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HTML style sheets, someday
From TBTF for 1995-12-02

Netscape as Least Common Denominator
Copyright © 1995 by Jeffrey Veen <jeff at hotwired dot com>
December 2, 1995

[a previous poster] wrote:
>rather, Jeffery seems to feel that the Netscape movement has caused many
>web authors to set unrealistic ideas of what the least-common-denominator
>system should be.

Actually, I believe Netscape's experimental tags have caused a blurring between structure and presentation of content on the web. What this has done is actually create a least-common-denominator system on the web when the whole point was to eliminate that nightmare altogether.

Obviously, the hacks that people (HotWired included) are using to try to force some sort of presentational control over their documents signifies a massive failing in current Web technology. Don't get me wrong, I'm salivating over the proposed control style sheets offers - text color, kerning, leading, font faces and families and margins and hinting and all the rest. And that technology, in conjunction with server-side content negiotiation, will lead to a far more robust and way, way cooler web than we can imagine at this point.

So what should be the lowest common denominator? How about any device that can accept a digital stream of information. From a telephone (dial up Yahoo, "press 1 for Art, press 2 for Business...") to a $49 dumb terminal that public schools can afford, to a PowerMac 9500 with a 10 Mbit net.connection running Netscape 5.2. Each client comes to the server and asks for a document based on what it can display. You, as the author, have as much control as you want over how those documents are rendered. The client can accept or ignore these at will. There -- the perfect world: your documents look the way you want, and no one is excluded.

The style sheet proposal is the answer, IMO. You format you pages as simple html documents. You say "This text here is a headline. Let's call it Headline #2." Then you write a style sheet that says "Headline #2 should be rendered in Netscape for Macintosh as "18 point Helvetical Condensed Demi in Burnt Orange with 24 point leading indented 5 picas." You can then write another style sheet for Windows, Nintendo, RealAudio or a browser that translates into Arabic, if you want. Way easier than writing 15 versions of your page, hoping you'll include everyone who visits, because if you don't have a style sheet for them, they just get the basic text...

Everytime I get to a page "Enhanced for Netscape 1.1", I'm bummed because I can't browse it on my Newton. And a year from now, the 10 million people using Microsoft Internet Explorer will miss out too. Maybe I'm being idealistic, but I'd rather not redo my home page (nor HotWired's 10,000 pages) everytime a cool new browser comes out and takes control of the market share. I'd rather create one new stylesheet.

Jeffrey Veen, HotWired               http://www.veen.com/Veen/Jeff/
San Francisco, CA USA

[ TBTF for 1995-12-02 ]