In the late ’90s I went to a fair number of Microsoft presentations. One presentation would say “The problem with Technology X is that it mixes presentation and content. We’ve introduced Technology Y to make your code cleaner, separating presentation and content.” A few months later I’d be at another presentation that would announce “The problem with Technology Y is that it mixes presentation and content. We’ve introduced Technology Z …” (Does this remind anyone else of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back?)
When I first learned LaTeX, I was told that one of its strengths is that it separates presentation and content. Then a few years later I hear complaints that the problem with LaTeX is that it mingles presentation and content, unlike XHTML. A few years later, guess what? XHTML mixes presentation and content, so we need something else.
I shut down when I hear someone announce that everything before their product was bad because it mixed presentation and content, and now with their solution, presentation and content will be completely separate.
Sometimes one technology really does make a cleaner separation of presentation and content. But at best the separation is relative. LaTeX separates presentation and content more than Word, though not as much as well-written HTML and CSS, maybe. But presentation and content cannot be entirely separated. Nor is there unanimous agreement on what exactly the dividing line is between the two.
Many people don’t want to separate their presentation and content. They don’t understand why this would be desirable, and they’ll fight against anything designed to encourage separation. Maybe they need to learn the advantages, or maybe they’re just doing the best they can to get their job done and they can’t be bothered with long term advantages that may not materialize.
The principle of separating presentation and content is admirable. It really does have advantages, but it’s easier said than done.
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