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Apr 95 Viewpoint
Volume Number:11
Issue Number:4
Column Tag:The Editor’s Viewpoint

The Editor’s Viewpoint

By Scott T Boyd, Editor

It’s a Flat World Out On The Web

This month I wanted to talk about two things - the World Wide Web, and OpenDoc. While mulling it over, I ran across a Usenet posting by Mark Hanrek of The Information Workshop, and decided to let him have at it. Here’s his guest editorial. We welcome your comments at - Ed stb

And Now Here’s Mark

Every time I communicate about the aspects of the WWW standard that are deeply flawed, I look for existing examples of things done right to prove my point. And every time, OpenDoc comes up.

It will be great if the OpenDoc work is having any influence at all on those who are in control of the Web page standard, because the current WWW path is really quite unfortunate for us all.

I realize that the Web page standard started life as an ad-hoc thing that turned out to be useful, it caught on, and then spread. But now that the rest of the world has grabbed onto it, there really needs to be the courage to stop and set things straight, and to do it properly.

The Fatal Flaw

The Web page people seem to have their heads in a ‘computer printout’ and ‘linear list’ space. The term ‘inline graphics’ is revealing. I get the feeling they thought it was cool to leave out the specification for the absolute position of objects on a page. They ‘leave it up to the interpretation of the particular browser’. On the Macintosh alone, one gets three completely different interpretations using Netscape, Mosaic, and MacWeb respectively.

That’s bad. This is a fatal flaw. And unfortunately, one we will have to live with somehow.

This is the reason no one can create a WYSIWYG HTML editor on the Mac, even though there are umpteen tools on the Mac one can use to author one in short order, such as HyperCard, SuperCard, Prograph, ClarisWorks HTML XTND, class libraries used with Symantec and MetroWerks environments, and eventually, OpenDoc.

Attempting to author an editor puts one in the position of having to take a stand on which is the right way to display things. A support mess. Lots of dissatisfied people. Why bother!

As a result, everyone relents, and has little choice but to rally around one browser (Netscape). This kills competition, and, well, lots of other essential elements.

What’s Happening Here

Web pages are for display, and must be interactive, regardless of what anyone says. If anyone were to go out and design a cross-platform standard for the display of interactive multi-media, and do it in a manner that stood on the shoulders of what we have already learned, addressed itself to the unknown needs of the future, and accommodated the commercial realities that motivated it in the first place......they would be designing and creating something like OpenDoc, not HTML.

When one takes the HTML standard, and performs a comparison against OpenDoc, well, it’s quite shocking. HTML starts us back at the beginning of computer time.

So much wasted energy... So many professionals using their slick WYSIWYG editors on their GUI workstations, struggling with the equivalent of editing Postscript directly to try and get results that look halfway decent after surviving the non-deterministic ‘interpretations’ of Netscape, Mosaic, and other Web browsers.

[shaking head] What a sad mess. I am embarrassed to be associated with it. And powerless of influence it. If you try to tell them anything, then ‘you just don’t understand’. I can’t help but feel the SGML people have their vise grip on things ’cuz it’ll be their last hurrah. :)

You’re dang right I’m bummed. But there is hope. With OpenDoc illuminating a more appropriate way, perhaps life will take one of its funny twists and turns sometime in the near future.

Go Team!

Thankfully, OpenDoc exists, and is one of the most inspired, well-conceived, accommodating, courageous, and honestly handled American technology developments I have ever witnessed in my twenty three years of computer design and engineering.

I say all of this as a vote of confidence, a show of respect, and as encouragement to the OpenDoc team.

Well done.

- Mark Hanrek, The Information Workshop,
0 The Information Workshop
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Sorry You Missed Woodstock?

Get your early reservation in now for MacHack X (June 22-24) and save yourself some dough. Line up some hacking buddies, and get ready for The Best Hack Contest (sponsored by yours truly) - it’s a great way to be a part of the 10th Annual MacHack experience. e-mail, check out and call Expotech at (313) 882-6942.

“If you stay awake the whole time, it’s only 8 cents per minute!”

- Keith Stattenfield, someone who never sleeps at MacHack

“ they give good prizes... :)”

- Doug McKenna, Mathemaesthetics

Food For Thought

Macintosh: Changing the world, one person at a time! (I wish they’d hurry up!)

- Chris De Salvo,

Does anyone in the Fed understand the concept of time-delayed feedback loops?

- Jorg ‘jbx’ Brown


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