Structured text v. page descriptions (was Netscape, HTML, and Designers)

Nick Arnett (
Sat, 22 Oct 1994 18:00:42 +0100

I don't like the way that the discussion of MCOM's HTML "enhancements" is
shaping up into a debate over the extent to which HTML should include page
description-like characteristics. We seem to be ignoring the possibility
that there will be a a clear division between structured text and page
descriptions -- and the possibility that it would be a good thing to have
both, separate. One of the bits of confusion seems to be that the
distinction is getting mixed up with *hypertext*, which isn't peculiar to
either paradigm (HTML's name notwithstanding).

Each approach has clear advantages:

Structured text -- can be easily displayed on a variety of display devices
with varying size, resolution, etc. Potentially very compact. Major
disadvantage is that visual design is heavily compromised. Appropriate
when content is more important than appearance; when bandwidth is
expensive; when many display devices must view a common document.

Page description -- presentation is preserved, visual impact and design are
communicated. Major disadvantage are the overhead of carrying all of the
visual design information; inability to adapt presentation to the output

We're starting to see major customers adopting *both*. Sun, for example,
is setting SGML and Acrobat as its standard documentation formats.

I could go on about this for a while, but I'd rather suggest that if the
designers of HTML abandon principles of structured text, they'll ruin it by
creating a standard that has the worst of both worlds.

I'll also point out that we're serving Acrobat documents over the Web
*now*, so this isn't a pipe dream. Check out <URL:>.

I think designers who want a high level of control should stick with
Acrobat, Common Ground and their ilk, rather than putting pressure on the
HTML designers to break its paradigm. By way of disclosing a conflict of
interest, I don't want to leave out the fact that our engine is built into
Acrobat and is going into Common Ground.