W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-style@w3.org > February 1998

Re: Transition (was Re: Capitalize across "span")

From: John Udall <jsu1@cornell.edu>
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 1998 09:21:25 -0500
Message-Id: <>
To: www-style@w3.org
Cc: Todd Fahrner <fahrner@pobox.com>
At 04:14 PM 2/9/98 -0800, you wrote:
>John Udall wrote (3:55 PM -0500 2/9/98):
>"  >Why bother trying to preserve structure and
>" >semantics in a display format? All you need is DIVs, SPANs, tables, and
>" >forms. And support for "atomist" CSS - nothing too relative or
>" >inheritance-intensive, and preferably inline. And DHTML. Right? If you
>" 	Wrong.  Or at least, not completely right.
>I think it's even more completely wrong than you do. From your reply and
>others, though, I see that my rhetoric was too elliptical. I think
>preserving structure and semantics all the way up to the stylesheet
>interpreter is critical if stylesheets are ever to be more than simple
>collections of formatting attributes, suitable only for a narrow range of
>outputs anticipated by willful designers. If documents are to achieve true
>portability across a continuously variable and infinitely extensible range
>of output media (which I take to be the Web ideal), then stylesheets must
>be very highly parametric. They must marry the demands of document
>structure/semantics with the limitations of the rendering environment

	Hey, no argument here.  Gimme a batch of good generic style-sheets for
common display engines and some decent XML authoring tools and I'm a happy
camper.  Moving towards the vision of the web that you've describe is
definitely the goal to aim for, as it has been since the web was founded.

	From practically the beginning, some people just didn't get it.  They
tried to force HTML to make a document "look" just right.  And it didn't
work. If you resized your browser window, or viewed the document on a
different platform, or in a different browser and the document just didn't
"look" the same.  The information content was still there, but the "look"
wasn't right.  Some people just felt they had to force it.  That's why we
have all of these documents that use tables to control display which we're
always complaining about.

	I think that part of the problem is that separating document structure
from document display is not a process that is intuitive for many people.
It didn't help that early browsers did not offer a lot of control or
customization over the final "look" of a document.  This is an area where
good tools can really help.  A good XML markup tool will provide
affordances for capturing the structure of a document.  Basic style sheets
for common output devices, coupled with a good tool for customizing them
will give people the control that they want over the look of the final
product without alientating particular user populations.

	I don't think that the move to a "pure" separation between document
structure and display is impossible. It can even take place while providing
support for legacy documents and browsers (in fact, I would argue that it
will have too). It is going to take time to get the standards firmed up and
the tools available and sufficiently cleaned up before XML can really catch

	Last Fall I was looking a XML with the hopes of  starting a major project
in Summer '98 using XML.  Now it looks like I might have to wait until
early '99, if I want the Style Sheets and Linking components to be settled
before I start.  This is unfortunate. But I'd rather do it right with XML a
few months later, and have the flexibility that it will give me, than to
try to do it now with straight HTML or HTML + CSS and have to redo it again
in 6-months or a year anyway.  Life on the cutting edge. :-)

>" Eventually we might get there.
>That's a terrible world, though. It's print before the codex: the fixed
	Yeah, but we're working on making it better. :-)

>"  My disagreement is that I think that the
>" transition will take longer.  HTML 4.0 transitional might in fact be a
>" destination of sorts. But if it is, it might be because it provides a
>" transition between the old technology and the new, rather than merely a
>" transition between versions of HTML standards.
>Funny, I thought "transitional" meant "transitional to HTML 4.0 Strict".
>Not to XML in the general case. Perhaps HTML 4.1 should be defined as an
	That was my understanding of the intent, as well. However, HTML 4.1 as XML
could be an interesting idea.

	I don't think we're really all that far apart on this stuff.  In a sense,
we're preaching to the choir, so to speak, in this forum.  A great many of
the people on this list are here because we are committed to the standards
process and want to do things "right" by following the standards.  The
people who will be hard to bring around are those who don't even know what
the standard is, and they don't subscribe to www-style.  Oh well, back to
work. :-)


>Todd Fahrner
>The printed page transcends space and time. The printed page, the
>infinitude of books, must be transcended. THE ELECTRO-LIBRARY.
>	- El Lissitzky, 1923

Standard Disclamer -- The opinions expessed here are my own. They do not
represent official advice or opinions of Cornell Cooperative Extension 
or Cornell University.

John Udall,                                       
      Programmer/Systems Administrator            40 Warren Hall
Extension Electronic Technologies Group           Cornell University
Cornell Cooperative Extension                     Ithaca, NY 14853
email: jsu1@cornell.edu                           Phone: (607) 255-8127
Received on Tuesday, 10 February 1998 09:23:50 UTC

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