Re: Web Design: Would you design a PDF by writing Postscript in Notepad?

This is a very old article. It has been imported from older blogging software, and the formatting, images, etc may have been lost. Some links may be broken. Some of the information may no longer be correct. Opinions expressed in this article may no longer be held.

fgdg wrote:

Why do we put up with web design software? Nobody makes a PDFs by writing Postscript in Notepad, but that is what designer’s working for the web are expected to do.

You are comparing apples with oranges here. PostScript is1 a language for describing what pages look like. HTML is a language for describing what pages mean.

People can auto-generate postscript documents from visual tools and the generating process will accurately create a document conveying the user’s intentions.

When people auto-generate HTML documents from visual tools, the tool needs to guess what the user really meant. Is does this text begin a new paragraph (

), or is it really just two line breaks (

)? This series of several short lines, should it be marked up as a bullet-less list? Do these italics signify a citation (), some emphasis (), or a Latin phrase ()? Is that a single-line paragraph of bold text (

) or should it really be a third-level heading (


There are, as I see it, three solutions to this conundrum:

To hell with semantics! Forget , and so on, just use all the time!
Write a tool that’s really, really good at guessing semantics.
Write a tool that doesn’t have buttons and short-cut keys for things like bold, italic, different colours and fonts and so forth, but has buttons to insert citations, quotes, diagrammes and so forth, has options to mark certain chunks of text as either more or less important than the rest.

Most recent visual HTML editors use the first approach, creating semantic-free documents. In my opinion authors using this sort of tool have no business writing HTML at all. If all they care about is the visual appearance of the document, they should probably switch to publishing in Flash, which is far more suited to their ideas.

The second solution has been attempted once or twice, but tends to get things wrong as often as it gets them right.

The third solution is a good idea, but using the current attempts at this sort of tool tends to be no easier to use than typing the HTML by hand anyway, rendering them rather useless.

As an aside, some people do write postscript by hand. And whatsmore, this usually results in much smaller files, which load much more quickly.

1 PostScript is actually a fully-fledged scripting language, but it’s commonly used as a page description language and as a transmission format for print jobs.