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GIF Animation on the WWW

No plug-ins, no programming, no server access...just pure GIF...

The Site

GIF Animation is the poor man's format. Simple, but efficient enough for many animations. Just enough to give a little pizazz to a personal page without the shock of Director's price tag , bulk of Java programming, trouble and limited viewability of plug-ins, or the inaccessible CGI server-push.

How did all this animation stuff happen?

Well I've been asked this in some magazine articles so I put it down for the bored and the interested.

The format is a definite success, and a interesting story if you're bored. Even though GIF animation has been possible since 1987, very little support or know how got around about GIF extensions. Alchemy Mindworks, years later, would build a product called GIF Construction Set. It supported all the extensions to GIF, but no one was using them. To top it off, Unisys, which owned the compression algorithm used to encode & decode every GIF, said they were going to start collecting royalties on them. Public outrage made Unisys back off, only charging software companies that use the algorithm. Alchemy decided to shelve their product and made it bookware. Transparency, one of the GIF89a features, gets recognized when the Web hit big. In order to avoid the Unisys royalty, the PiNG format is proposed. PNG combines GIF features (transparency & interlacing) with better compression and color. Heiner Wolf buzzed into the ears of browser-builders at WWW conferences around the world promoting GIF an an inline animation format for the Web. Scott Fur at Netscape was convinced and added the cross-platform compatibilty to Netscape 2 betas. However, a lack of GIF89a compliant animation tools in the market convinced Netscape not to announce the support. I was playing around with web pages in December of '95, learning HTML for fun. I grabbed GIF Construction Set for transparency settings in GIFs. I saw you could encode multiple images. I thought, "this would be great if it worked in a web page." I was sure it wouldn't, otherwise somebody would be doing it already. I tried it in the early Netscape 2.0 beta and viola, Animation! I posted some articles in authoring newsgroups asking who could see my animations. People started asking questions and I put up a page explaining stuff. I knew this could be big. Java was so impossible for the non-programmer. CGI was inaccessible to most and incomprehensible to a portion of those who had it. Shockwave was beta at best at that point and Director would put it out of most people's hands. Netscape had nothing on the GIF ability in their site. The Netscape programmer contacted me, and even told me about the looping mechanism in 2.0beta4. I decided to experiment and promote it through the site's pages. The effect can be seen on every site in the world. A year and a half later, GIF Animation is the predominant form of animation on the Web. Shockwave and Splash are used but mostly by larger professional shops. Java and Javascript is used for controlled applications, but GIF89a continues to be the easiest way to get animation on pages.<2B

What is GIF89a?

Well, its the technical rules from 1989 that explain how GIFs can be put together. You see most GIFs over the years have only one image per file. According to the technical specifications from 1987, a GIF could have had more than one image per file, making it like a slide show presentation and not a single image. However, most programs that work with GIF are designed around the idea of one image per file. So the multi-image aspect of GIFs was forgotten. In 1989, they added timing and various other abilities to the GIF format, including transparency. Nobody used these new additions either. Then the Web took off. Transparency and interlacing became features people wanted to use and software companies began supporting those features. Back in December of '95, I found the Alchemy Mindworks program, GIF Construction Set.

This program introduced me to the concept of multiple images in a single GIF. Netscape's site finally has more than one page (a sad little one) that mentions the ability to do animation natively. Opera for Windows has joined in support as have Microsoft Explorer and other browsers for Amiga and Acorn OSes. Visual Basic, Java and Javascript extensions that support GIF89a features should be developing soon.

Why am I doing all this?!

Too much time on my hands. :-) I knew people would love this technique. This was the only way I could do animation on my pages. After I saw the initial reaction it became an experiment to see how far it could go. Three major revisions later, we're here.

How much money have you made off of this?

Bubbkiss. Zero. Nada. Zilch. At least for the first year. However, my site was mentioned in magazines, linked by lots of pages and some awards. Which is all pretty kewl. My fifteen minutes of Internet fame. In Dec'96 I started with paid banners from COmmonwealth, but the income per 1,000 impression was around $ .70 and decreasing, a disappointment.all around.

Who are you?

Royal E. Frazier Jr., a life-long New Rochelle, NY resident (did I really WANT to admit that?) I'm a PC guy basically. I've been doing the range of technical support on PCs since 1990. Building, installing, training, troubleshooting, anything. I worked on an unlimited temporary contract for Westchester County in New York State- a permanent temp without benefits,raises, sickpay, vacations, holidays. You would think it was illegal, and I'm certain it was, after all we didn't have contrcats or end dates, which I think violated union rules. I don't recommend that form of work to anyone, especially not for government. I work for an international trader of ammonia, fertilizer and liqueifed petroleum gases. A private company named Transammonia. I've been moving more and more into networking for the past two years. It's been a great experience and I've gotten to travel abroad on business. Last year I travelled 3 months out of the year. Though, I still enjoy training people and helping individuals out. That sorta spilled out onto these pages. For more about me, you can check out my home page called INTERcoNnEcTions. I'm also into Geneaology(some sorely neglected pages are on the web) and a few other topics.

Any ideas, suggestions, utilities, or examples, please contact me - Royal E. Frazier

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Copyright 1996,1997 Royal E. Frazier Jr. Last Updated: March 1997