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Re: [Fsfe-uk] Administrivia: html duplicates

From: Alex Hudson
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] Administrivia: html duplicates
Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 11:14:41 +0000

(I thought we were supposed to direct comments to listmaster? :) Oh

On Sat, 2008-01-26 at 02:24 +0000, Jon Grant wrote:
> Outlook, Thunderbird and all the main web mail (MSN, GMail, Yahoo etc) 
> compose in HTML format. TBH, perhaps we should just allow HTML mails? 
> I've yet to get some badly formatted mess of an HTML email (that was not 
> spam) in all my years.

I would say up-front that I understand a lot of the displeasure with
HTML mails; the stuff that Outlook has belched out in the past passes
for HTML if you squint. However, I feel that HTML is getting a really
bad rap here, and in particular that free software could be doing really
progressive things in this area.

For many mail users, HTML is the only sensible format: when you're using
a web-based application, for the most part (vim plugins notwithstanding)
you have to choose between a <textarea> editor and a rich-text editor.
The former are anaemic in the extreme, and seriously painful to use:
composing in the native HTML is the only realistic option. 

We're also missing out on tonnes of benefits HTML could be giving us.
Modern text mail formats have virtually become binary formats: you also
have these special byte sequences which some mailers respect but others
don't, e.g., "\r\n-- \r\n" (sigseps), " \r\n" (format=flowed, ish ;).
Many text-based MUAs are bloated out with vastly more special format
understanding than any HTML MUA would ever need.

The format of text mail is also really text-terminal scenario specific.
That's great for some usage, not so great for others. For example, if
you want to read e-mail on a mobile device you're almost certainly going
to have to re-wrap paragraphs in order to make them readable. That's
actually pretty hard without HTML; consider:
        > Have you got the latest sales figures? The results show
        > > 30% of our customers are returning!
        Good news!


        <blockquote class="quote">Have you got the..... <blockquote>
        <p>Good news!</p>

It's really difficult to reformat text mail. Invariably, you get broken
quoting, and sometimes the content is virtually unreadable. I would
imagine that being able to deal with mail content at this level would be
a huge boon to accessibility also.

And lastly, HTML has a number of features which I would really like to
have: bullets, numbered lists, outline lists, tables. Evolution (the
mailer I use for personal mail) does a really good stab at these for
text-only mail, which is all I send. But it's not editable or usable at
the other end: I use them occasionally, but often sparingly because I
know it's going to screw up replying to my mail.

Now, of course, some of this is a bit hypothetical in terms of main of
the mailers emit HTML which has various issues. But the principle of
blocking HTML just on the basis of it being HTML is pretty regressive
IMHO. Free software should be innovating in this area, not holding it



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