What is a GIF?
CREDIT: Stuart Miles | Shutterstock
The history of the GIF
In 1987, CompuServe released the first GIF (and for the record, it's pronounced "jif") for the purpose of transmitting images through download portals used within the company’s network. GIF was essentially the first image format to allow color images, and it also happened to be the first image format that could be transmitted over the Internet.
Types of GIFs
GIFs some in several different types, the most common being 87a and 89a. The 87a type is simple and allows you to store a single image in the file. Type 89a, however, supports multiple images compressed into a single file. These images are then strung together to create a soundless slideshow animation, often called an animated GIF.
The quality of GIFs
In earlier days, the GIF format only supported up to 256 colors. Today, GIFs support millions of colors thanks to advanced blending and transparency techniques. Considering the small file size, GIFs offer a very high quality picture that put them on par with most of the competition.
The newer GIF formats
Even though GIFs are still widely used on the Web, the file format is slowly being phased out because of patent infringement on the format coding. In place of the GIF is the PNG (pronounced "ping" or "pee en gee"), a successor that uses a similar compression technique. In addition to keeping file sizes low, a PNG can also handle True Color encoding, which allows for more color accuracy than afforded by regular GIFs.
Alternatives to the GIF
Many other file formats exist that are equally, if not more popular. The most popular of these formats is the JPG or JPEG (pronounced "j-peg"), which was the second image format introduced on the Internet. Unlike the GIF, JPGs use much more complex coding to allow for better image quality, especially for images with soft color palettes. Another common image is the TIFF, which features advanced pixel coding and is typically used to display complex images.