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Opera proposal brings a book look to the Web

Changes with the CSS formatting standard could bring a more book-like look to Web pages. But Opera's proposal will have to be reconciled with Adobe's CSS Regions plan.

Opera Up North Web logo

OSLO, Norway--Opera Software is a browser company, but its chief technology officer believes the modern Web still could learn a thing or two from publishing technology that's hundreds of years old.

At the company's Up North Web press event here, CTO Haakon Wium Lie showed off a new standard he proposed that could give Web pages more of the feel of printed pages. A document too big for a single screen, instead of getting a scroll bar, would be split across several pages, and people can navigate among them with gestures--swiping left and right to go forward and backward or swiping up to return to an earlier page.

"Doing pages on a screen I think will be very important, especially for tablets," he said.

He demonstrated the idea with Web pages revamped to use the technology, swiping his way with gestures from one page to the next. In one demo on a tablet, a newspaper site was easily mapped to use three columns, with a graphic pinned to the upper-right corner and the layout adjusting as the tablet was pivoted from portrait to landscape orientation. In another demo, a Web version of "Alice in Wonderland" was formatted with the book-like layout

CSS has become a hotbed of activity as the Web takes on a more polished look. Apple has been active, working on animated CSS transitions and transformations, while more recently Adobe Systems has joined the fray with CSS Regions and Exclusions for magazine-like formatting and CSS Shaders for 3D effects.

Haakon Wium Lie, Opera's chief technology officer and the founder of CSS, shows off CSS formatting technology to give Web pages more of the feel of content printed on paper.
Haakon Wium Lie, Opera's chief technology officer and the founder of CSS, shows off CSS formatting technology to give Web pages more of the feel of content printed on paper. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Lie proposed the technology features last night to the Generated Content for Paged Media standard for the Web's Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) technology, and the company plans to release the technology in a labs version of Opera 12.

Lie has some clout here: he edits that specification and is the original creator of CSS. But it's not as simple as just publishing the specification and considering it done.

"We're going to have to do some discussion rounds to get some support," he said. And there's work to be done hammering out differences with with CSS Regions. "Some stuff with Regions would combine well with this, but it also has stuff that Regions is doing in a different way."

The technology also can handle page elements such as headers, footers, and footnotes, and is adapted to publishers' needs such as full-page "interstitial" ads placed between different pages.

"We think there's an opportunity to rethink the ads on the Web," Lie said.

In Lie's ideal world, a Web page could come with different CSS formatting code, then show the paged version when appropriate. The HTML, though, which describes things like text and graphics, would be fixed.

"I'd like for the HTML code to be constant and adapt to different devices with different style sheets," he said.