W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-style@w3.org > November 1997

Re: Hey Microsoft! cool it with CSS points ok?

From: Eric A. Meyer <eam3@po.cwru.edu>
Date: Mon, 24 Nov 1997 10:08:40 -0500
Message-Id: <v03102801b09f3e487deb@[]>
To: www-style@w3.org
   Todd, Todd, Todd-- tilting at windmills?  In this day and age?  Bravo!
Consider me your Sancho, in nearly every sense.  I'm a little confused
about some of the issues at hand, but I'll still ride with you.  Here's my
contribution, poor though it may be:

>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).

   I didn't see what you saw.  Here's what I got instead:
     http://www.cwru.edu/dms/homes/eam3/css1/msie.gif (49K)

   The weird not-quite-dithering you'll see are an artifact of the image
conversoin to GIF, and didn't appear on the actual Web page.  Note the
address, though:  I was shunted to an Active Server Page which is
(apparently) supposed to be tuned for IE4.0, even though it wasn't quite so.
   I'd like to point out that the four links near the top of the page-- the
ones with the arrows next to them-- are specified in the source as being
8-point Verdana, not the 7-point text Todd saw in his version of the
Microsoft homepage.  (Don't get me started on the philosophical
implications of this.)  In other words, both sets of text look the same,
but the source says they aren't.  Erk.

>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).

   Okay, I'm not a font expert, so maybe I'm a little confused.  I had
thought that points measured distance, as in 1/72 of an inch.  Is this so?
If not, is it supposed to be so?  Because I can understand not using pixels
to specify font size, given the wide range of monitor resolutions, but I
had been assuming that points were a good, generic solution for the problem
of creating legible pages that were pretty much resolution-independent.
   Given that this is not, apparently, the case, what is left to us poor
Web authors?  Todd continues...

>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.
>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

   These are all, I agree, methods of dealing with the issue.  However,
they're still a little short of the mark at which Microsoft et.al. are
aiming, and here's why.
   Let's say I want to create a sidebar of links in which the text is small
enough to minimize canvas usage, but large enough to be read.  I can define
this text as being "font-size: 66%;", and if the reader has his default
display set to a font size which makes this text too small, then raising
that size will make the sidebar more legible....and make the main-body text
much larger, possibly badly upsetting the balance of the page.  The user is
then forced to switch between default font sizes if he wishes to read both
the main part of the page and the sidebar.  (With IE4.0p1 for the Mac, this
wasn't so hard, but what, now I hear this could be a pain?)
   "Fine," you may be thinking, "that's the risk Web designers take when
they try to control appearance."  And maybe that's the answer we want to
give.  But let's think for a moment about WHY Microsoft used the styles
they did.  Contrary to popular opinion, I don't think it was part of an
"annoy Mac users" campaign.  The point was to get the most information into
the least space in the most attractive (and, hopefully, functional)
possible fashion.  I can sympathize with this, given that I ride herd over
a sizable Web server myself-- and I'm sure I'm not the only one on this
list.  Interface design is tricky enough without having ugly issues like
this raise up and bite us.  It would be really nice if CSS2 could address
this quandry.
   So what's the solution?  The only thing I could think of was something
along these lines:  two new properties called 'font-size-minimum' and
'font-size-maximum'.  That way, an author could declare something along
these lines:

   .sidebar {font-size: 66%; font-size-minimum: 9pt;}
   BODY {font-size: medium; font-size-maximum: 18pt;}

There could, perhaps, also be keyword values like 'legible', although I'm
not sure how that could be defined.  Don't ask me how it would fit into the
shorthand 'font', either, because I didn't get that far.  Hopefully,
though, you see what I'm trying to do.
   Before anyone else says it, I'll save you the trouble:  This buys us
nothing, and runs counter to the entire accessability initiative.  The
reason I even wasted everyone's time with the idea was in the hope that it
would spark an workable idea in someone else.  (Please?)

Eric A. Meyer  -  eam3@po.cwru.edu  -  http://www.cwru.edu/home/eam3.html
 Hypermedia Systems Manager
 Digital Media Services                http://www.cwru.edu/dms/dms.html
 Case Western Reserve University       http://www.cwru.edu/
Received on Monday, 24 November 1997 10:09:09 UTC

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