Re: What's wrong with <FONT>?

Warren Steel (
Fri, 10 May 1996 22:45:24 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 10 May 1996 22:45:24 -0500
To: (Scott E. Preece)
From: Warren Steel <>
Subject: Re: What's wrong with <FONT>? 

At 11:00 AM 5/10/96 -0500, Scott E. Preece wrote:
>While I basically agree with Warren and have never used FONT myself
>except for relative size changes, I also think he overstates the

>Second, the "inability to override for user needs" argument is just as
>much a browser shortcoming as a notation problem.  The browser *could*
>offer the user the ability to change color mappings or to map an
>author's font to one the user chooses.... 

>Needless to sy, I think stylesheets are the right way to express this
>information and that FONT is a stopgap measure of limited, short-term
>value.  On the other hand, until stylesheets are available, it's all
>there is...

    Scott, I don't see how you can have it both ways.  If <FONT> is 
a useful stopgap, till Stylesheets are deployed, then it must "work"
properly *now*, in current browsers.  I've already demonstrated that
it doesn't.  Current browsers do not allow users to disable font sizes,
which blows off the sight-impaired and those with small displays.  
Current browsers do not allow users to disable font colors, which 
blows off the colorblind and those who happen to have set their own 
background colors.  <FONT> is an obstacle to communication for real 
users today.  It looks to me as though developers are much closer to
implementing style sheets than they are to allowing users to disable
font sizes and colors.  Why "enshrine" in HTML specs an element that 
is demonstrably harmful to communication?

    Some might say that it is necessary for "backwards compatibility"
with existing browsers.  I don't really consider this an issue.
Existing <FONT> tags are rendered harmlessly as ordinary text on
plenty of browsers that do not recognize <FONT>.  If Netscape and
MSIE were to do the world a service and release new versions without
<FONT>, this would be no greater upset than the one that occurred
when Netscape released its version 2.0, with its "pickier" parser.
Thousands of authors complained that their documents no longer
displayed "correctly," and that their multiple-Body hacks no longer
scintillated.  But Netscape recovered without visible harm, and
so did the authors who depended on the old parser.  There's no
reason to believe that developers would be in any way harmed by
the loss of <FONT>, especially if they *agreed* to drop it
simultaneously, and introduced their "leaner, cleaner" versions 
in a series of public betas.  Authors would learn to use more
"graceful" forms of HTML emphasis, or learn to use style sheets.

   Alternatively, the <FONT SIZE="+1"> and <FONT SIZE="-1"> could
be retained as clumsy "aliases" for <BIG> and <SMALL> respectively, 
just as <CENTER> is allowed for <DIV ALIGN=center>.  Extreme relative
font sizes, absolute font sizes, font colors, and font faces, 
however, would then be relegated to style sheets, where everyone
agrees they belong.

   Readers interested only in the specific issue of the HTML <FONT> 
element may wish to stop here.  Scott said I was overstating my case,
and ended his comment on user settings with the following:

>                                  I'm not entirely comfortable
>saying that just because browsers fail to make it possible to control
>expression of the author's intentions, that authors should not be
>allowed to express their intentions.  Font choice, for instance, is a
>*very* significant element in expressing the "tone" of a document.
>If you don't provide a way to express that, you have lost important
>information.  If you say that a document is just words and that it is
>equivalent in any displayed form, thousands of years of human history
>say you're wrong.

    Thousands of years?  Did David choose his fonts? or Homer, Sappho,
Confucius, Dante, or Chaucer?  These all lived before the advent of 
printing, and had little control over any manuscripts that circulated
even in their own time.  Shakespeare, Cervantes, Milton, Goethe?  Is 
there any evidence that they chose fonts, styles, or paper quality for 
any of their printed works, or enforced these choices on the publishers
of their day, or feared that their works would not communicate their
message to readers if rendered in different fonts?  Remember, we're 
talking text fonts here, not even illustrations or illuminations. 
And you said *I* was overstating my case!  I'd say authors who have
waited thousands of years would do well to wait a few more months for 
style sheets.

Warren Steel              
Department of Music              University of Mississippi