‘Carthage must be destroyed’

…and in the research labs that are his natural habitat.

Bill Hill is the Scotsman who works for Microsoft Typography or Advanced Reading Technologies (or some such – his bio is out of date). It’s a distinction without a difference – they may be in different buildings and have different bosses, but in practice both departments work together. He’s done a lot of good work you could look up yourself. While I’ve talked at length to colleagues (and former employees) of his, and I E-mail those people regularly with tips and questions and whatnot, and I even did a bit of work for them via Ascender, I’ve never actually met the Other Bill.

Nonetheless: Bill’s on this big kick for Webfonts. (It’s now one word, I guess. It refers to the CSS3 @font-face rule.) I don’t think there is a demand for such a thing from Web designers. That has been borne out by Ralf Herrmann’s survey, in which two-thirds of respondents weren’t interested or were going to wait till “all major browsers support it.” (This is equivalent to my claim that designers may want it once they have it but do not want it now.)

Microsoft and Adobe are supporting Webfonts. They are ginning up reviving a W3C working group to push these things through. (Good luck finding a link to it. It’s in another set of bookmarks here somewhere; I can’t be bothered spending any more than the 10 minutes I’ve already spent trying to find it. The people who write the specs for the Web run its worst site.)

W3C committees do their rich corporate members’ bidding. Microsoft and Adobe (and Opera and others) want Webfonts. True to W3C history (Cf. WCAG; HTML5), the Webfonts working group will provide a simulacrum of transparency and process as it forces through exactly what its backers want. The upside is it won’t have Hixie denying to “so-called… experts[’]” faces that it is actually happening.

However: Bill has really been screwing up his presentations to “the Web community” on Webfonts. He’s mixed up half a dozen different issues on his blindingly unreadable blog:

  • Webfonts
  • Unicode and escape characters
  • Web authoring
  • Web standards
  • His own inability to use Unicode or escape characters in standards-compliant Web authoring at an expert level from a standing start

To this list, I must add Bill’s insistence that Web sites look like magazine layouts, based on some research or other he brandishes as if it were relevant. This seems actively worse than creating a virtual-reality shopping mall in which your avatar has to walk the distance from store to store.

Bill isn’t a Web developer. Of course he knows Unicode, but he doesn’t know anything about Web development. Nor should he, nor do I want him to. Neither do I want him to win a Top Chef Quickfire Challenge using molecular gastronomy, or build a credenza, or install a gas furnace, or re-engineer the tiles on the space shuttle. I want him to focus on the areas of his expertise. He is hampering the promotion of Webfonts via his many missteps. Such hampering is causing ill will – for no discernible reason, since he’s going to get what he wants anyway.

I am particularly appalled at the continued evidence, this many years in, of the complete unsuitability of Microsoft tools to the task of standards-compliant Web authoring. Of course Web development is a lot to learn from scratch, but nobody asked Bill to learn it. (Why isn’t there anybody at Microsoft with the skills to help him?)

By contrast, I have been doing this for a while and I have efficient systems set up here in my Macintosh-supremacist compound. Using bog-standard tools like BBEdit and Interarchy, I can spit out valid HTML (with competent Unicode usage) in the blink of an eye. Meanwhile, Bill’s employer, Microsoft, saddles him with Notepad. No less than the head of the Microsoft browser project told him to use it.

Now, since many readers will doubt my heart is in the right place here, let me suggest that what Microsoft and Adobe need to do to persuade Web designers that they need Webfonts is to hire Web designers to prove it. Only Web designers who are also qualified developers are suitable. In other words, if Microsoft and Adobe have any sense at all they’ll hire Happy Cog, Malarkey, Simplebits, or equivalent to design and produce Webfont demo pages, all using perfect markup and without ever transposing print design onto the Web. (Håkon’s sample pages for A List Apart are, like Bill’s, a textbook example of what not to do.)

We want Bill to carry out research into typography and reading. Leave the driving to us.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.09.07 14:57. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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