How do you determine success?

David Brownell david-b at
Tue Aug 31 17:15:30 BST 1999

Ann Navarro wrote:
> At 03:55 PM 8/29/99 -0400, David Megginson wrote:
> >Ann Navarro writes:
> >
> >  > Did HTML 4.0 -- with it's three versions, fail from overcomplexity?

Calling three DTDs, differing at the high level by definition of
less than a handful of parameter entities, "versions" is a huge
stretch.  One that's at the heart of this discussion.

Really, HTML 4 is one language, with DTDs defining three subsets.
The inclusive subset is by far the most popular one.

> >Sorry to be harsh, but ...
> Is that not, then, a failure of the user agent and not the spec?

Specifications need debugging just as much as code.  Writing code
to a spec with deep flaws -- such as overcomplexity, or premature
publication -- is a huge problem.  As someone who's both written
specs and coded to them, I think the HTML 4.0 issues are tied more
to the spec than to those user agents.

How does one debug a specification?  And importantly, WHEN does it
get debugged ... before the spec is final, or after?  I've seen
it work best the IETF way, debugging _before_ concrete gets cast.
The Internet protocol stack gives us global connnectivity, and with
very few problems.  The W3C way, examplified by a huge HTML 4 spec
that's not widely enough implemented to depend on, hasn't.  (We know
that the XML spec was rather atypical in the W3C processes.)

It's curious to realize that XML, published as a REC not two months
after HTML 4.0, actually has MANY conformant implementations available,
today.  Simplicity is one its most significant virtues.  Most folk
would agree that HTML 4.0 doesn't have _one_ such implementation.
Complexity is one of its most significant flaws.

- Dave

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