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From: Dave J Woolley <DJW@bts.co.uk>
Date: Sun, 28 Nov 1999 13:31:30 GMT
Message-Id: <199911281331.NAA10518@djwhome.demon.co.uk>
To: www-html@w3.org
Murray Altheim <altheim@eng.sun.com> wrote:
> If HTML is to die, it'll die of its own accord, not through any plan of
> action or negligence on the part of the HTML working group.

I think it will be a very long time in dying, and that even the current
deprecated elements will take a long time to die.  As I say later on, most
HTML is constructed by cut and paste methods, not as a result of reading
and understanding the specification, so changes made by W3C will have no
impact unless they produce "sexy" results that are then copied from the
pages of the few who actually read the announcements of the new features.

Moreover, the broken and patchy implementations of CSS, mean that,
whilst it is possible to create CSS documents that fall back cleanly
on "generation 2" browsers, the result will be a total mess on some
"generation 3 and 4" browsers.  As a result, for some time, people
will use font, frames, etc.  to achieve compatibility with the latter
(although backwards compatibility is not that great an issue in real
life web pages).

Half truths will circulate about the problems with CSS, and as the authors
are only interested in form, not structure, and non-style sheet, or style
in every element (the likely result of current generation authoring
tools) methods produce their intended form, those half truths will not
get corrected even when CSS works reliably.

> that I hardly blame MS and NS for not having compliant browsers. The dream

I do, or at least Netscape; it was they who decided to commercialise HTML
and knew that what was sellable was physical markup, with no underlying
formal syntax, resulting in what Lynx calls "tag soup".

> Because XML must be *at the very least* well-formed (simply to pass thru
> an XML processor), we hope that this level of compliance will set a higher

Well formedness will eliminate <font..>....<p>.....</font>, but won't prevent
people using the result instead of <h2>.**  The great problem with structural
languages is that a remarkably small proportion of the potential authors
can think in a structured way.  For most, HTML is a method of presenting
appealing advertisements on a couple of pieces of "free" software, not a way
of producing well formed machine parsable documents.

> One of the twisting forces of "nature" that has caused so many problems
> for HTML is that every company wanting to "innovate" (not just Microsoft

This doesn't just include the designers of browsers; every content authoring
company and 14 year old kid wants to produce pages that look "state of the
art".  Actually, many don't innovate, they actually copy fashion++, by
copying ideas from books and code.  Neither these HTML cookbooks, nor
real life code are likely to be written in a structured way, and the 
get copied for their particular gimmicks, not for good style.  Books sell
on the basis of "how to create attractive web sites", not on "how to write
valid HTML".

> But beyond this, due to politics, inertia and entrenchment, I'm more and
> more thinking the W3C incapable of remedying this problem. Their solutions
> are getting ever more complicated, not less so, to the point where XML 

This seems to be the natural life history of all standards.  Something gets
created in the first place to simplify things by addressing particular
problems, but then the committees attack it and it grows back to have
the full functionality of whatever it replaced.  E.g. HTML was explicitly
not a word processing language, or DTP language, but has grown back to
almost that.  LDAP was supposed to be light weight, but has grown back
to have more than X.500.  HTTP started out as a simple protocol but has
now grown features that make it a direct competitor for NSF and CIFS (SMB).
Even though the result doesn't offer much advantage over what they have
grown back to emulate, the fashion factor means that the newer standard
is always more popular (e.g. PDF is a much better format for the intended
use of most commercial web pages - accessibility is generally not an intended
use, and the conveyance of information, rather than emotion, rarely is).

> One of the problems I see with the W3C is the same as often occurs when
> any new technology arises: people get the feeling it was invented by one
> or two people, when in reality it's often an entire scientific community

Businesses, of course, also do this.  (Sometimes I think that there is
virtually nothing new in software, just things that have been re-introduced
under a different name - most of the real change is due to hardware cost
reduction making old ideas workable in new markets, or at all.)

> As we're seeing with the enormous surge in popularity of Linux, it's not

I think Linux is beginning to lose its way as it gets commercialised.

PS I have virtually no influence over the structure of my employer's
web pages.  Normal disclaimers apply.

++ This is one of the paradoxes about fashion.  Everyone follows fashion
because they want to be seen as doing something different, but, in the end
they do the same as everyone else who follows the fashions!

** using blank lines to create page breaks and even using tabs to get
new lines is quite common amongst users of word processors which can
do better.  Style features in word processors are rarely used.
Received on Sunday, 28 November 1999 09:08:46 GMT

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