report from the 5th World Wide Web conference (WWW5) in paris, france


this is neither an official document in any respect nor should any statement be taken as a fact, this is just my personal opinion. reto ambühler, computing services of the ETH zürich

first impression:

the fifth World Wide Web conference (WWW5 ) took place from may 6 to may 10 1996 in paris, france.
the conference was hosted by INRIA, the European Commission, ERCIM and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). it was held in the "Centre National du l'Industrie et Technologie" (CNIT) located in "la défense", the very modern business district of paris, a very impressive area dominated by the sight of the "L' Arche". unfortunately, the area was covered all over with trash, probably because there were no wastebaskets at all.

the event itself was very well organized with dozens of friendly ladies in pretty red dresses ready to answer all kinds of questions and guiding attendees through the maze of the vast conference center.

the technical equipment functioned well, the stages were arranged very nicely and the screen projectors provided large and well readable displays. only the Internet connectivity from the PC rooms was often quite poor, sometimes only slightly faster than a dead dog. i noticed, that there were almost no Macs at all and all PCs were running Windows 95.

conference of "good hope":

to me, this was the conference of "good hope".

after boston, i was afraid that the Web in general and HTML in particular will become chaos and disaster soon (see my trip report from 4WWW95). but in paris, i felt that the W3C managed to be back in the driver's seat and that the companies providing software for the Web community have learned that they need to corporate. this statement is based on the following facts:

  1. the W3C showed strong presence, they filled a whole stream of papers during the conference. various members of the W3C gave very valuable talks. they proved themselves as experts in their field.

  2. the major software providers have agreed on a new HTML standard (see below) and obviously have realized that they need to corporate, not only for the sake of the Web standards, but mainly to keep the Web intact as an extremely important market with a huge potential for the future.
    i'm convinced that the strong commitment from Microsoft to the new HTML standard in particular and their participation in the various working groups of the Web consortium in general will forth other software providers to comply with the standards if they want to stay in the business.


according to the printed attendee list, there were 1452 participants, 40 of them from switzerland of which 13 represented academic institutions (registrations as of april 25, 1996).

please see also the trip report of my colleague olivier zäch from the computer center of the university of zürich.

key messages:

to me, the following are the key messages from this conference:

  1. HTML V3.0 is dead !

    ... but according to the press release published on may 7, 1996 in paris titled "the World Wide Web Consortium announces HTML V3.2 providing bright future for HTML as a non-proprietary standard" there is a new standard developed together with IBM, Microsoft, Netscape Communications Corporation, Novell, Pathfinder, SoftQuad, Spyglass and Sun. it incorporates most of the widely deployed features such as tables, applets and text flow around images, while providing backward compatibility with the existing HTML V2.0 standard.

  2. the W3C is back in the game. during the 4th WWW conference in boston, i felt that the W3C has lost control and that the market leader(s) basically followed their own strategies without any coordination. now with HTML V3.2, there is hope that we will not end up with many different HTML dialects and that remarks like "this page looks best with Netscape Vx.y" will no longer be necessary and will disappear soon.

  3. Microsoft is now on the fast lane also as far as the Internet in general and the World Wide Web in particular is concerned. Microsoft did not only show various products and strategies around the Web, such as the beta version of the Internet Explorer V3.0 and ActiveX, but also because of its strong commitments and active participation in various working groups of the W3C. Microsoft participates in working groups that keep track of the HTTP and the HTML standards and helps working on subjects such as security and electronic payment. in addition, Netscape failed to commit themselves to the new HTML standard at the Web conference, the next version of the browser does not support style sheets, whereas the Internet Explorer V3.0 does.
    i expect Microsoft to replace Netscape as the market leader in the area of Web browsers before the end of this year.

  4. with the new and much more extensive HTML standard, it is now essential to use an highly advanced HTML editor rather than just a simple text editor.
    there may be many good HTML editor around, but the most sophisticated HTML editor that i know is probably HoTMetaL Pro V3.0 from SoftQuad, canada. the main reasons for its strength are the very user friendly interface and the fact, that SoftQuad actively participates in the HTML working group of the W3C.

  5. for those who think, there is no need for such conferences (anymore), i'd like to quote robert cailliau, who said: "we are strong supporters of the idea that, as revolutionizing as the Web is, it will not replace other ways of communication. it will provide new opportunities for world-wide collaboration and therefore increase the need for people to get together when it is appropriate."

  6. my very personal highlight was mark pesec's tutorial introduction to VRML. his talk made me anxious to learn more about virtual reality and since that conference, i spent some time creating my own worlds ...

sessions dedicated to business on the Internet:

i would like to mention that for the first time on an international WWW conference, there was a sperate stream of talks dedicated to people doing business on the Internet. on the 3rd and the developer's day, there was a set of presentation called "SMEs forum business on the Web" (SME: Small Medium and Enterprise companies)

keynote and invited presentations:

during the conference, there were various keynote and invited presentations including talks from digital equipment corporation, IBM, Microsoft and Netscape. i tried to do a rating of how the audience liked the presentations based on the intensity of the applause. i came up with the following ranking:

  1. digital equipment corporation
  2. IBM
  3. Microsoft
  4. Netscape

it is obvious that people love alta vista and digital currently gets a lot of credit for that from the Web community. on the other hand, Microsoft and Netscape seem to suffer from the same phenomena: almost everybody uses their products and at the same time, most people pretend to hate them ...

a very personal quote:

john patrick from IBM said in his keynote: "people will have a Web break instead of a smoke break". therefore guys: "quit smoking, start Net surfing !"

tutorials and sessions i have attended:

monday, 6-may-96: tutorials

tuesday, 7-may-96: 1st day of conference

wednesday, 8-may-96: 2nd day of conference

thursday, 9-may-96: 3rd day of conference

friday, 10-may-96: developer's day

hardcopy documents:

the following books are available at my office for anyone who is interested:

most of the proceedings are also available on the Web.

future WWW conferences:

the following three World Wide Web conferences are currently scheduled:

other trip reports:

production note:

this trip report was written on a notebook running Windows 95 with HoTMetaL Pro V2.0 from SoftQuad and is supposed to be HTML V2.0 compliant.

WWW5 main / 04-jan-2005 (ra) / reto ambühler