A Standards-Compliant Publishing Tool for the Rest of Us?

by Jeffrey Zeldman

50 Reader Comments

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  1. Sounds like a very impressive and useful tool. I was looking for something of this nature and decided on a very nice PHP and MySQL program, Wordpress [ http://wordpress.org/ ]. Currently using it on my website and it works like a charm. Great article.

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  2. nice… but it doesn’t seem like the usual type of alistapart article. where’s the technical know-how? where’s the lesson?
    seems to me like a blatant product plug, and an attempt to make alistapart a little more like other magazines, and less underground.
    i’m not really compaining, but i’ve gotten used to ALA giving me something to work with, not just an interview.

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  3. Even though I’ve strived to make my MT templates usable and valid, I often slip up and forget to encode ampersands in links to other sites. I wonder it Typepad will try and deal with bad user input…other wise you will have a nice valid wrapper around invalid content.

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  4. Indeed, I often do that as well. They stated that more advanced users dislike auto-correction and I see their point, but I certainly would love it if I didn’t have to go and edit little mistakes like that.

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  5. Jim:

    We knew this was a different type of ALA article and we also knew that some readers might view it as commercial. But we felt there was a genuine news angle to a product that lets anyone publish a standards-compliant site and that itself is built with standards … and who, if not A List Apart, would tell that kind of story? Many ALA readers ask, where are the standards-compliant Content Management Systems? Well, here is one. We felt the “service to our readers” aspect outweighed any potential downside. And we also thought an interview was the best way to deliver the information. Future ALA articles will continue the tradition of sharing how to achieve particular tasks, providing downloadable (open) source code, and so on.

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  6. <cite>I certainly would love it if I didn’t have to go and edit little mistakes like that.</cite>

    We actually have an attribute in our template tags (if you don’t use MT, we have a system of tags which can be used to control output) that will automatically escape any content within them to be XHTML-compliant if you’re like me and tend to forget to do it manually. Those tags will all still be available to advanced users.

    And regarding the “commercial” nature of the interview, I’ve been a standards advocate for a long time, and aside from the “no real companies use web standards” argument, the second most common thing I’ve heard is that standards are only valuable for documents, not web apps. We’re hoping that real examples of “normal” (which means non-techie, to business folks) people using standards in a web app will help others to see the advantages.

    We will be putting out more nuts and bolts info in the future, and honestly, a lot of the details of our implementation are things that have already been discussed on ALA as far as the proper use of semantic markup goes.

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  7. One good CMS that is often overlooked is pMachine (http://www.pmachine.com). The default template is valid XHTML and CSS (and it attempts to make user-created templates valid as well), and it has a slew of features allowing it to be used for everything from a basic weblog to a complete site CMS for web designers and their clients. The nonconformist in me just wouldn’t let me use Movable Type, and I am very happy that I found pMachine to use instead.

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  8. I have a great deal of respect for Anil and the Movable Type crew. But I’m with Jim: This is, flat-out, an advertorial for the new TypePad service.

    ALA readers would benefit much more from an article in which Anil, or Mena Trott, carefully explained the process of coding those templates. That would (most importantly, of course) still allow them to get their marketing message across, but at least we developers would get something out of it.

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  9. A List Apart has always been a vehicle to enlighten those of us who make websites. In otherwords, it introduces methods and tools to help us perfect our art. To my mind, this article is doing more of the same. Although it differs from the usual piece, it is still informing us of a new tool that may assist us in creating web documents in a standards-compliant manner.

    I see nothing wrong with this article. It isn’t some sort of a ‘sell out.’ After reading the piece, I still feel as if I’ve learned something, even if it isn’t some new design or authoring technique.

    Incidentally, it is GOOD to see A List Apart back in business again. If only Jeffrey could have written his book as quickly as I read it ;)

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  10. WordPress (mentioned above, http://wordpress.org) from the beginning has been XHTML 1.1 compliant out of the box in all but its doctype, which is transitional for compatibility. We try our best to embody the spirit and letter of standards in our site, templates, and our administration interface, a section which is often overlooked due to the general public never seeing it. We’ve also done our best to make the default template as semantically correct as possible, using nested unordered lists for the menus, a proper hierarchy of heading tags, and contextual selectors where ever possible.

    Standards compliance has always been a priority for us and I applaud the 6A team for their efforts as well, although it was my impression that MT has been compliant for a while, and so this is not new with TypePad. Since I trust the people behind ALA I trust that this was not meant as an “advertorial” as a previous poster put it, but it sure comes off that way. There are several tools that are serious about standards that five minutes with Google would have made for a much more diverse and interesting article.

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  11. I agree with a few others that this well intentioned ALA article contained more product plugging and feature descriptions than interesting content. I also would have liked to hear more about the Process of designing a standards compliant tool with the knitty gritty details included.

    The audience at ALA is knowledgable and hip to the web standards scene .. so why deviate from in-depth articles by publishing interviews on products? I think this would have best been “blogged” at zeldman.com than published at ALA.

    With all of that out of the way (hopefully it was constructive criticism, and not disrespectful), I am very glad to see ALA back up and running, and eagerly await the next issue! Thanks for all your hard work Zeldman and freinds.

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  12. Great info on this new product that seems quite interesting indeed. It’s good to see ALA back on track as well, I trust I was not the only one worried it would never come back…

    Looking at the other comments on this list it seems i’m not the only one happy to see some action in here… looking forward to be enlightened again, just like I’ve been recently with “Designing with Web Standards”. I’m recommending it to everyone I know, it’s by far the best book on the subject ever written.

    Personnally, I don’t mind the Siz apart plug that much, I’m so happy to see ALA back on that you guys would have made in interview on Britney Spears I would have been pleased anyway.

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  13. This article comes across as an out-an-out plug for a mate. Yes, there is a place for discussion of standards-based CMS on ALA, but a service to your readers would have analysed other products that do the same thing. The comments of this page show there are in fact similar products that already exist, which really brings into the question this article’s newsworthiness.

    I agree that the interview could have been improved by explaining how standards compliance was technically achieved, so that other developers can incorporate this knowledge into their own projects. But that wouldn’t be in the best commercial interests of six apart, would it?

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  14. But that wouldn’t be in the best commercial interests of six apart, would it?

    Actually, we think it would. But we can’t really talk about the final implementation of the tech in TypePad until the service is at a state where beta’s been completed and people can actually use it. We will absolutely be sharing some of our experiences with the technical implementation of TypePad, particulary its user interface, but honestly it’s just a bit premature as of right now. And, as I mentioned above, ALA articles like Taming Lists and Practical CSS Layout Tips were a big part of our references when creating TypePad, so it wouldn’t make sense to repeat information that’s already here when we can offer a new resource for developers who are advocating standards-based web applicatoins.

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  15. I’d heard that this: http://www.textpattern.com/ is also standards-compliant and it seems pretty easy. To try it out, go to: http://www.opensourcecms.com/ and select TextPatter from “CMS: Blogs”.

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  16. <cite>it wouldn’t make sense to repeat information that’s already here when we can offer a new resource for developers who are advocating standards-based web applicatoins</cite>

    This is my point exactly. It’s not in your commercial interests to explain how things were done because you’d prefer readers to use your new resource instead of gaining the knowledge to build their own. This is a business standpoint and that’s fine. However, I would have like ALA to realise Six Apart’s commercial interests and counter them with something else to make the story balanced.

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  17. So when will HYPEPAD be available Anil?

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  18. “It’s not in your commercial interests to explain how things were done because you’d prefer readers to use your new resource instead of gaining the knowledge to build their own.”

    Adrian, I don’t know how else to phrase this, but what I’m trying to communicate is that this new article is a resource that developers can use to demonstrate that companies are deploying standards-based web apps. We prefer our developers and partners to be as literate as possible in web standards, and we consider that in our commercial interests, as I mentioned in the interview. There are almost no other companies in the world (save Happy Cog or Hesketh) that devote more resources, as a percentage of total available manpower, to web standards and standards advocacy than Six Apart.

    This article on A List Apart doesn’t explain specifics of our CSS files because there already ALA articles on those subjects. We referred to the articles I mentioned above while creating TypePad. I don’t believe it would have improved the interview to <cite> long sections of the Practical CSS article when anyone on this site can simply click through and read it for themselves. Or, more likely, they’ve already read it.

    What nobody’s been able to point to is a commercial company making a business of a tool that doesn’t just output valid pages, but is built with XHTML and CSS. Perhaps the distinction is too subtle, and that’s why it’s getting lost. But I know in my standards advocacy work, I’ve wanted to be able to have a standards-based application to point to that would be equivalent to the role that the Wired News redesign has played in the advocacy of standards-based document publication for large scale websites.

    Now a resource demonstrating to business decision makers the value of commercial use of XHTML/CSS in an application exists. I can’t imagine that anyone active in the web standards advocacy community wouldn’t see value in that.

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  19. Having spent the past 2 years striving for client approval to design standard compliant sites I am thrilled when a Company “bandstands” their use of Web Standards. It is asset like Wired and ESPN redesigning their sites to standards. Also having more tools to offer a client is another enormous benefit.

    The peace of mind that comes with knowing that the design you took months to complete won’t come crashing down because someone used Frontpage to post changes is priceless! I have used and pitched both MT and pMachine for client CMS solutions. There is very little increase in development time with either. MT is very difficult to install the first time, but possibly that is now changing with TypePad and the Pro version.

    Who says ALA can’t promote good design whether it is the aaplication or the product it produces. Keeping publishing these articles so we who are making a living designing for the Web can have positive examples. Maybe a series starting with an article like this one and then follow-up interviews that dig deeper for the more technically savy.

    Thanks Jeff and Anil!

    Jeff maybe an interview with Rick Ellis of PMachine might be a good idea.

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  20. Good article. Bit of a departure from the typical ALA article, but I see nothing wrong with that.

    For the cynics: What did you want expect Anil to talk about, his three favorite colors? I’m all for the tech articles, but to label this as nothing more than a Typepad plug seems a bit harsh.

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  21. It’s good to see ALA publishing new material again! I found the interview with Anil quite nteresting, if a bit of a set-piece. I too would have liked more of a “developer’s story” with some anecdotes about the processes and decisions, but fully support ALA calling attention to companies, products and people who “walk the walk.”

    What’s next?

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  22. Liked the TypePad story a lot…in part because I’m a late discoverer of blogging and eager to learn as much as I can. Also working on the third edition of Writing for the Web, which will certainly deal with writing blogs. While my emphasis is always on the text and not on the technical means for displaying it, it’s really helpful to know what kinds of tools are out there. I agree that pMachine can create great blogs (see http://www.sarswatch.org), but my hesitant attempts to use it were not very encouraging.

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  23. Can you at least give us an idea what quarter we should expect this to happen?
    I regret having to press you guys on this but it does seem highly unusual to make any announcement till you were at a further stage of development.
    As much as I would love to see you guys do well I hope you can see why others including myself are sceptical about how sixapart have (so far) gone about this.
    It seems to me and others (above) that you are manufacturing demand for a product that doesn’t exist.
    Larger companies are more able to successfully follow this approach because they can draw on more resources to support a project if things look like they may unravel. Sixapart is not in that league.
    From a strategic business perspective can you explain the rationale for this approach?

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  24. Smash the capitalist CMS!

    I’m seeing in this forum a kind of blinkered backlash. I think the article does give the impression of an advertorial but big deal. Not all ALA readers are knowledgable, hip and ..erm..underground and ALA is as much about independent content as about doctype tutorials and style sheet widgets and that should include news about an interesting new blogging tool. And one can deny the valuable contribution to independent content that the makers of this product have made. Good luck to them. Having said that, a complete comparison of TypePad with the major blog/cms software available may have seemed more subjective. But, sometimes we get a bit precious about what is reasonable on the web and what isn’t. Lets all relax a little.

    Regarding easy to use software, I’ve used MT, Greymatter and pMachine and found pMachine to be the easiest to install, use and customise. I even dug into my pockets and actually for the pro version. And I’m pretty sure Version 1.0 was xhtml and css valid right out of the box over a year ago and the same could be said of the code it produced (could be wrong). I’d try Textpattern but if Dean Allen can’t stop poncing around the French countryside and add a nice photolog feature like he has on http://www.textism.com then he ain’t getting any of my money.

    Sorry about my long post.

    Long live the mighty standards-compliant CMS revolution!

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  25. Tim if you’re interested in a photolog like Dean’s with a slant toward standards you might like Noel Jackson’s PhotoStack (http://photostack.org/).

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  26. Photostack looks excellent. This should get me away from frames which is the only way I’ve managed to get pMachine make my photolog look the way I want. Easy Thumbnails too. Thankyou Matthew.

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  27. “what I’m trying to communicate is that this new article is a resource that developers can use to demonstrate that companies are deploying standards-based web apps.”

    Okay, understood.

    “This article on A List Apart doesn’t explain specifics of our CSS files because there already ALA articles on those subjects.”

    I’m sorry to harp on but CSS isn’t the only issue in standards-based development. For example, I would have been interested in knowing how you dealt with converting plain text input entries into structural markup. However you have established that this article can be used to demonstrate the commerical value of XHTML/CSS to business decision makers, so I’d agree that such nitty-gritty technological discussions are innaproriate.

    In that case, I would argue that the following sample of questions did not help advocate the commerical benefits of standards.

    <cite>
    …in what special ways does TypePad meet those content producers’ needs

    would TypePad be a poor choice for a school, church, or other small organization…

    Why should web producers interest themselves in products from a small company like Six Apart? Shouldn’t they wait for a more respectable product from a bigger company like Macromedia or even Microsoft?

    What else should we know about TypePad, Movable Type, or Six Apart?
    </cite>

    Anil, my problem is not with your responses. Its the way most of the interview provided little scope for anything but marketing fluff.

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  28. “Would TypePad be a poor choice for a school, church, or other small organization” is marketing fluff?

    Funny, that’s exactly the question I would have asked, having small and midsized clients who need an inexpensive CMS that won’t break my templates and is easy to run, so I don’t have to play systems administrator for them.

    And the answer was, no, Typepad isn’t the product that will solve my problem at providing a CMS solution for my clients. It was an honest answer, not marketing hype.

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  29. “It was an honest answer, not marketing hype.”

    Yes it was an honest answer, but Adrian fealt is was just marketing fluf, lingo, etc. Nothing was mentioned about hype…

    I do agree that this article did not provide any useful information, and most of it can be found on TypePad’s website.

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  30. I’ve already e-mailed Anil about this directly, but thought it would be worth posting here for comment:

    “Every template in TypePad will be standards-compliant markup by default. We haven’t finalized the number of pre-built templates yet, but because the template builder lets people create their own, the total number is essentially limitless. All of the built-in ones are designed by Mena Trott, who designed the default Movable Type templates that people seem very happy with, along with sites like her own Dollarshort.org and Gizmodo, a Movable Type-powered weblog about gadgets. Interestingly, she also designed the Currency template, which seems to have been adopted as an option by nearly every weblog publishing tool that exists, so it appears that even the users of our competitors’ products like her design sense.”

    “Anil – how about opening it up and allowing others to contribute?

    I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Mena’s templates – I mean, I haven’t even seen any of them – but a bit of variety wouldn’t do any harm and you’re in a great position to publicise this.”

    I initially thought of an ‘approved by the Web Standards Project’ kind of thing, but it shouldn’t just be WaSP people contributing – if a template looks good and validates, whay not consider it? Dave Shea has had some great stuff over at CSS Zen Garden.

    Variety. It’s what life is all about.

    BTW, great to see ALA back again! 1 day in and already the forums are busy :-)

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  31. Well, not sure what happend to my last post (zapped), so I’m now in ‘can’t be bothered to re-type full post so you get potted version mode’. Hurrah.

    My comment – which I’ve e-mailed directly to Anil – is that it would be great to get more contributions for standards-compliant templates. A bit of community collaboration would be cool.

    Anyway, great to see ALA back. Let’s hope that it’s back in full steam now that JZ has put down his quill for a while.

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  32. whew.
    I am glad to see ALA back, disappointed to see that its not a technical article. that’s pretty much what I said. I think we’ve become accustomed to the usual tech stuff, so an interview about a particular product does seem off the usual path, and somewhat commercial.
    Perhaps what some people are looking for is more of a discaimer about the purpose of the article, in the article itself – not the forum, such as the stated value to show that companies are moving toward standards. Instead, we’re met with “Lately the community has been buzzing about a soon-to-be-released Six Apart product…” So of course some people feel a bit sold, since we’re pretty much a guaranteed audience.
    On the other hand I wondered if this site is on the cusp of becoming a full-fledged webzine, in which case, we could probably expect good technical articles and interviews, as well as product reviews. It is a bit underground, what with its indeterminate frequency and topics.
    This is, however, free content, and I’m sure Z et al. are well aware that the ‘free’ tag doesn’t stop the complaints, but perhaps anybody with time and good writing skills can request to write an article for ALA, and I doubt the editors would be too unhappy. Free for us costs time and money for them. Not to mention, ALA could likely have more frequent and diverse articles if people are willing to submit, if, of course, ALA is willing to accept.

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  33. most of the CMS being talked about here is released onder the GPL. These people put in their free time to deliver a free product… and a damn good one as well. So thank typepad, textpattern, pmachine, photostack and wordpress.

    It is good to talk about these type of tools. Tool are efficient and when they create valid xhtml and css files they make my day. Talking about them informs us about choices we have and might not know about.

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  34. Tim, all work and no play!! (http://www.alistapart.com/stories/typepad/discuss/#ala-1885) I’ll not work for you mate.

    V – keep on poncing

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  35. Does TypePad use Smarty Templates? If not, how would I change the skin and placement of all the different objects?

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  36. “These people put in their free time to deliver a free product… and a damn good one as well. So thank typepad,”

    TypePad will not be free, and I’m not sure about the GPL license.

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  37. good to see blogging software working towards standards compliance. this comes a couple of days after Blogger’s new system went live, dumping all browsers except IE6.0 into “simple mode, because your browser doesn’t support standards”. i hope they sort that out…

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  38. Damn – it’s not like they’re getting paid off by some corporate giant… whys everyone so grumpy? Its a good tool developed with good intentions… and it’s an improvement over many of the other available options. Perhaps it’ll even be accessible… which is more than most can say.

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  39. Can anyone get ahold of your code you use here for your forum? I like it but cant seem to figure it out on how you got it working? Is this somehting that you will share with me or not?

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  40. Ok so didnt add a name or nothing so thought I would do a follow up post here, and no I am not trying to get the forum for myself I mean if you want to share the code with everyone cool, but I would like to have it so I could use it. I do like it, simple, clean, and to the point.

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  41. Advert? Maybe. But honestly, seeing that ALA hasn’t been updated since November or so I don’t mind seeing anything new on this site, advert or not.

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  42. Is this not the lamest ALA article ever?

    If it was open source then I could at least form some semblance of a flimsy link between this and “the Rest of Us”. As it stands there is not even a free version planned so thanks for the recommendation on how to spend my money.

    Now, can someone point me to the ALA article about Dreamweaver MX support for XHTML?

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  43. they’d shut up about how wonderful and standards-oriented and all TypePad will be and just work on getting the thing out the door and available, heh. I have a fistful of $$$ waiting to be spent on TypePad, but it sure looks like it’s never going to arrive . . .

    I want to send them money. Where’s my TypePad?

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  44. an on-topic, free article on a designer/developer site with no ads that finally starts publishing again incurs the wrath of the blogsphere. maybe those with the wrath should find a more underground resource to visit.

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  45. If anyone would like to read some actual content, can I suggest you head on over to:

    http://www.evolt.org/

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  46. Mena discusses some secret new features of TypePad.
    http://www.dollarshort.org/archives/000881.html#more

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  47. Despite the bit of repetition I noticed in the article, the article was very helpful and I think Six Apart will do very well with TypePad. Though I was a bit unsuccessful in my attempts in install MovableType, I would like to try TypePad someday.

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  48. Could not read this article bexause the lines merge together if I go ALT t-o-e-z to bypass the stylesheet and increase the text to MEDIUM on Win98. If that iis what ‘standard’ means, than heaven help people with reading disabilities.

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  49. jo,
    to overcome this troubles get yourself the free MyIE2 plugin for Internet Explorer
    (http://www.myie2.com, some other plugins do the trick as well)

    You’ll be able to zoom in and out using Ctrl/+ and Ctrl/-,
    zooming will apply to text and graphics, CSS will get overridden;
    Mozilla1+/Netscape6+ offer the same feature.

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  50. “These people put in their free time to deliver a free product”
    I don`t think TypePad will be free …

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