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Smoke and Mirrors

In the last Design Tips article I included a link to a web
page at that has its
HTML code hidden so that people cannot view the source and
copy it. I said it was a trick and invited anyone that could
not figure it out to send me an
email and I would tell you
how it was done.

I was very gratified to discover just how many people are
actually reading these articles. I received literally
hundreds of
emails many of which included detailed
explanations of how it could be done. If you did ask only to
discover that it really was a trick don't feel too bad, you
were in very good company. Like most slight of hand tricks it
seems obvious once you know how it is done.

Since I assume that many of you did not ask, I will describe
the trick one more time. Like most illusions, the trick is in
the misdirection. In this case when you view the HTML source
you will see an error message telling you:

< !--

The implication is that attempting to view the HTML source
file will generate an error. But that of course is not true.
You are looking at the source file. The message is just a
comment intended to fool you. It could have said:

< !-Smoke and Mirrors. To view the source scroll down.--->

Which is exactly where the source is located. HTML ignores
comments and blank lines. Adding enough blank lines below the
comment to move the source below the viewable window will
only leave the comment for anyone to see, until they scroll
the window.

As I said before, I know of no way to hide your HTML from
anyone that wants to look at it. You can use tricks to make
it harder to find but it is going to be located somewhere on
the client's computer. That is the nature of how the
designed HTML. It is an open source format that conforms to
the intent of the free distribution of ideas over the World
Wide Web.

The really interesting part of this topic however, is in just
how many people do want to protect their work. This is not a
judgment simply an observation. The web has evolved a lot
since it was originally created by Tim
Berners-Lee in 1994, a mere seven
years ago. When he developed hypertext in 1989 it was to
provide a protocol for global information sharing and not for
protecting ideas.

In those seven years the WWW has moved from a novel way for
engineers and scientists to post their ideas and work to a
multi-trillion dollar (pound, franc, yen etc.) international
business system. From the original http we have moved to
SVG, secure servers, Netscape, Yahoo, hackers, cable modems
and very much more. The WWW is not only not what our mother
remembers it is not what we remember. Notwithstanding the
dot.Com meltdown the WWW will continue to rapidly
evolve and grow.

All that is to say that it may no longer be realistic to view
the WWW as a method for the free distribution of ideas. That
is probably too simplistic a concept. If a lot of users want
to protect their intellectual ideas then that is what they
want. Why should it be exclusive to the music industry?

Even so HTML is an open source format and will remain so. For
most of us most of the time it works very well and does
exactly what it is intended to do.

"IMS Web Tips" ISSN 1488-7088
© Copyright 2001 Virtual Mechanics

"IMS Web Tips" is a weekly news letter for all web site managers regardless of experience who are looking for detailed information on creating, maintaining and promoting their web sites.

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