Layouts and Ideal Line Length

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Layouts and Ideal Line Length

David Abrahams

And now, another in a series of exciting episodes...

         It's
    "In My Opinion"
   with Dave Abrahams.

Good evening, folks.  

http://alistapart.com/articles/css3multicolumn contains a good
description of some of the problems of well-used screen real-estate.
If you don't consider long lines to be a problem, then our current
solution -- and that used by many sites -- is a reasonable one: just
spread text to the edges of the available space and tell people to
adjust their browser's width to make it legible.

However:

* long lines pose well-known and proven readability hurdles
  (http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/42/text_length.htm)

* Boost itself has a guideline that lines of code should be kept to
  within 80 characters

* If you ever want to publish documentation with Addison-Wesley,
  they'll require you to keep it to within 65 characters, because
  otherwise it won't fit on the page

* Ditto for being able to print PDFs of your documentation

* Since line breaks are fixed in code, if code examples *do* follow
  the guidelines, a wide browser window really wastes a lot of space.
  Yet we are not using a fixed-width layout primarily because some
  people complain vociferously that we're preventing them from using
  screen real-estate efficiently.

http://beta.boost.org/ currently uses a CSS-only design that
dynamically rearranges columns according to the width of your
browser.  However, the text does not flow across these columns, so
that approach isn't really appropriate for many of our pages.

http://randysimons.com/pagina_129_NL.xhtml actually approaches my
ideal for handling this problem.

This is the sort of thing that could degrade gracefully when there's
no JavaScript.

Thoughts?

--
Dave Abrahams
Boost Consulting
http://www.boost-consulting.com

The Astoria Seminar ==> http://www.astoriaseminar.com


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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

Scott McMurray-2
I've been looking into getting a rotatable monitor because of a number
of these things.  A few thoughts:

On 01/07/07, David Abrahams <[hidden email]> wrote:
> * long lines pose well-known and proven readability hurdles
Completely agree.  1680 and such is FAR too wide to read 12-point
text.  If I have a fair bit of reading to do, I often scale it up to
24, 36, or higher just so my eye can actually do its horizontal
retrace effectively.

> * Since line breaks are fixed in code, if code examples *do* follow
>   the guidelines, a wide browser window really wastes a lot of space.
>   Yet we are not using a fixed-width layout primarily because some
>   people complain vociferously that we're preventing them from using
>   screen real-estate efficiently.
Unfortunately, many sites (google pages and many news sites are
notably bad, here) that do use a fixed layout make it impossible to
scale up the text for readability, since you end up with once 2 or 3
words on a line, and it just looks terrible.

And I have good eyes, but still don't like reading small text.  My web
browser is set to default to 18-point fonts, prevents sites from
forcing them explicitly, and a minimum size of 10 pt.  This tends to
make most fixed-size layouts very unhappy.

> http://beta.boost.org/ currently uses a CSS-only design that
> dynamically rearranges columns according to the width of your
> browser.  However, the text does not flow across these columns, so
> that approach isn't really appropriate for many of our pages.
I also abhor columns on a computer, unless it's absolutely certain
that I will not have to scroll (which I don't think it can ever be).
Even in PDFs it's a pain to scroll up to get back to the top of the
page.  If a website had the whole thing in columns, it'd be even
worse.

> http://randysimons.com/pagina_129_NL.xhtml actually approaches my
> ideal for handling this problem.
For me that seems to make scrolling deathly slow.

> Thoughts?
I have, at times, seen specified-width layouts that use ems (or
something), and once I realize that they're done properly, they're
very nice.  If CSS can set the width of the main content div to 80 ems
(or something, maybe more), I'd go for it.

It should be possible to have alternative or print style sheets
without the width limitation that people could use if they were really
against the restriction.

~ Scott McMurray

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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

John Maddock
In reply to this post by David Abrahams
David Abrahams wrote:
> However:
>
> * long lines pose well-known and proven readability hurdles
>  (http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/42/text_length.htm)
>
> * Boost itself has a guideline that lines of code should be kept to
>  within 80 characters

Yep.

> * If you ever want to publish documentation with Addison-Wesley,
>  they'll require you to keep it to within 65 characters, because
>  otherwise it won't fit on the page
>
> * Ditto for being able to print PDFs of your documentation

That's a whole other topic, but I'm going to suggest we standardise on A4
paper sizes for our PDF's: A4 is an ISO std (unlike US letter) and in
practice is just slightly smaller all round than US letter, which should
keep folks on both sides of the Atlantic happy I hope!

> * Since line breaks are fixed in code, if code examples *do* follow
>  the guidelines, a wide browser window really wastes a lot of space.
>  Yet we are not using a fixed-width layout primarily because some
>  people complain vociferously that we're preventing them from using
>  screen real-estate efficiently.

Like you I find long line lengths and large paragraphs almost impossible to
grok, especially if the font is small.  However, I have to say that I find
multi-columns even worse, *unless* you can guarentee that everything fits on
one screen - even for folks reading on sub-mobiles with 8" screens or
whatever.

> http://beta.boost.org/ currently uses a CSS-only design that
> dynamically rearranges columns according to the width of your
> browser.  However, the text does not flow across these columns, so
> that approach isn't really appropriate for many of our pages.
>
> http://randysimons.com/pagina_129_NL.xhtml actually approaches my
> ideal for handling this problem.
>
> This is the sort of thing that could degrade gracefully when there's
> no JavaScript.
>
> Thoughts?

The main index page you refer to there scrolls so slowly on my system as to
be unusable - the sample page http://randysimons.com/overige/multicolumn/ is
much better in this respect, but the amount of scrolling up and down to read
the columns is IMO intolerable.  How would this cope with a page like this:
http://freespace.virgin.net/boost.regex/toolkit/html/math_toolkit/backgrounders/remez.html 
that which as well as being much longer than the average reference page has
more than it's fair share of media objects?

John.


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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

Matias Capeletto
On 7/2/07, John Maddock <[hidden email]> wrote:
> David Abrahams wrote:
> > However:
> >
> > * long lines pose well-known and proven readability hurdles
> >  (http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/42/text_length.htm)

Ok.

> > * Boost itself has a guideline that lines of code should be kept to
> >  within 80 characters
>
> Yep.

Totally agree.

> > * Ditto for being able to print PDFs of your documentation
>
> That's a whole other topic, but I'm going to suggest we standardise on A4
> paper sizes for our PDF's: A4 is an ISO std (unlike US letter) and in
> practice is just slightly smaller all round than US letter, which should
> keep folks on both sides of the Atlantic happy I hope!

I think we should stick to ISO standards. +1 for A4.

> > * Since line breaks are fixed in code, if code examples *do* follow
> >  the guidelines, a wide browser window really wastes a lot of space.
> >  Yet we are not using a fixed-width layout primarily because some
> >  people complain vociferously that we're preventing them from using
> >  screen real-estate efficiently.
>
> Like you I find long line lengths and large paragraphs almost impossible to
> grok, especially if the font is small.  However, I have to say that I find
> multi-columns even worse, *unless* you can guarentee that everything fits on
> one screen - even for folks reading on sub-mobiles with 8" screens or
> whatever.

Me too. I think that people that want to read with shorter lines can
simply resize the browser's window.

With respect to multicolumns, the page was really slow on my computer
too, and at least for me more difficult to read than a normal page.

Best regards
Matias

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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

David Abrahams
In reply to this post by Scott McMurray-2

[a blank line after quoted text would make your emails easier to read]

on Sun Jul 01 2007, "Scott McMurray" <me22.ca+boost-AT-gmail.com> wrote:

>> http://randysimons.com/pagina_129_NL.xhtml actually approaches my
>> ideal for handling this problem.
>
> For me that seems to make scrolling deathly slow.

Hmm, which browser?  In principle I don't see any reason that JS
should execute during vertical scrolling at all, and I think you must
be seeing something else, like slow background image or font updating.

A real trick would be to make the JS detect the *height* of the
browser window, too, and try to arrange it so that you can read large
sections without scrolling.

--
Dave Abrahams
Boost Consulting
http://www.boost-consulting.com

The Astoria Seminar ==> http://www.astoriaseminar.com


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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

David Abrahams
In reply to this post by John Maddock

on Mon Jul 02 2007, "John Maddock" <john-AT-johnmaddock.co.uk> wrote:

> The main index page you refer to there scrolls so slowly on my
> system as to be unusable - the sample page
> http://randysimons.com/overige/multicolumn/ is much better in this
> respect, but the amount of scrolling up and down to read the columns
> is IMO intolerable.  How would this cope with a page like this:
> http://freespace.virgin.net/boost.regex/toolkit/html/math_toolkit/backgrounders/remez.html
> that which as well as being much longer than the average reference
> page has more than it's fair share of media objects?

One would columnize entire sections, or tuples of sections, before
moving on to a separate area.  So for example (your page uses a
subheading that matches the main heading, which is a bit weird. I also
used elipses liberally because you'd be able to fit lots more
horizontally in a column than I can here with a fixed-width font.

+------------------------------+------------------------------+------------------------------+
|** The Remez Method **        | We want to find the "best"   | In the following discussion  |
|                              |rational approximation, where |we'll use a concrete example  |
|The Remez algorithm is a      |"best" is defined to be the   |to illustrate the Remez       |
|methodology for locating the  |approximation that has the    |method: an approximation to   |
|minimax rational approximation|least deviation from f(x). We |the function ex over the range|
|to a function. This short     |can measure the deviation by  |[-1, 1].                      |
|article gives a brief overview|way of an error function:     |                              |
|of the method, but it should  |                              |Before we can begin the Remez |
|not be regarded as a thorough |Eabs(x) = f(x) - R(x)         |method, we must obtain an     |
|theoretical treatment, for    |                              |initial value for the location|
|that you should consult your  |which is expressed in terms of|of the extrema of the error   |
|favorite textbook.            |absolute error, but we can    |function. We could "guess"    |
|                              |equally use relative error:   |these, but a much closer first|
|Imagine that you want to      |...                           |approximation can be obtained |
|approximate some function f(x)|                              |by first constructing an      |
|by way of a rational function | Unfortunately we don't know  |interpolated polynomial       |
|R(x), where R(x) may be either|where the extrema of the error|approximation to f(x).        |
|a polynomial P(x) or a ratio  |function are located!         |                              |
|of two polynomials P(x)/Q(x)  |                              |In order to obtain the N+1    |
|(a rational                   | ** The Remez Method **       |coefficients of the           |
|function). Initially we'll    |                              |interpolated polynomial we    |
|concentrate on the polynomial |The Remez method is an        |need N+1 points (x0...xN):    |
|case, as it's by far the      |iterative technique which,    |with our interpolated form    |
|easier to deal with, later    |given a broad range of        |passing through each of those |
|we'll extend to the full      |assumptions, will converge on |points that yields N+1        |
|rational function case.       |the extrema of the error      |simultaneous equations:       |
|                              |function, and therefore the   |                              |
|                              |minimax solution.             |                              |
+------------------------------+------------------------------+------------------------------+
| f(xi) = P(xi) = c0+ c1xi... +|                                                             |
|cNxiN                         |                                                             |
|                              |                                                             |
|Which can be solved for the   |                                                             |
|coefficients c0...cNin P(x).  |                                                             |
|                              |                                                             |
|Obviously this is not a       |                                                             |
|minimax solution, indeed our  |                   Initial Interpolated Approximation        |
|only guarantee is that f(x)   |                                                             |
|and P(x) touch at N+1         |                                                             |
|locations, away from those    |                                                             |
|points the error may be       |                                                             |
|arbitrarily large. However, we|                                                             |
|would clearly like this       |                                                             |
|initial approximation to be as|                                                             |
|close to f(x) as possible, and+------------------------------+------------------------------+
|it turns out that using the   | Which has a peak relative    | ** Remez Step 1 ***          |
|zeros of an orthogonal        |error of 1.2x10-3.            | ...                          |
|polynomial as the initial     |                              |                              |
|interpolation points is a good|While this is a pretty good   |                              |
|choice. In our example we'll  |approximation already, judging|                              |
|use the zeros of a Chebyshev  |by the shape of the error     |                              |
|polynomial as these are       |function we can clearly do    |                              |
|particularly easy to          |better. Before starting on the|                              |
|calculate, interpolating for a|Remez method propper, we have |                              |
|polynomial of degree 4, and   |one more step to perform:     |                              |
|measuring relative error we   |locate all the extrema of the |                              |
|get the following error       |error function, and store     |                              |
|function:                     |these locations as our initial|                              |
|                              |Chebyshev control points.     |                              |
|                              | ...                          |                              |
+------------------------------+------------------------------+------------------------------+

--
Dave Abrahams
Boost Consulting
http://www.boost-consulting.com

The Astoria Seminar ==> http://www.astoriaseminar.com


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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

David Abrahams
In reply to this post by Matias Capeletto

on Mon Jul 02 2007, "Matias Capeletto" <matias.capeletto-AT-gmail.com> wrote:

>> Like you I find long line lengths and large paragraphs almost impossible to
>> grok, especially if the font is small.  However, I have to say that I find
>> multi-columns even worse, *unless* you can guarentee that everything fits on
>> one screen - even for folks reading on sub-mobiles with 8" screens or
>> whatever.
>
> Me too. I think that people that want to read with shorter lines can
> simply resize the browser's window.

Except that doesn't work well either.  Look at
http://freespace.virgin.net/boost.regex/toolkit/html/math_toolkit/backgrounders/remez.html.
If you make it narrow enough to have readable lines, the figure is cut
off. OK, I can make the window narrower and increase the font size.
How much should I have to do when visiting a new page to make it
legible?

--
Dave Abrahams
Boost Consulting
http://www.boost-consulting.com

The Astoria Seminar ==> http://www.astoriaseminar.com


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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

Matias Capeletto
On 7/2/07, David Abrahams <[hidden email]> wrote:

>
> on Mon Jul 02 2007, "Matias Capeletto" <matias.capeletto-AT-gmail.com> wrote:
>
> >> Like you I find long line lengths and large paragraphs almost impossible to
> >> grok, especially if the font is small.  However, I have to say that I find
> >> multi-columns even worse, *unless* you can guarentee that everything fits on
> >> one screen - even for folks reading on sub-mobiles with 8" screens or
> >> whatever.
> >
> > Me too. I think that people that want to read with shorter lines can
> > simply resize the browser's window.
>
> Except that doesn't work well either.  Look at
> http://freespace.virgin.net/boost.regex/toolkit/html/math_toolkit/backgrounders/remez.html.
> If you make it narrow enough to have readable lines, the figure is cut
> off.

Images there are 560 px width. I narrow it to 640 and it seems very nice to me.

> OK, I can make the window narrower and increase the font size.

That is a good point.

> How much should I have to do when visiting a new page to make it
> legible?

Absolutely nothing. If you give me some time I will make your browser
remember your font size selection and your preferred width and show
you the page as you want it.
It is fine for you a fixed size for the page centered in your browser window?

But you will probably have to wait some weeks for it. But it will
there for you. I promise :)

Best regards
Matias

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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

John Maddock
In reply to this post by David Abrahams
David Abrahams wrote:

> on Mon Jul 02 2007, "Matias Capeletto"
> <matias.capeletto-AT-gmail.com> wrote:
>
>>> Like you I find long line lengths and large paragraphs almost
>>> impossible to grok, especially if the font is small.  However, I
>>> have to say that I find multi-columns even worse, *unless* you can
>>> guarentee that everything fits on one screen - even for folks
>>> reading on sub-mobiles with 8" screens or whatever.
>>
>> Me too. I think that people that want to read with shorter lines can
>> simply resize the browser's window.
>
> Except that doesn't work well either.  Look at
> http://freespace.virgin.net/boost.regex/toolkit/html/math_toolkit/backgrounders/remez.html.
> If you make it narrow enough to have readable lines, the figure is cut
> off. OK, I can make the window narrower and increase the font size.
> How much should I have to do when visiting a new page to make it
> legible?

Ideally, nothing at all.

However, those images aren't that wide: 590px or so isn't exactly huge IMO.
On my screen if I resize so that the browser is the same width as the images
then the max line length is 99 characters - over the recomended limit I
agree.  One application of CTRL++ and that drops to 80 chars and is more
than legible.  Perhaps we should revisit the decision to use such a small
font size?

John.


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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

John Maddock
In reply to this post by David Abrahams
David Abrahams wrote:

> on Mon Jul 02 2007, "John Maddock" <john-AT-johnmaddock.co.uk> wrote:
>
>> The main index page you refer to there scrolls so slowly on my
>> system as to be unusable - the sample page
>> http://randysimons.com/overige/multicolumn/ is much better in this
>> respect, but the amount of scrolling up and down to read the columns
>> is IMO intolerable.  How would this cope with a page like this:
>> http://freespace.virgin.net/boost.regex/toolkit/html/math_toolkit/backgrounders/remez.html
>> that which as well as being much longer than the average reference
>> page has more than it's fair share of media objects?
>
> One would columnize entire sections, or tuples of sections, before
> moving on to a separate area.  So for example (your page uses a
> subheading that matches the main heading, which is a bit weird. I also
> used elipses liberally because you'd be able to fit lots more
> horizontally in a column than I can here with a fixed-width font.

Yes, one could do that, I still doubt it's legibility personally.

Do you have an example of a useable website that works this way?

Thanks, John.


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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

Scott McMurray-2
In reply to this post by David Abrahams
On 02/07/07, David Abrahams <[hidden email]> wrote:
> >> http://randysimons.com/pagina_129_NL.xhtml actually approaches my
> >> ideal for handling this problem.
> >>
> > For me that seems to make scrolling deathly slow.
> >
> Hmm, which browser?  In principle I don't see any reason that JS
> should execute during vertical scrolling at all, and I think you must
> be seeing something else, like slow background image or font updating.
>
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux x86_64; en-US; rv:1.8.1.4) Gecko/20070608
BonEcho/2.0.0.4

( Gentoo's www-client/mozilla-firefox-2.0.0.4, arch amd64 )

~ Scott

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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

David Abrahams
In reply to this post by John Maddock

on Mon Jul 02 2007, "John Maddock" <john-AT-johnmaddock.co.uk> wrote:

> Do you have an example of a useable website that works this way?

hahaha.  'course not :)

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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

Rene Rivera-2
David Abrahams wrote:
> on Mon Jul 02 2007, "John Maddock" <john-AT-johnmaddock.co.uk> wrote:
>
>> Do you have an example of a useable website that works this way?
>
> hahaha.  'course not :)

Once upon a time, in my first full time job, I wrote such a layout
algorithm for formatting pages to fax... I *really* don't want to repeat
that experience ;-)

Automatic column flowing is just not something that ever comes out well.
There's way too much context humans put into play when doing such
layouts that make a machine approximation pale in comparison. I
personally think we should stay away from column layouts except in
strict contexts.


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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

David Abrahams

on Mon Jul 02 2007, Rene Rivera <grafikrobot-AT-gmail.com> wrote:

> David Abrahams wrote:
>> on Mon Jul 02 2007, "John Maddock" <john-AT-johnmaddock.co.uk> wrote:
>>
>>> Do you have an example of a useable website that works this way?
>>
>> hahaha.  'course not :)
>
> Once upon a time, in my first full time job, I wrote such a layout
> algorithm for formatting pages to fax... I *really* don't want to repeat
> that experience ;-)
>
> Automatic column flowing is just not something that ever comes out well.
> There's way too much context humans put into play when doing such
> layouts that make a machine approximation pale in comparison. I
> personally think we should stay away from column layouts except in
> strict contexts.

OK, I withdraw my suggestion.

But I'm still concerned about line length.

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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

Matias Capeletto
> > Rene:
> > Automatic column flowing is just not something that ever comes out well.
> > There's way too much context humans put into play when doing such
> > layouts that make a machine approximation pale in comparison. I
> > personally think we should stay away from column layouts except in
> > strict contexts.
>
> David:
> OK, I withdraw my suggestion.
> But I'm still concerned about line length.

Have you read this David:

--------------------------------------------
> How much should I have to do when visiting a new page to make it
> legible?

Absolutely nothing. If you give me some time I will make your browser
remember your font size selection and your preferred width and show
you the page as you want it.
It is fine for you a fixed size for the page centered in your browser window?

But you will probably have to wait some weeks for it. But it will
there for you. I promise :)
-------------------------------------------

What do you think?

Best regards
Matias

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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

David Abrahams

on Tue Jul 03 2007, "Matias Capeletto" <matias.capeletto-AT-gmail.com> wrote:

>> David:
>> OK, I withdraw my suggestion.
>> But I'm still concerned about line length.
>
> Have you read this David:
>
> --------------------------------------------
>> How much should I have to do when visiting a new page to make it
>> legible?
>
> Absolutely nothing. If you give me some time I will make your browser
> remember your font size selection and your preferred width and show
> you the page as you want it.
> It is fine for you a fixed size for the page centered in your browser window?
>
> But you will probably have to wait some weeks for it. But it will
> there for you. I promise :)
> -------------------------------------------
>
> What do you think?

I have read it.  I'm not sure what to think; I'd have to see it in
action.  I'd rather be able to keep my usual font size rather than
having fonts get bigger when I visit Boost documentation, but maybe
that's the best compromise.

--
Dave Abrahams
Boost Consulting
http://www.boost-consulting.com

The Astoria Seminar ==> http://www.astoriaseminar.com


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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

Matias Capeletto
On 7/3/07, David Abrahams <[hidden email]> wrote:

>
> on Tue Jul 03 2007, "Matias Capeletto" <matias.capeletto-AT-gmail.com> wrote:
>
> >> David:
> >> OK, I withdraw my suggestion.
> >> But I'm still concerned about line length.
> >
> > Have you read this David:
> >
> > --------------------------------------------
> >> How much should I have to do when visiting a new page to make it
> >> legible?
> >
> > Absolutely nothing. If you give me some time I will make your browser
> > remember your font size selection and your preferred width and show
> > you the page as you want it.
> > It is fine for you a fixed size for the page centered in your browser window?
> >
> > But you will probably have to wait some weeks for it. But it will
> > there for you. I promise :)
> > -------------------------------------------
> >
> > What do you think?
>
> I have read it.  I'm not sure what to think; I'd have to see it in
> action.

Yep, it is the best way to discuss something.

> I'd rather be able to keep my usual font size rather than
> having fonts get bigger when I visit Boost documentation, but maybe
> that's the best compromise.

I ping you when a proof of concept is ready.

Best regards
Matias

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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

pabristow
In reply to this post by David Abrahams
>-----Original Message-----
>From: [hidden email]
>[mailto:[hidden email]] On Behalf Of
>David Abrahams
>Sent: 02 July 2007 01:38
>To: [hidden email]
>Subject: [Boost-docs] Layouts and Ideal Line Length

>* long lines pose well-known and proven readability hurdles
>  (http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/42/text_length.htm)

I very much doubt if this is relevant when there are so many inserts of code snippets, pictures & tables as is universal in Boost
docs.



>If you don't consider long lines to be a problem, then our current
>solution -- and that used by many sites -- is a reasonable one: just
>spread text to the edges of the available space and tell people to
>adjust their browser's width to make it legible.

Fine IMO - and I've spent some time viewing (html and pdf) documentation recently  ;-)

I think Keep It Simple Sirs applies here.

Paul

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Re: Layouts and Ideal Line Length

David Abrahams

on Fri Jul 13 2007, "Paul A Bristow" <pbristow-AT-hetp.u-net.com> wrote:

>>* long lines pose well-known and proven readability hurdles
>>  (http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/42/text_length.htm)
>
> I very much doubt if this is relevant when there are so many inserts
> of code snippets, pictures & tables as is universal in Boost docs.

Doubt all you want.  It's relevant for me every time I look at a page
of Boost documentation.

>>If you don't consider long lines to be a problem, then our current
>>solution -- and that used by many sites -- is a reasonable one: just
>>spread text to the edges of the available space and tell people to
>>adjust their browser's width to make it legible.
>
> Fine IMO - and I've spent some time viewing (html and pdf)
> documentation recently ;-)
>
> I think Keep It Simple Sirs applies here.

Maybe that's the best we can do, but I don't have to like it ;-)

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