Re: R-alpha: [ Online_h**lp system]

Z. Todd Taylor (
Fri, 22 Nov 1996 08:59:36 -0800

Date: Fri, 22 Nov 1996 08:59:36 -0800
From: (Z. Todd Taylor)
Subject: Re: R-alpha: [ Online_h**lp system]

Paul Gilbert wrote:

> While the procedures to build many different help systems are very
> elegant, I find the HTML help is much better than the Latex or old man
> page system and is especially good because it works well on non-Unix
> systems. The main short-coming is support for mathematical symbols, but
> I believe that is fixed by HTML3. Are there good reasons for not moving
> to an exclusively HTML help system?
> Paul Gilbert

I find HTML infuriating as a help format.  It is the rat's-eye
view of the maze.  I prefer the scientist's-eye view.

A help system such as S-plus's (nroff piped into the 'less'
filter) allows me to easily do searches for key words, phrases,
partial words, words in a particular context, etc.  HTML forces
me to "recursively" try every branch of the maze until I find
what I'm looking for.  Or, I must rely on someone else's index
that may or may not actually point to what I'm looking for.
Don't get me wrong--the hot links to associated documentation
are nice, and the ability to display graphics is really nice,
but, to me, neither of these is worth losing simple (but powerful)
text searches.

While text search can be incorporated into an HTML reader (it's
in my browser), it only searches the current document, not any
of the links.  The HTML paradigm of breaking text up into small,
linked chunks virtually eliminates the possibility of simple
text searches.

My favorite on-line help system is an ASCII copy of the whole
user's guide and reference manual that I can grep through at

Is there something that combines the advantages of HTML with
those of simple text?

Z. Todd Taylor
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
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