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HTML vs socio-political correctness

From: John Pierce <jwp@chem.ucsd.edu>
Date: Fri, 18 Feb 2000 17:15:00 -0800 (PST)
Message-Id: <200002190115.RAA12699@checfs1.ucsd.edu>
To: www-html@w3.org
A couple of days ago, Murray Altheim wrote:
    > ... We have a responsibility to produce a product that satisfies many
    > constituencies, not just the 21" 24bit monitor-wielding, fully-sighted,
    > fully-abled English-speaking IE5 users.

I have heard Murray's argument many times. It was made (as a complaint)
by people stuck with 11/40s when software started appearing that required
split I&D space. When the 680xx and 80286 appeared, this reasoning was
invoked as an argument for why programmers should continue to write
only 8-bit compatible programs. It was the primary excuse used by the
original ANSI C committee to justify requiring external identifiers to
be unique within the first six monocase characters. [In that case, the
"many constituencies" were vendors who didn't want to rewrite their
loaders, and who, for marketing reasons, wanted that limitation "required"
as opposed to only "allowed".] It was also one of the excuses offered
for much of the original POSIX silliness, and it's probably still being
used as one of the excuses for not fixing SQL's where-clause problems.

What I seem to perceive throughout W3's recent work is a socio-political
attitude that desires to actively penalize '21" 24bit...[etc]' users (this
presumably includes people with high bandwidth access and 600MHz CPUs
in this category, also) by producing specifications that do not allow
them to readily use, within the bounds of the specifications, the tools
available to them. Along with that, there also seems to be the attitude
that if someone uses a portion of a specification in some way that doesn't
fit W3's agenda, then the unintended capabilities must be villified, and,
if possible, removed forthwith. I also seem to perceive a somewhat less
overt (though not much less) attitude that, if Microsoft were the first
to implement some portion of a specification, then that specification must
have been wrong and it must be changed.

Quite frankly, though with something less than the level of political
correctness that the W3, to me, seems to espouse, I seriously doubt that a
deaf, mute, blind, quadraplegic, Yukaghir-speaker cares in the least about
the forms, reports, monitor or browser, used by the faculty, students, and
administrative staff of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Departmet of the
University of California, San Diego.

However, my constituencies care a whole lot about those forms and reports
(and, thus, so do I). From those people's viewpoint, forms and reports need
to be easy to use, need high information density, need to be consistent in
layout, and need to be visually pleasing. [High visual appeal contributes
to both a better "quality of life" and increased productivity.) From my
point of view, the reports and forms must meet my constituencies' needs,
and must be as easy to create and modify as possible. JavaScript, frames,
"target=", and being able to rewrite parts of a page from scripts, all
contribute significantly to meeting those requirements.

Yes, we use 21", 24-bit color monitors, and we use as much of that screen
real estate as we possibly can. We've been a Unix shop since 1977, but, as
much as I dislike some aspects of Microsoft, we're driving those monitors
with NT machines, and we use as much of their horsepower as we can. A 400MHz
PC with a 21" monitor costs little more than half the price of an Xterm.
Netscape's lackluster support for in-place rewrites from scripts would have
caused us to switch in any case.

In the seven or eight years we've been using the browser as an application
delivery platform, we've saved an estimated $250K in this department alone,
while significantly improving services to all of our constituencies. Over
the last two or three years, other departments and campus administration
have begun using the browser much as we do, with similar results. I have
great, and justifiable, hopes for continued savings and service increases.
As Unix-based office applications improve, I have as great, and almost as
justifiable, hopes of returning Unix to the desktop.

I also had great hopes that DOM/XML/XSL would, along with refinement of
HTML, allow us to become truly vendor-neutral. Those hopes have dimmed
considerably, starting with the watering down of DOM (which appeared to
me to be kowtowing to people's inability to produce a compliant browser)
and continuing through, e.g., the recent discussions on this list. I do
not disdain in the least our Siberian friend mentioned above; his problems
are significant to him personally, and indicative of wider social problems,
and I will happily do him such service as I am able. However, that is not
what the University pays me for, and I cannot, in good conscience, use
taxpayer money to enforce my personal opinions about social good. If that
means that I must abandon standards compliance for more useful tools, then
I will do so, albeit unhappily.

-- John W Pierce, Chem & Biochem, UC San Diego
Received on Friday, 18 February 2000 20:15:03 UTC

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