Ben Finney bignose-hates-spam at and-zip-does-too.com.au
Sat Jun 21 17:19:41 CEST 2003

On Sat, 21 Jun 2003 15:54:50 +0100, Alan Kennedy wrote:
> So why is HTML the most widely used [electronic] document format in
> human history?

It isn't.  That award would go to 7-bit ASCII plain text.

Facetious?  No.

I know you meant some extra qualifier, such as "most widely-use document
_markup_ format", but that's not exactly relevant; XML is useful for
much more than mere document markup (easily-parseable structured data,
for one).  Plain text doesn't concern itself with markup, so this isn't
an issue for the format.

Or, if you meant "most widely-used document _presentation_ format",
that's not true; HTML for presentation is a perversion of the standard,
with dreadful incompatibilities between implementations, so it's not
"widely used" since any particular HTML document's presentation is not
rendered properly except for the narrow range of clients intended.
Plain text is preserved and rendered properly across a hugely wider
range of devices and client software than HTML.

Now, if your document requires more structure than lines of plain text,
but still needs to be interchangeable between different clients, then
some XML representation is a good candidate, for reasons already
discussed in this thread (easily-available, well-debugged, feature-rich
parsers and generators being the main attraction for me).

Plain ASCII text has had the crown for quite a while, though, by virtue
of getting there early, and being extremely simple and robust.  It also
has even *more* easily-available, well-debugged, feature-rich parsers
and generators; heck, most modern programming languages have them built

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