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Re: Boulder Pledge

At Sun, 02 Feb 03, Unidentified Flying Banana Alexander Hvostov, said:
> I'm sure there are other reasons that make HTML inappropriate for email,
> at least for the time being. Anyone care to comment?

This was actually the subject of a recent thread on the mailing list for
my local Linux User Group mailing list, and I posted a lengthy
explanation of what I think is wrong with HTML e-mail.

I've included the post here to provide a nice "HTML in e-mail is a Very
Bad Thing (tm)" rant.  I'm fairly new to this mailing list, so I
apologize if this is inappropriate.

> Alex.

| Christopher
| A: No.                                         |
| Q: Should I include quotations after my reply? |

From: Christopher Cashell <topher@zyp.org>
To: olug@olug.org
Subject: Re: [olug] ASCII Ribbon Campaign
Date: Sat, 28 Sep 2002 02:02:09 -0500

At Tue, 24 Sep 02, Unidentified Flying Banana Nick Walter, said:
> I'll risk being flamed till I'm crisp . . .

I'll try not to be too firey. . .

> I completely understand and agree with "Respect for open standards" and also
> "No M$ Word docs in e-mail".

It's not just a matter of open standards, but access.  Every e-mail
client in the world can handle plain text e-mail.  Many cannot view
other formats.

> I can't, however, quite agree with "No HTML/RTF in e-mail".  Both HTML
> and (theoretically) RTF are open formats that are well supported in a
> variety of O/Ss.

They are well supported within certain programs in a variety of OS's.
That doesn't mean that every e-mail client is capable of reading them.
Nor should it have to.

> Using these formats is not contributing to anyone's evil monopoly or
> excluding a Linux/*BSD user from reading the document properly.

My primary e-mail client is mutt.  It's a console based program which
works best with plain ASCII text.  It was designed to be an e-mail
client, and nothing else, and it works amazingly well for that.  Now, it
can utilize external programs to view non-text attachments, such as HTML
and RTF, but doing so is slow, cumbersome, and difficult.  Additionally,
trying to reply to HTML/RTF e-mail is very bothersome, particularly with
accurate quoting.

Many (most?) PDA e-mail programs have difficulties with HTML/RTF e-mail
still, as well.

> I myself send and receive quite a bit of HTML e-mail from the linux
> desktop I sit in front of for 8 hours a day at work, and have
> absolutely no problems reading it or sending it . . .

That's good.  I'm glad to hear it.  But don't forget that your
experience doesn't always match up to what other people are doing.  Some
people can't easily send or receive HTML e-mail.

So far, I've concentrated on the fact that some people will be unable to
read HTML/RTF e-mail.  While this is an important fact, and in my
opinion reason enough to not use HTML in e-mail, there are actually a
number of other reasons.

Not everyone is on some sort of broadband Internet connection yet.  In
fact, the vast majority of people aren't.  Sending an e-mail as HTML
will generally at least double the size of the e-mail, and frequently
more.  I've seen some HTML e-mails that were more than 5 times the size
of their plain text equivalents.  Sending an e-mail as both plain text
and HTML will more than triple the size of an e-mail.  For people with
slow connections, this can be quite an inconvenience.

Many people dislike HTML e-mail, even if they can read it fine.  Reading
HTML means that you have to deal with color and font changes, text size
changes, links, tables, etc.  This can be distracting at the best of
times, and downright frustrating at the worst.  Many people like to
change the background color of their HTML e-mails, or change the text
color.  Few of them have any experience with Human Factors or Interface
Design, and most end up making their content more difficult to read.
Lastly, HTML is much harder to translate into braille or reading
devices, making it more difficult for those with vision impairments to
use (I'm familiar with this one because a good friend of mine is legally

I've set up my computer, and my e-mail client, in order to make reading
e-mail as easy for me as possible.  This only works when I'm allowed to
specify my own colors, fonts, and styles, though.  And don't forget that
while it may look one way on your machine, it may look differently on
mine.  When you have to deal with as much e-mail as I do daily, you do
everything you can to simplify it.

Many people have noticed that the majority of Spam is sent as HTML
e-mail, and that the majority of HTML e-mail is Spam.  For this reason,
many mailing lists and many people filter all HTML e-mail as spam, and
trash it.  In fact, I frequently do this myself, and I'm on numerous
mailing lists which reject HTML e-mails.

As was commented in the message that started this thread, HTML e-mail
can have extremely nasty effects for people who read mailing lists in
Digest mode.  Digest mode is where all of the messages that are sent to
a mailing list are packaged together, and then periodically (usually
daily, weekly, etc) sent to the list digest subscriber.  When HTML
e-mails are included, you end up with a large text file sprinkled
through with HTML that will be entirely unreadable for those trying to
sort through the e-mail digest.

HTML e-mail is also responsible for what I consider one of the worst
things to happen to e-mail. . . it's breach in security.  For years and
years, it was common and accepted knowledge that there was absolutely no
way you could be affected by any sort of virus simply by reading your
e-mail.  It was impossible.  Couldn't be done.  You had to execute a
program first.  That fact is no longer true.  And not only that, but
it's gotten worse.  E-mail based viruses, utilizing HTML, JavaScript,
VBScript, and holes in the HTML rendering engines required to view HTML
e-mail have become among the fastest growing and most damaging virii.

We've gone from a 100% safe medium of communication to opening some of
the biggest security holes in the history of the Internet, simply to
make e-mail more "pretty".

Finally, I'll end with the most important reason. . . it's unnecessary.
There is really no good reason to use HTML or RTF in E-mail.  I've been
sending and receiving e-mail for over 10 years now, and I've never
encountered a situation where I absolutely had to send e-mail using
HTML.  The whole point of an e-mail is to distribute thoughts, ideas. .
.  content.  Content is words, not flashy colors, blinking text, and
italic or bold letters.  

If you have something that you simply *can't* send as plain text, I
suggest either reconsidering what you're sending, or posting it as a web
page (where HTML was meant to go) and e-mailing a link to it.

I hope this hasn't come off as too rude or unfriendly, but this is
something that has always annoyed me, along with other examples of poor
netiquette such as poor quoting and trimming in e-mail replies, random
attachments, etc.  I'm not trying to be mean, but I wanted to explain
reasonably fully why I feel HTML (and RTF) has no place in e-mail.  For
some alternate expressions of what I've said, please see some of the
references I've included below.

> Nick Walter

  [1]  http://www.efn.no/html-bad.html
  [2]  http://www.georgedillon.com/web/html_email_is_evil.shtml
  [3]  http://www.webfoot.com/advice/email.top.html


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