Jargons of Info Tech industry

Steven D'Aprano steve at REMOVETHIScyber.com.au
Wed Oct 5 01:38:49 CEST 2005

On Tue, 04 Oct 2005 17:14:45 +0000, Roedy Green wrote:

> On Tue, 23 Aug 2005 08:32:09 -0500, l v <lv at aol.com> wrote or quoted :
>>I think e-mail should be text only. 
> I disagree.  Your problem  is spam, not HTML. Spam is associated with
> HTML and people have in Pavlovian fashion come to hate HTML.

Nonsense. I came to hate HTML emails long before I received spam.

> But HTML is not the problem!

Yes it is. HTML means that after I've specified my email client use my
favourite font, in the size I like, people send me emails that over-ride
my choice. Invariably they use a font I don't even have. 

Even more invariably, they set the point size directly rather than in
relative terms, and they are on Windows, where point sizes are about 20%
oversized. The consequences of this is that text generated on Windows
appears approximately one fifth smaller on Linux, Macintosh and any other
system that uses proper typesetter's point sizes.

Invariably, the sort of people who use HTML emails end up sending you a
forward of a forward of a forward of a forward of a forward of an email
saying that Bill Gates will give you $10,000 for every copy of the email
you forward, and it will be written in light blue text on a background
picture of bluebirds eating blueberries, and at the end of every paragraph
will be a row of thirty animated smileys.

Almost the biggest predictor of whether I will want to trash somebody's
email without reading it is whether they use HTML mail.

> That is like hating all choirs because televangelists use them.
> HTML allows properly aligned table, diagrams, images, use of
> colour/fonts to encode speakers. emphasis, hyperlinks.
> I try to explain Java each day both on my website on the plaintext only
> newsgroups. It is so much easier to get my point across in HTML.
> Program listings are much more readable on my website.

These are all valid uses of *formatted* text. But HTML is not
formatted text. HTML is a web page markup language -- it is much more than
merely formatting text. That's why HTML can be used for putting web-bugs
into emails, allowing tracking of emails. That's a security hole that
threatens privacy, and is enough of a reason to prohibit HTML emails alone.

Then there is the issue of storage space. I tend to archive emails I
receive. For the same content, HTML mails tend to be anything from four
to one hundred times bigger than the plain text mail would have been,
depending on just how bad the sending mail client is. Regardless of how
cheap hard disks are, how many gigabytes they now hold, if everybody sent
HTML mail, I would be able to store less than one quarter the number of
emails than I could if people just used plain text. That's a significant
drain for businesses that are required by law to store all emails for
seven years (as they are business records).

There is a good argument to be made that mail clients should support a
subset of HTML so as to provide rich text. But even that comes at a
serious cost (animated smileys, urgh) and in my opinion, the good things
you can do with formatted text don't make that cost worth paying.


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