Re: HTML vs PDF for online manuals

Subject: Re: HTML vs PDF for online manuals
From: Arlen P Walker <Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- jci -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Fri, 10 Sep 1999 17:40 -0500

---------------------- Forwarded by Arlen P Walker/CORP/Johnson_Controls on
09/10/99 05:43 PM ---------------------------

Arlen P Walker
09/10/99 05:39 PM
To: mxd2 -at- osi -dot- com@JCI
Subject: Re: HTML vs PDF for online manuals

One of the things it comes down to is page layout. If you think page layout is
irrelevant to good information transfer, then HTML is obviously the way to go.
If you think it's vital, then PDF is the way to go. If you're ambivalent on the
subject, then you have to find your tradeoff point.

In a nutshell, effective page layout beyond the basic single-column, Times
Roman, flow of text is sure to leave you with less hair than you started with.
Page backgrounds will not always line up with foreground items, even foreground
items can't always be positioned properly without learning little esoteric
workarounds. (One of my all-time favorites is the fact that Netscape adds a
little whitespace between graphics if you dare put the second <IMG> tag on a
different line from the previous one, thereby requiring you to write
nightmarish-looking code in order to achieve a seamless design.)

Try setting up a layout which indents the first line of each paaragraph a
proper amount and skips the blank line between paragraphs. Such a lot to ask,
isn't it? Now mix in some subheads along the way. (I just did this on a site
I'm working on. Doing it in one browser is not a trivial exercise, and much of
it is trial and error; making it work in several browsers on different OS's
enlarged my bald spot.)

HTML advocates paint this as a control issue. I'm afraid I see it as a courtesy
issue. Let's put it another way: If you saw someone squinting to read in the
dark, would you assume they were doing this because they enjoyed it and could
read this way better than in a lighted room? Or would you think that offering
to turn on the light for them is a nice, "good neighborly" thing to do?
Likewise, I think I owe it to my viewers to present the material in the most
correct way I know how. Sure, if they want they can override my choices; I'm no
dictator, I'm not going to insist on my way exclusively. But I feel duty-bound
to at least make my best attempt at giving them the optimum view. So far, no
browser permits this.

When and if CSS ever gets implemented in something remotely resembling a
consistent way, it'll be time to revisit the use of CSS as a functional
alternative. Right now, no browser with any sort of market penetration
implements it, so to hold it up as the solution to HTML v PDF is, to say the
least, disingenuous.

MS is promising full CSS1 supprt in IE5 for Mac, even though they're still
avoiding CSS2. Still, they didn't deliver even that much in IE5 for Windows,
and they also promised it before then and didn't deliver it, so I'm not holding
my breath this time around. (Q: How do you know when MS marketers are lying? A:
Their lips move.) Mozilla seems to deliver in the betas that have been seen so
far, but that's not in release, and not in any sort of condition that makes me
want to recommend it at the moment.

So take a trip back to WordStar (egad, am I that old?) when you move to HTML,
and you'll not be disappointed.

(Whooo-wee! The preceding diatribe was deleivered by an old curmudgeon who has
been bitten by so many alligators he's completely unaware of the swamp's
existence, much less of the reason he's now in it. As in all things, YMMV.)

Have fun,
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 224

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
In God we trust; all others must provide data.
Opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.
If JCI had an opinion on this, they'd hire someone else to deliver it.

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