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Oh, Those HTML Translator Blues
(or is that Green?)


I got into a shouting match today. About color. Specifically, about the existence and use of the 216-browser-safe color palette.

I was in training for yet-another-HTML-translator. In this case, Lotus Notes/Domino. For companies that have Lotus databases, it translates existing Lotus documents and forms into HTML. This means they can publish web-accessible documents without rewriting existing code. Smart.

While building a form for a hypothetical registration database, I decided to make the form background a nice lavender. However, I discovered that the only way I could specify a color was to select one from an internal (to the product) color palette. No options were available for specifying a color by its hexadecimal code. So I picked one, and clicked "ok."

So far, so good.

Now I go through the steps necessary to view this document in Netscape Navigator and immediately select "view document source." Eeeek! The color embedded is E1BFFF, not a browser-safe color. (They only have C's and F's, no other letters, so spotting deviates is pretty easy.)

I politely (well, I thought I was polite) ask the instructor how to tweak the HTML to fix this coding error. (In my mind this is a major faux pas). He says -- not possible. I get testy. What do you mean? This is not a standard color!

Class members turn on me. "Colors render differently depending on the monitor." (True, but platform differences between Mac and Windows is the rationale behind the 216-color palette.) "The problem is Netscape and Microsoft each have their own colors so web pages don't look the same with the different browsers." (Not True.) "If you don't like it, don't use the product." (Fine.)


Now, I didn't expect everyone in the class to be intimately familiar with HTML conventions. Most folks either had a database or management background; they weren't web designers.

But I do expect the current versions of HTML translation software to conform with standards like the 216-browser-safe colors and HTML 3.2. Is that really asking too much -- to provide WYSIWYG tools that generate decent (cross-platform compatible) HTML code?

If we, as designers, are going to use color so that it means something, (contrasted with color for the sake of color), then it behooves us to use tools that render the color the same for everyone who visits our web pages. Granted, being limited to 216 colors is not a perfect solution, but it sure beats dithering!

So what's the moral to this story?

Corporate America, hear this: cross-platform compatibility is a concept whose time has come, and it ain't going away. No more handcuffs to one platform and/or one software giant. Product designers need to be held accountable to conform with standards. Treat this concept (and us peons) lightly at your product's risk.

circa 2nd quarter 1997


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Copyright Kathy E. Gill, 1996 and 1997. Comments?

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