Re: columns dialogue

Murray Altheim (
Mon, 26 Jun 1995 17:54:44 -0400

>I agree with the message on leaving the column issue browser specific. If
>this is such a hot issue... simply throw it into two very large table columns
>and let the words wrap. They should fit pages across systems... granted I
>lack unix experience on this one...
>Philosophically, I think the fixes are already present in html for most of
>the column issues. You just need to think creatively!!!
>Don't mean to sound snotty, but sometimes the best trick is leaving the
>markup alone... and ensuring you effectively communicate information
>across mediums.
>Jason Thatcher

IMO, the whole issue of columns is not one of content markup at all.
Newspapers use columns to enhance readability, not for style. They receive
their content over the AP/UPI/Reuters wire and flow it onto their pages in
the best manner possible to get the message across. As content providers we
too should be concerned with expressing the content, not the specifics on
how it is read. Use of HTML as more than content markup has been hashed to
death here and elsewhere. Other formats such as postscript are more
suitable for precisely and explicitly defining the appearance of a page.

If the issue is truly readability, then use of columns should be a
browser-specified option, ie., if your monitor is capable of displaying 240
character lines, your browser might have an option to wrap the text onto
three 80 character width columns. Otherwise, columns make no sense
whatsoever as markup; window widths may vary from five inches to thirty.
Specifying three columns of text on a 20" window may be sensible, but
others (including braille readers, as was pointed out by Ron Marriage)
would have difficulty reading the text. And to what end? Readability?

I was particularly pleased with the June 16th HTML 2.0 DTD. It again
resisted the numerous efforts to extend HTML to death. I hope HTML 3.0
doesn't become the undoing of the Web by nature of its added complications.
The usability of the Web deteriorates when the content becomes too
complicated or based on non-standard markup, and while some seem
unconcerned about these issues (especially given the current popularity of
Netscape), long term viability of the Web depends on standardization.

I apologize to those who feel like I'm beating a dead horse, but this issue
just keeps kicking. And I never apologize for a bad pun...


Murray M. Altheim, Information Systems Analyst
National Technology Transfer Center, Wheeling, West Virginia