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Hey Microsoft! cool it with CSS points ok?

From: Todd Fahrner <fahrner@pobox.com>
Date: Sun, 23 Nov 1997 21:20:51 -0700
Message-Id: <v04002806b09e9755a824@[]>
To: www-style@w3.org
I've had trouble getting through to anybody in your organization with
something to say about this issue, so I'm taking it public:

Do you know what you're doing with CSS? On your site? In your developer
materials? In your typography group? You're making the Web hard or
impossible to read - even with Microsoft software. Especially for
non-Windows users. And you're teaching others to help you, both explicitly
and by example.

I'm not talking about anything as headline-addled as ActiveX or Java, but
about fonts. And points. Specifically, your use of point units in CSS to
specify the size of fonts in Web pages, especially Microsoft fonts. Before
anybody's eyes glaze over, have a look at the Microsoft corporate home page
in Microsoft's browser for Macintosh, IE3 or 4:
http://www.verso.com/agitprop/points/font_wars.GIF (43K). My comments are
in sticky notes, but the rendering is otherwise undoctored. This page is
just the very prominent tip of an iceberg issue.

The danger of specifying point units in CSS is compounded by their use with
special fonts, whose legibility characteristics at any nominal point size
are better than average, like "big looking" Verdana (and most of the other
very fine free MS Core Web Fonts). Verdana is legible at smaller nominal
point sizes on screen than just about any other I've known. If you specify
Verdana and a small point size in Web pages, though, and it is not
available on the browsing end, another face gets substituted, which with
the same nominal point size will appear too small. So what's the problem if
Verdana is free? Ask Adobe, maybe, whose $49 Web Type package looks too
small on screen at MS-tuned point sizes.

More to the point, these sizing issues would go away if CSS authors (and
their corporate sponsors) would make it a policy not to use point or pixel
units for type in Web pages. These units render inconsistently, so any
illusion of greater control is, well, illusory, and finally unfriendly.
Speaking of unfriendly, have you all noticed that IE4 shipped without the
font size adjustment thingie on the toolbar? There's almost enough here for
a conspiracy theory, or maybe a Ralph Nader crusade.... :^)

What's the alternative?

CSS allows author/designers to specify the size of fonts and other objects
like graphics in units or expressions that can be relative to user
preference or need: these units are em, ex, %, and "larger" or
"smaller".[1] Your CSS implementations (and Netscape's, FWIW) don't
implement these consistently, so (I guess) you use the other class of
units: points and pixels. These are *device dependent* units for the
purposes of screen display, subject to little or no user adjustment. My
GIF, above, shows how point units render on Macintoshes: smaller than in
Windows, possibly too small to be read. This is not a bug, it's just a poor
choice of unit for screen display, and the CSS1 Recommendation says so.[2]

 * * *

The issues are a little hard to follow, so I suspect misunderstanding has
driven some decisions. I'm hoping for public acknowledgment that this is a
problem, and an explanation of how (or if) you plan to address it.

1 http://www.verso.com/agitprop/scale/

2 http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-CSS1-961217#length-units

Todd Fahrner
Received on Sunday, 23 November 1997 23:17:26 GMT

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