people, places, things, and ideas

=?iso-8859-1?Q?H=E5kon?= Wium Lie (
Thu, 7 Jan 1999 23:45:04 +0100 (MET)

Kragen, when thinking out loud, wrote:

> And it was the nature of computer applications, in general, until
> recently. But now we have the Web, and people are talking a lot abo=
> application-specific embedded computers. Suddenly people can delive=
> applications like the ones they used to deliver as computer software=
> but they can lock up the software -- the ideas -- inside places and
> things.

I support you basic belief: locking up information is bad. While the
the discussion of application-specific vs. general-purpose hardware is
interesting in this regard, I think there is an even more important
axis: imperative software vs. declarative documents.=20

Software requires hardware and operating systems to run. This is a
relatively young field -- the human race has only fiddled with it for
a generation or so. Documents, on the other hand, have been written
for thousands of years. Some of the oldest ones are hard to decode,
but in general documents are easier to decode than software. Take, for
example a 30 year old text file and a 30 year old computer program.
Once you get past the "how do I read x inch mangetic tape" problem,
chances are that you can extraxt the content of the text file with a
few lines of perl. The program, even if you have the source, will be
hard to run. The hardware is dead and emulaters only work for games.
If you want to keep information unlocked for future generations, don't
put in into software. Don't use JavaScript in your Web pages (for how
many years will JavaScript anno 1999 run? Max 3 is my belief). Be
careful with databases and other binary formats which require software
for unlocking. Only use well-established compression techniques. Use
HTML whenever you can -- it has established unprecedented global
semantics which computers can read 50 years from now.

The above reasoning has been a guiding principle in the design of CSS
[1]. Styles are described declaratively and often as constraints. Some
of the functionality in CSS2 has been pulled over the fence from
scripting. E.g., to change style on an element as you "hover" above it
you no longer need JavaScript -- a simple declaration will do:

A:hover { background: red }

So, to keep information free, make sure you don't lock it up in softwar=

Last, a slightly facetious quote [2] which almost supports my case:

"Digital information lasts forever -- or five years,=20
whichever comes first"
=09=09=09=09-Jeff Rotherberg

[2] Ensuring the Longetivity of Digital Documents, Jeff
Rothenberg, Scientific American, January 1995, p. 42


H =E5 k o n W i u m L i e
World W i d e Web Consortium