Re: is it possible to single-source online & print and author in HTML?

Subject: Re: is it possible to single-source online & print and author in HTML?
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- SIMPLYWRITTEN -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 20:18:32 -0500

Perhaps you and I have a different definition for "structure". Word and HTML
are inherently unstructured. Inherently. As in, can't enforce structure.
Ditto PageMaker, Quark, WordPerfect, et al. Although, I have to add that to
me structure means "a hierarchical framework". HTML is not at all structured
under this definition. When you try to port a truly complex, structured
document to HTML, you quickly find that you have lots of structured headings
in Frame, XML or SGML or something similar that just have to squeeze into
such tiny spaces as <H1>. Even with CSS, all you can do is define more kinds
of <H1>. This isn't a structure. This is just pandering to a user agent, in
this case a browser.

Of course, any document can be conceptually structured, but if the tool
doesn't enforce it, you can't easily port the document elsewhere. The
conceptual structure may persist (although even that's often dicy), but the
formal structure is long gone. For us here, there's no such thing as a
"formatting structure". There is, rather, structure, formatting, and
content, entirely separable from one another.

Structure makes porting predictable. But if you port out of a structured
tool and into an unstructured environment such as HTML, it's pretty much a
one-way street, just as Eric is supposed to have said (I didn't see the
original from Eric, I'm sorry to say). Structured documents have a richness
that can't be matched in HTML. You can't take one of our Frame documents
with its dozens of definitions, convert it to paltry and weenie HTML, then
put it back again. It doesn't fit anymore. You've lost all of the structure,
and all you have remaining is formatting and content, which isn't close to
being good enough to define the document. This is why none of the DTP
packages have eagerly bounded to HTML as a storage format. This is also why
we here view HTML as a kind of spindly output device, like a printer, with
only two dimensions.

>Word, Frame, and other DTP packages contain formatting structure. So does
>HTML. You can go from one to the other as much as you like. The only loss
>will occur if there is some formatting that one supports and the other
>doesn't. Inside the broad common ground that they all share, you have lots
>of room to move back and forth without loss.

Tim Altom
Adobe Certified Expert, Acrobat
Simply Written, Inc.
The FrameMaker support people
We train and consult on the Clustar Method
for single source documentation

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