XGB Web and Software Design is a small, free-lance company dedicated primarily to designing and implementing Web sites for small businesses and non-profit organizations; secondarily to producing custom software applications. On the software side, for the time being our applications are designed for the Microsoft Windows® platform using the C# language and the .NET Runtime library. However, in the future we will consider other platforms and tools, such as the open-source Linux/Mono. Already in the making are several online tutorial applications that demonstrate some interesting aspects of mathematics; a loan calculator that is probably like no other in the world; and a desktop application for calculating and monitoring one's cardiovascular conditioning, by gauging the aerobic benefits of more than forty different exercises. Our future plans (time and finances permitting) call for development of the world's first desktop application designed to produce spherical charts for astrologers. We can also produce custom software to suit particular needs and purposes; for example, we have already produced an auction-managing program for a company that auctions musical and celebrity autographs and other memorabilia.
Admittedly, this process involves learning-on-the-fly; we are literally learning how to produce Web sites as we produce them. That is why the site you see at present is rather simple, and almost devoid of imagery. Rest assured that the glitz, the glamour and imagery will come in the next few weeks and months. Our goals for the moment are to make this site informative, and to ensure that it conforms to the highest technical standards for Web site production. The following section covers this technical aspect in some detail.
We believe the words of Longfellow are particularly apt in describing the objectives of this project. Too often in Web design, it's what the prospective client doesn't see that has strong implications for his or her site's performance, extensibility, and maintenance requirements—to say nothing of the degree of professionalism conveyed through mere inspection of the site's source code.
The World Wide Web is a wild, woolly, and wondrously egalitarian place in which to live and work. Its egalitarian nature allows people who otherwise don't know much about computer technology to develop their own Web sites, and this is a major strength of the Internet as it stands today. This egalitarianism also explains why so many Web sites are designed so badly. We're not just speaking here of sites that are aesthetically awful, and rife with spelling and grammatical errors and broken links. For even when the site of a company or organization looks pleasing to the eye, and functions as one might expect, its source code often betrays certain weaknesses that can affect how the site loads, as well as how easily it can be modified, extended, and upgraded. These weaknesses can also convey distinct impressions about the investment made by that organization in developing a quality site for itself.
All Web sites are open-source projects, which means that anyone can easily inspect the source code that underlies every Web page. (For the uninitiated: It's just a matter of selecting View >> Source from the main menu of your Web browser, or View >> Page Source, depending on the browser you use.) What's more, anyone with minimal knowledge can test any Web site against certain validation standards adopted by such organizations as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C, for short). Shockingly, many sites purportedly developed by independent "Web- masters" don't even pass the minimal technical requirements of the W3C. We selected at random the home pages of four independent Web development companies in California, companies that shall remain unnamed here. We subjected each of these pages to a test by the W3C, and the tests turned up no fewer than 22, 22, 30, and 40 errors respectively.
Validating your Web pages is vital because it is the only way to ensure that your site will be compatible with current and future Web browsers, as well as Internet-ready mobile devices such as cellular phones and PDAs. Additionally, inspecting and testing the source code for your Web project might well turn up numerous errors, warnings and other weaknesses that are professionally embarrassing. It can reveal that your site was created using a mere word processor or other "office" application, or a visual-editing, point-and-click, drag-and-drop, WYSINNWYG ("What You See Is Not Necessarily What You Get") environment such as Microsoft FrontPage, or Adobe's Dreamweaver. The list of potential errors and oversights is a lengthy one. No document type declaration. Or attributes not defined within a given document type. Tables nested within tables nested within tables. Font tags nested within font tags nested within font tags. Empty table tag-pairs. Empty font-tag pairs. Nesting mismatches. Images declared without the "alt" attribute. And so on. As the client and end-user of your site, you'd be within your rights to ask: "Why should I care about how my site was produced, or what the source code looks like? I just want the damned thing to work!" Make no mistake, though: A Web site that looks unprofessional beneath the surface bears tangible implications about the commitment and investment made by your company or organization toward projecting its best possible image.
These concerns motivate the working maxim of XGB Web and Software Design: Where design begins under the hood. Toward the end of producing sites that look and work every bit as beautifully underneath the surface as on the outside, we have made the following three commitments to ourselves and to the end-user:
1. We will never release a markup page or stylesheet before it has been subjected to the W3C's strict standards for proper Web-page coding, and is found to contain no errors or warnings (albeit with one notable exception); 2. We will never use visual-editing tools such as FrontPage and Dreamweaver. Instead, we work with plain-text editors, and editors designed specifically to produce HTML, XHTML, and stylesheet text pages. By working directly with the source code, we can achieve a degree of control over the site that is much more powerful and fine-grained than is possible using visual-editing tools; 3. We will never code a Web page using any document type that precedes the XHTML 1.0 standard. We are committed to the "new paradigm" in Web design that is evolving in the 21st century. This new paradigm involves a turning-away from the heavily-encrusted and corrupted form of HTML coding that manifested in the late 1990s. This corrupted HTML refuses to separate the basic structural components of a Web page from its formatting. Those of us who hold to the new paradigm want to see HTML restored to the pristine glory of its origins, when it was used strictly as a markup language, not as a markup-and-styling language. For styling purposes, we wholeheartedly embrace the technology of Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS. This relatively new technology allows savvy designers to dramatically reduce the size of files on a site, and decrease the number of "hits" required of a host server before the site is fully serviced. It also ensures more rapid development than is possible with the old, table-based paradigm, not to mention vastly easier and more efficient modification, upkeep and maintenance of your site. The commitment to XHTML and CSS as our tools of choice for Web design mirrors strongly our commitment to object-oriented languages for writing our software packages.
In computer parlance one sometimes encounters what are called recursive acronyms. These are acronyms in which the first word in the acronym's expansion is the acronym itself (or a close variant of the acronym). Thus we have the precursor to the Linux operating system, called GNU, which stands for "GNU's Not Unix." Similarly, Web developers often use a scripting tool called PHP, a recursive acronym standing for "PHP Hypertext Preprocessor."
The label "XGB" follows in this vein. "XGB" is a recursive acronym meaning "XGB's Gordon Brown." Brown is the chief developer of this company and its Web site. He is also the host of the radio program KFSD Listener Request Friday, which can be heard Friday afternoons from 2 to 6 p.m. on KFSD AM 1450, a classical-music station in North San Diego County, California. (KFSD may soon be streaming an FM-quality stereo signal on the Internet.)
You may have determined that the choice of a first letter for any recursive acronym might be completely arbitrary, and in that you would be quite right. On the other hand, the first letter could bear a semantic or quasi-semantic significance, depending on what's on the mind of the person who conceives the acronym. In this case XGB could mean "Signed, Gordon Brown"—thus serving as a kind of stamp or personal signature upon his work. Secondly, the letter X frequently turns up in computer labeling and jargon, and often, though not always, denotes the notion of extensibility. Notable examples include the IBM XT line of computers made in the early 1980s, the NeXt computer once manufactured by Apple, the X windowing interface for Linux and other operating systems (for that matter, the operating systems Unix, Minix, Linux, and Windows XP come to mind), and, most recently, the wave of extensible markup languages that includes XML and XHTML. Lastly, the letter X has always borne connotations of the unknown (think of algebra here), and has always exuded a certain mystery. (And what could be more mysterious to many people than how computers work?) Besides, we think the letter X is just plain cool.