Re: Processing instructions for style tweaks?

Patrick Stickler (
Fri, 2 Dec 94 17:45:31 +0100

Date: Fri, 2 Dec 94 17:45:31 +0100
From: (Patrick Stickler)
Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re: Processing instructions for style tweaks?

 > I was going to let this go, but the more that I thought
 > about it, the more felt that I had to pursue it.
 > I don't mean to denigrate Dan's idea, or suggest
 > that Paul is wrong for supporting it.  However,
 > I have to argue against PIs as our solution to
 > the often expressed need to have local control
 > over formatting.
 > So, please forgive me for what I am about to say.
 > I really think that it needs to be said.

.... [remainder of content deleted] ...

 > ===========================================================================
 > ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
 > Murray C. Maloney			Internet:
 > Technical Publications Writer/Architect	Uucp:	   ...uunet!sco!murray
 > SCO Canada, Inc.			My Phone:  (416) 960-4031
 > 130 Bloor Street West, 10th Floor	Fax:	   (416) 922-2704
 > Toronto, Ontario, Canada  M5S 1N5	SCO Phone: (416) 922-1937
 > ===========================================================================
 > ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
 > Sponsor member of Davenport Group (
 > Member of IETF HTML Working Group (
 > Member of SGML Open Internet and WWW Technical Committee
 > ===========================================================================

I very much appreciate Murray's arguments for attributes as a solution
for defining formatting characteristics in HTML documents. I am
wholeheartedly in support of such an approach. Not only is a solution
needed that is clearly constrained and well defined, but it must be as
intuitive and easy to use as possible or else the average author is not
going to use it. Attributes are nothing "new" in HTML, and there
already exist HTML browsers and editors (e.g. HoTMetaL) which support
them, so it will not require major re-engineering to add attributes for
defining formatting characteristics. Even if style-sheets become normal
usage, attributes should be the mechanism by which an author can specify
per-element instance formatting. It is also then possible to define a
standard default formatting for all HTML documents by defining those
defaults in the attribute definitions in the DTD.

I would like to stress some related points which I had made recently in
comp.text.sgml that I feel are critical to the future value of Web
documents: that HTML be kept in closer line with the basic tenets of
SGML and content-based functional markup (in direct contrast to recent
proposed extensions by Netscape) and that furthermore, browsers become
strict in their parsing of HTML document instances, notifying the
user/reader when a document instance is invalid (rather than trying to
guess around the HTML errors). 

The current trends of extending HTML to be little more than a glorified
LaTeX or troff, and of browsers hiding errors in HTML documents by
guessing the intended result and displaying them properly, will merely
encourage (directly or indirectly) the proliferation of invalid HTML
document instances, the markup of which is functionally depreciated.
Web users must be made to appreciate that the information that is
rapidly proliferating world wide will not be read/processed only by
human readers, but (if the intended informative functional markup is
used) there will be intelligent processes operating over that
information. In other words, although the interactive display of Web
documents is a major application of Web technology, it is not the only
application -- and what is of utmost value is the information, not how
it is displayed.  Presentation *is* important, don't misunderstand me,
but it is not *most* important.

Finally, the specification of formatting characteristics associated
with HTML documents should be treated merely as recommendations by the
author as to how the document should be displayed -- the browser should
allow the reader to retain full control over how information is
ultimately formatted. This is essential for full portability of the
information as no author can know all possible environments in which
his/her document will be displayed, and although most readers will have
hardware that will support a common sized screen, readers on other
platforms (e.g. PDA's) should not have to struggle with documents fixed
in a format for larger screens. The most important value of the Web
IMHO is the accessabilty of information, and future extensions to HTML
and other Web standards and technologies should work to protect this key

    Patrick Stickler                        Email:
    Senior Computer Systems Engineer        Phone: (407) 356-9852 Office
    Information Group                                    356-6094 Lab 1
    Martin Marietta Corporation                          356-7725 Lab 2
    MP1270, 12506 Lake Underhill Rd.                     356-5685 Lab 3
    Orlando, Florida 32825 U.S.A.           Fax:   (407) 356-8949
    Don't put off for tomorrow what you can do today; because if you enjoy
    it today, you can do it again tomorrow...