The original Ardent Tool website used a simple page design - static HTML, no
documents weren't as clean as one would expect... quite the opposite! Even a
short peek inside one of the more often edited documents would be enough to
fuel your nightmares for the next few days or weeks (if you are a web designer
or programmer, that is).
We really can't blame the author (Louis Ohland) for any of that mess. He
just used what worked for him the best. So who or what is responsible? As the
title suggests, the blame is on the actual tools that were used to create the
pages - the so-called "WYSIWYG" HTML editors. Many tools from this category
(e.g. good ol' MS Word) produce extremely ugly and beyond-bloated HTML document
structure. And sadly, that's what we are dealing with here. Many of the
documents are filled with hundreds of lines that consist of nothing but useless
metadata. This extra data is there only to allow for a more accurate
reverse-conversion of the document. But even if we ignore all the conversion
information, the documents are stuffed with redundant or nonsensical HTML code
- constructions no sane human being would ever create. To make things even
worse, the document structure deteriorates over time with every modification.
That often leads to formatting problems and all kinds of strange
inconsistencies. Most modern browsers typically won't have too much trouble
parsing and displaying this mess. You may, however, run into problems if you
access the website from some older machine. One that doesn't have many CPU
cycles to spare (like any of our beloved PS/2s) or from a browser that isn't
smart enough to cope with the poor document structure.
The documents behave like the organism from John Carpenter's The Thing -
always transforming and extremely unstable. Even a tiny page edit can lead to
violent code changes. That's because the entire document gets re-generated with
every change. Clearly, the generator isn't very stable or perhaps multiple
different tools or settings are being used. Either way, this leads to more
problems when you try comparing different versions of the same document. So,
something as simple as a merge of changes from two sources (me and Louis)
becomes a real pain. Every merge must be reviewed or done manually, which is,
of course, slower and much more tedious.
Over the years, I've managed to clean up many existing pages and remove all
the metadata nonsense, but there is still more to go. New and revised pages
stay clean because no WYSIWYG editors or similar tools are used at any point in
the publishing process. Only plain-text editors
and that's it. Any 3rd party contributions are checked first and polished if
necessary. The pages that received this treatment are easier to edit, have far
fewer formatting problems, and generally have a more consistent look.