Re: comments on CSS1

David Seibert (
Tue, 5 Dec 1995 11:36:12 -0500 (EST)

On Tue, 5 Dec 1995, lilley wrote:

> David Seibert said:

[ extraneous text has been removed throughout ]

> > If a reader receives too many warnings, his most
> > likely response is either to find a new UA or to stop reading documents
> > from the author; this is bad for the reader, the author, and the UA
> > vendor, so the use of warnings should be minimized.
> Nope. The use of warnings should be configurable (at a finer level of
> granularity than on/off).
> If a reader chooses to stop reading documents from an author who is
> not up to scratch; if a reader switches to a more capable UA; they
> are perfectly entitled to do so. This is good for the overall standards
> of authoring and the overall standards of Web software.
> I believe the term for this type of evolutionary pressure is
> "market advantage"

I agree completely with your statement about evolutionary pressure;
however, the CSS1 draft that I was commenting on says that UAs should
give warnings, not that warnings should be an option that the user can
select at will by configuring his UA. Granularity of UA options is
great, but I think that CSS1 should prescribe a minimum level and not an
optimum level; although suggestions for improvements to the minimum are
also useful, they should be distinguished in the text from prescriptions
for the minimum level. Users will select UAs with options that they
like, so the level of granularity will tend to increase with time in the
directions that the users like.

> > However, a warning is only necessary
> > when a font size is declared to be legal or important and the UA is going
> > to use a smaller font size. Substitution of a larger font may be done
> David, you are confusing common sense with legal procedure. Don't; it can
> be expensive.

At least in the US, nothing on a computer is legally binding until it is
printed; that is when a legal warning would be necessary. Is there an
international standard? I don't know much about the legal situation
outside the US and Canada. UAs should stay abreast of legal
requirements, but not necessarily ahead, and also they should not
necessarily accept everything an author declares to be "legal" or
"important" as legally binding.

At least in North America, any author who needs to ensure that his reader
sees a legally binding notice must have the reader sign a printed copy, so
the text on the reader's display is legally irrelevant; I would expect
that this is true everywhere else in the world, except those few places
where handshakes or verbal agreements are legally binding. For issues
such as copyright or trademark notification, there is no fixed font
requirement, the notice just has to be large to be legible. When would a
fixed font or size be a legal requirement? The only example I can think
of is being given insufficient warning of something, i.e., notification
in a font that is too small to read easily, in which case use of a larger
font is perfectly acceptable.

> > When specified colors are not available, the UA should attempt to provide
> > contrast so that all text is legible. However, it is not necessary to
> > warn the reader that a certain color was requested but unavailable.
> Not necessary in all cases. By the way, why assume the intent was
> legibility? A nice bit of subliminal text, or some neon pink-on green
> grunge typography might be anything but legible ... but I take your point.

Most authors (and ALL readers) want their text to be legible. Even
people who pick grunge colors don't want the text to be invisible to
readers, and people who really want subliminal text can bury it in an
image so that the browser doesn't change the colors too much.

I need to deal with this too often, since I have a b/w screen on my
DECstation at work (physicists are cheap at times). A lot of people like
to choose fancy color schemes that don't have much contrast, so that I
can't read the text without editing the html.

> > The main purpose of style sheets is to enable authors to improve the
> > appearance of their work. If a reader would rather reduce the quality of
> > what he sees by not downloading style sheets, so that he can read it
> > faster, this should in general be allowed without warnings.
> Except, as you note, an initial warning on switching off stylesheet download.

If the reader never wants to see style sheets, I would suggest one warning
the first time he chooses this option when configuring his UA. The
"warning" should just tell him what will happen when he sets that option,
so it could be more like an inclusion in online documentation for the
UA. I think this is minimal protection; that way, people at least know
what happens if they configure their UA so that it does not download
style sheets, which they might not want to do.

> > If an author
> > is concerned with this, he may warn his readers that the quality of what
> > they see may be reduced if they do not use his style sheets,
> How? With messages in the body text?

The author could put a message on their home page, or wherever they have a
catalog of text to download for which style sheets are critical.

> > Probably a distinct style sheet cache would be the best
> I don't see the need, particularly. What about the existing cache
> mechanism is unsuitable?

Many style sheets (and probably all complicated ones) will change much
less often than the text that they are used to format. For example, a
newspaper style sheet would change only every few years, while the entire
text would be replaced every day. If the cache fills up, frequently used
style sheets should probably be saved in preference to text that has
already been seen, as the reader is more likely to reuse the style sheet
than the text. If this is feasible within the existing cache mechanism,
that's fine. This is something that I would suggest as a desired UA
attribute; it is clearly not important enough to be a requirement.

> > The "on-off" approach to style sheets in CSS1 is also too restrictive.
> > There should be at least three options for standard UAs, in order of
> > text presentation speed:
> > <ol>
> > <li>Download (and use) all style sheets,
> > <li>Use only cached style sheets (don't download new style sheets), and
> > <li>Basic html (don't use any style sheets).
> I take it you do not mean, display the raw HTML. You mean, render the
> HTML somehow? This is, at least conceptually, using an internal stylesheet.

Yes, I meant not using any external style sheets, only the UA's default
internal style sheet. I would like to have this option if it is
noticeably faster to use the internal style sheet than to load an
external one, so that I can sacrifice print quality to gain speed if I
want to.

> > The reader will (and should) always have the power to override the
> > wishes of the author with respect to style - it's his UA.
> I agree with this position although I am surprised to see David
> argue in favour of it.

Why are you surprised? I am arguing that CSS1 should advocate fewer
warnings as the minimum standard for UAs. It is better to have a
minimum standard for warnings and let UA vendors add the ones that their
customers like, than to suggest a lot of warnings and not give vendors
much guidance on their relative importance. Unsophisticated users won't
be helped much by warnings, and sophisticated users won't want to see
them very often so they'll turn them off if there are too many, so it is
important to minimize them.

Thanks for the comments, Chris!


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