[rfc-i] format and interoperability

Dave Crocker dhc at dcrocker.net
Mon Mar 26 04:50:10 PDT 2012

On 3/26/2012 10:12 AM, Andrew Sullivan wrote:
> On Sun, Mar 25, 2012 at 03:16:16PM -0700, Tim Bray wrote:
>> On Sun, Mar 25, 2012 at 1:47 PM, Michael Richardson<mcr at sandelman.ca>  wrote:
>>> Why is this our problem?
>>> Why isn't a bug in the MAC/Windows printing eco-system, that apparently
>>> .txt files with ^L characters no longer work?
> I agree.  Another way to put this is that, when the line-printer page
> layout was adopted as a "format", there was an actual interoperability
> reason for it: that's what printers did.
> We don't use line printers any more,

The current ASCII-based format has a number of different characteristics and 
they serve a number of different issues.

^L is for line printers.  No, we don't use those anymore.  But we do use 
printers.  That is, there is still utility in have page-oriented constructs. 
(But notice, please, how abstract the word "construct" is)

The other ASCII-based characteristics were/are important not (just) for printers 
but for all rendering.  It was (and I suspect still is) a least common 
denominator.  That remarkable lack of ambition has been a remarkable benefit; it 
has facilitated very easy, universal access over 40 years. Let's not lose the 

Many people have -- probably legitimately -- had some long-standing 
unhappinesses with the format.  Today is providing an opportunity to re-hash 
those issues, in spite of having no new arguments for them.  I'll suggest that 
those issues are fine as secondary points, not primary ones.  Primary ones ought 
to be real and current problems, not real and old unhappiness.

The primary point that has been fundamentally irritating and embarrassing for 
perhaps 20 years is the lack of support for non-ASCII characters.

The primary point that is bordering on being a showstopper against universal, 
easy utility is the vastly different range of rendering environments, especially 
due to tablets and phones.  The existing line--based and page-based conventions 
do get in the way of readability.

So let's distinguish between enhancements that have always been nice but that 
we've lived reasonable well without, versus real and immediate problems that 
need "solving".


   Dave Crocker
   Brandenburg InternetWorking

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