Re: Netscape & New HTML

lamport@src.dec.com
Fri, 21 Oct 94 12:58:35 -0700


Message-Id: <9410211958.AA10271@lilac.pa.dec.com>
To: www-html@www0.cern.ch
Subject: Re: Netscape & New HTML 
In-Reply-To: Message of Fri, 21 Oct 1994 18:56:56 +0100
    <Pine.3.87.9410211206.C8821-0100000@chuma>
Date: Fri, 21 Oct 94 12:58:35 -0700
From: lamport@src.dec.com


   HTML provides a low-bandwidth way to specify the aproximate positions
   and layout of text/pictures.  Using PostScript or TeX or any other
   typesetting language increases the bandwidth by insane amounts.
   Better to add options on to the existing low-bandwidth solutions than
   to go for something that will clog the 'Net and hog the bandwidth.

I haven't tried it out, but I would estimate that the difference in
size between a typical HTML file--say 10K bytes--and the LaTeX
equivalent would be about 100 bytes.  That's 1%, or about 10
microseconds worth of video.  I would estimate that the Postscript
version is on the order of 20K bytes, or about 2 milliseconds of
video.

   ...needed/useful markups such as <center> and <font> will be used.  If
   they add something that people want and will use, what's the problem?

Here's the problem: experienced software writers have a name for this
approach; they call it "the slippery slope".  You build a reasonable
system, then decide to extend it by adding one feature, then another,
then another, and pretty soon you've spent a lot of time creating a
complicated kludge.

There seems to be an impression that HTML is simple and languages like
LaTeX are complicated.  So, all we have to do is add some features to
HTML and we'll get something that's as powerful as we need and just as
simple as HTML.

Well, I have some news for you folks: LaTeX is just as simple as
HTML--if you restrict yourself to doing in LaTeX only what you can do
in HTML.  I don't expect anyone on this list to doubt that

  <B> Some bold text. </B>

is much more wonderful than

  \textbf{Some bold text.}

But, it isn't any simpler.  Learning HTML is no easier than learning
the corresponding restricted subset of LaTeX.  (If you doubt this, look
at the file sample2e.tex or sample.tex that's sitting somewhere in the
LaTeX directories on your system.)

LaTeX is more complicated than HTML because it does a lot more.
There's no reason to believe that, by extendeding the functionality of
HTML so it can handle a reasonably large class of documents, you'd
wind up with something simpler than LaTeX.  There's a lot of experience
to indicate that you'd wind up with something a lot worse.  Adding
rooms to a cottage isn't a very good way to build a skyscraper.

People have spent a lot of time thinking about text formatting.
They've produced a number of different languages and systems:
Postscript, TeX, LaTeX, Interleaf, Word, etc.  Each has its strengths
and weaknesses.  None of them was done by just adding a few features
to some existing system.

Leslie Lamport