Basics - Using a Browser Off the Web
That picture file is now on your computer in your Web cache. You can also right click (Mac users click-hold) on that picture to save it to your hard disk in a folder with a name of your choosing. The Web page may also tell your browser to blink, spin, or move that picture, but still the file is the same.
No Internet Connection Required
Here is an important fact that sometimes surprises even veteran Internet surfers: you don't have to be connected to the Internet to use a Web browser! Open your browser and cancel connecting to the Internet.
Now, from the File pull-down menu, pick Open File (or similar) and you can open any file with an HTM or HTML extension (it may have a little browser icon by the name). Whether it is Navigator, Internet Explorer, or AOL, you can view Web pages that are on your hard drive or office network without any connection to the Internet.
This shouldn't be too surprising if you remember our first concept that all browsers do is display text files.
Links Between Files
The other great feature of Web pages is that they can link together. By adding a simple HTML tag to a phrase like "CLICK HERE," you can instruct the Web browser to now load another Web page text file in a specified location, and now those words display as underlined and in a different color to let you know it is a link to another Web page.
These pages can also link to other kinds of files, such as CAD drawings or plotter driver files. That doesn't mean necessarily that you will be able to "see" the file but just that you can instruct your Web browser to retrieve that file and put it in a location of your choosing.
Launching Other Applications
A big reason Web browsers can seem so grand and amazing is that they are set up to incorporate other so-called "plug-in" applications that can play music, show movie files, or manipulate 3D models on screen.
These plug-ins are really separate programs that are linked with your Web browser. When the browser retrieves a file with a certain reserved file extension (such as .RMM for Real Player Audio, or .MOV for QuickTime animation) it automatically launches that plug-in program in a new window.
Browsers as CAD and Office Managers
In January 1999, we awarded Don Parker our Cheap Tricks Grand Prize because he submitted his firm's CAD and office standards to us as a series of linked Web pages on disk.
We were blown away not only with the lengths to which he had taken this concept, but, more importantly, with the usefulness that his system promised to an office of any size.
We have joked in the past that the computer revolution promising the "paperless office" has generated more paper than ever — but here finally was a concept that might work to eliminate a lot of redundant paperwork.
Not only could various office standards and guidelines be available to any computer on a network, with several people on separate computers viewing the same information at once, but that office protocol could be kept up to date easily without the need to physically update everyone's three-ring binder.
Other useful references could be made available in the same way, as he showed with the incorporation of the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) standards made available as a linked page. A Web-based office manual, he writes, is "more efficient, it encourages us to look up info we may otherwise guess at, and it's just more fun!"
Best of all to us was not only the fact that he and his office did this incredible work, but that this methodology is one that just about anyone can do as well by editing his office Web page templates.
Such pages can also be created using an HTML editor like Netscape Composer or MS Front Page. Even "basic" word processors will now let you load, edit, and save Web-formatted documents. With a little knowledge of HTML you can even easily override and modify what these canned export programs give you.
Browsers as Presentation Tools
The other major new use that is steadily gaining more converts is the Web browser as a presentation tool. If you know you can use your client's computer, in all likelihood he or she has a Web browser on it (whether he or she uses it or not!) that you can use to display your presentation.
Whether you are presenting to one person, or to a large lecture hall through a projection system, Web page organization is a flexible, appealing way to keep your presentation on track. And it gives you the ability to easily go back and forth between screens at the slightest suggestion.
PowerPoint presentations have been very popular these last few years, but now they are so commonplace that many find them trite and predictable. A Web-based presentation, on the other hand, is truly a designer's blank page that can be molded to best serve your design intent.
We must admit that we hated it when Windows 95 tried to convert the whole world into one big Web page, but we definitely see the advantages of making some of your world into a "browsable" region. Start thinking of your Web browser in these new ways and we bet that you too will put your Web browser to a new use very soon.
Evan H. Shu, FAIA, is an architect with Shu Associates Inc. in Melrose, Massachusetts. He is a frequent contributor to Architectural Record and publisher and editor of "Cheap Tricks," a monthly newsletter for DataCAD users and computer-using architects.
This article was reprinted from the October 2000 issue of "Cheap Tricks" © Shu Associates Inc. with permission of the publisher. Don Parker's office guidelines templates are available through the Cheap Tricks Web site as "Misc. Utility Disks" #B107 -B110.