.

Put down the jQuery, step away from the non-relational database: we have more important things to talk about.

1x1.gif

1x1.gif should have won a fucking Grammy. Or a Pulitzer. Or Most Improved, Third Grade Gym Class or something. It's the most important achievement in computer science since the linked list. It's not the future we deserved, but it's the future we needed (until the box model fucked it all up).

If you're not familiar with the humble 1x1.gif trick, here it is:

Can't see it? Here, enhance:

The 1x1.gif — or spacer.gif, or transparent.gif — is just a one pixel by one pixel transparent GIF. Just like the most futuristic CSS framework of today but in a billionth of the file size, 1x1.gif is fully optimized for the responsive web. You had to use these advanced attributes to tap into its power, though:

<IMG SRC="/1x1.gif" WIDTH=150 HEIGHT=250>

By doing this you can position elements ANYWHERE ON THE PAGE. Combine this with semantically-appropriate containers and you could do amazing things:

<TABLE>
  <TR>
    <TD><IMG SRC="1x1.gif" WIDTH=300>
    <TD><FONT SIZE=42>Hello welcome to my <MARQUEE>Internet Web Home</MARQUEE></FONT>
  </TR>
  <TR>
    <TD BGCOLOR=RED><IMG SRC="/cgi/webcounter.cgi">
  </TR>
</TABLE>

1x1.gif let you push elements all around the page effortlessly. To this day it is the only way to vertically center elements.

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;

Are images too advanced for you? HTML For Dummies doesn't cover the <IMG> tag until chapter four? Well, you're in luck: the &nbsp; tag is here!

You may be saying to yourself, "Self, I know all about HTML entity encoding. What is this dastardly handsome man going on about?"

The answer, dear reasonably attractive reader, is an innovation that youth of today don't respect nearly enough: the stacked &nbsp;. Much like the 1x1.gif trick, you can just arbitrarily scale &nbsp; for whatever needs you may face:

PLEASE SIGN  <BR>
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;MY GUESTBOOK BELOW:
<HR><HR>

If I had a nickel for how many times I wrote &nbsp; in the 90s, I'd have enough money to cover the monthly overage bills from AOL.

Dotted underlines, border effects

Towards the end of the golden era of HTML, CSS appeared on the scene, promising a world of separating content from style, and we've been dealing with that disaster ever since.

The absolute first thing we did with CSS was use it to stop underlining links. Overnight, the entire internet converted into this sludge of a medium where text looked like links and links looked like text. You had no idea where to click, but hell that didn't really matter anyway because we had developed cursor effects (you haven't lived until your mouse had a trail of twelve fireballs behind it).

This was such a compelling use of advanced technology that it was literally all we used CSS for initially. I even have proof from an index.shtml (fuck yes SSI) file from 2000:

<style type="text/css">
<!--
a:hover {text-decoration: none; color: #000000}
-->
</style>

That's it. That's the entire — inline, of course — CSS for this file. Make sure when you hover the link, remove the underline and paint it black. From this, entire interactive websites are born.

DHTML

As soon as we had the technology to remove underlines from links, we decided to combine it with the power to show alert("Welcome to my website!") messages on page load. CSS and JavaScript joined forces to form the Technology of Terror: DHTML.

DHTML, which stands for "distributed HTML", was the final feather in our cap of web development tools. It would stand the test of time, ensuring that we could make snowflakes fall from the top of the page, or build an accordion menu animated image map, or building your own custom <marquee> except using semantic tags like <div>.

DHTML helped transition web development from a hobbyist pastime into a full-fledged profession. Sites like Dynamic Drive meant that instead of thinking through creative solutions for problems you face, you could just copy and paste this 50 line block of code and everything would be fixed. In effect, DHTML was the Twitter Bootstrap of the time.

Pixel fonts

Computer screens were not large. I mean, they were large, since CRT was the shit, but they didn't have a high resolution. Therefore, the best way to leverage those pixels is to write everything in tiny six-point font.

Along those lines, web developers aspired to become illustrators when they looked at these simplistic typefaces and realized they were made up of pixels. You started to see these weird attempts at isometric pixel illustration on splash screens, made by developers whose time and money was probably better spent investing in a .com IPO rather than installing Photoshop.

Buttons

It's come to my attention that people today don't like Internet Explorer. I can only believe they hate Internet Explorer because it has devolved from its purest form, Internet Explorer 4.0.

Internet Explorer 4.0 was perfection incarnate in a browser. It had Active Desktop. It had Channels. It had motherfucking Channels, the coolest technology that never reached market adoption ever not even a little bit. IE4, in general, was so good that you were going to have it installed on your PC whether you liked it or not.

When you're part of an elite group of people who fully understand the weight of perfection, there is a natural tendency to tell everyone you meet that you and you alone have the gravitas necessary to make these hard decisions. Decisions like what browser your visitors should use.

So we proudly displayed dozens of 88x31 pixel buttons on our sites:

These were everywhere. It's kind of like the ribbons displayed on a uniform of a military officer: they told the tale of all the battles the individual had fought in order to get to where they were today. In other words, which editor (FrontPage '98, obviously), which web server (GeoCities, you moron), and which web ring you were a part of (whichever listed your site highest, which was none of them).


I miss the good ol' days. Today we have abstractions on top of abstractions on top of JavaScript, of all things. Shit doesn't even know how to calculate math correctly. It's amazing we ever got to where we are today, when you think about it.

So raise a glass proudly, and do us all a favor: paste a shit ton of &nbsp;s into your next pull request, just to fuck with your team a little bit.

Here's an internet social media button to impress your friends: