Journal: News & Comment

Wednesday, December 10, 2003
# 9:53:00 AM:

Plain jane

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Even though I work with web pages and print layouts all the time, I'm not a fan of HTML-formatted e-mail. I've been reading my e-mail as plain text for more than 20 years, and until recently I thought that I'd just become a curmudgeon about it. "Ahh, sonny, back in my day, yeh didn't need all them fancy colours and fonts to send an e-mail—we had 7-bit ASCII and that was it."

It's not really that, though. Sure, plain text is the most widely compatible format, and even old-style ASCII will do if, like me, you write in English and don't need any accented or fancy characters. But I'm not opposed to Unicode at all, since it's plain text too, just enough of it to handle most of the written languages in the world instead of just English.

What appeals to me about plain text e-mail is two things:

  1. It makes writing all about the words, not about the formatting, typography, layout, or anything else.
  2. It gives the recipient, not the sender, control of how those words will appear.

If I like looking at my e-mail in 32-point Wide Latin font, I can do that. (As it happens, I prefer 9-point ProFont.) If my screen is 1600 pixels wide, I can read those long, long lines of text if I prefer, or I can scrunch it down to 64 characters in width instead. The key is that the words still come through. It's why I continue to send my e-mail as plain text, and to strip as much formatting off whatever mail I receive as I can, so that I can read it the way I want to.

So if you're e-mailing me, skip the colours and fancy headlines. I probably won't see them anyway—your words are what I want.


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