This page describes, in Unix manual page style, a Perl program available for downloading from this site which corrects numerous errors and incompatibilities in HTML generated by, or edited with, Microsoft applications. The demoroniser keeps you from looking dumber than a bag of dirt when your Web page is viewed by a user on a non-Microsoft platform.
This remained a mystery to me until I wanted to convert a presentation I'd developed in 1996 using Microsoft PowerPoint into a set of Web pages. A friend was kind enough to run the presentation through PowerPoint's "Save as HTML" feature (I have abandoned all use of Microsoft products, so I did not have a current version of PowerPoint which includes this feature). When I got the PowerPoint-generated HTML back and viewed it in my browser, I discovered that it contained precisely the same grammatical errors I'd noted on so many Web sites, and which certainly were not present in my original presentation.
A little detective work revealed that, as is usually the case when you encounter something shoddy in the vicinity of a computer, Microsoft incompetence and gratuitous incompatibility were to blame. Western language HTML documents are written in the ISO 8859-1 Latin-1 character set, with a specified set of escapes for special characters. Blithely ignoring this prescription, as usual, Microsoft use their own "extension" to Latin-1, in which a variety of characters which do not appear in Latin-1 are inserted in the range 0x82 through 0x95--this having the merit of being incompatible with both Latin-1 and Unicode, which reserve this region for additional control characters.
These characters include open and close single and double quotes, em and en dashes, an ellipsis and a variety of other things you've been dying for, such as a capital Y umlaut and a florin symbol. Well, okay, you say, if Microsoft want to have their own little incompatible character set, why not? Because it doesn't stop there--in their inimitable fashion (who would want to?)--they aggressively pollute the Web pages of unknowing and innocent victims worldwide with these characters, with the result that the owners of these pages look like semi-literate morons when their pages are viewed on non-Microsoft platforms (or on Microsoft platforms, for that matter, if the user has selected as the browser's font one of the many TrueType fonts which do not include the incompatible Microsoft characters).
You see, "state of the art" Microsoft Office applications sport a nifty feature called "smart quotes." (Rule of thumb--every time Microsoft use the word "smart," be on the lookout for something dumb). This feature is on by default in both Word and PowerPoint, and can be disabled only by finding the little box buried among the dozens of bewildering option panels these products contain. If enabled, and you type the string,
"smart quotes" transforms the ASCII quote characters automatically into the incompatible Microsoft opening and closing quotes. ASCII single and double quotes are similarly transformed (even though ASCII already contains apostrophe and single open quote characters), and double hyphens are replaced by the incompatible em dash symbol. What other horrors occur, I know not. If the user notices this happening at all, their reaction might be "Thank you Billy-boy--that looks ever so much nicer," not knowing they've been set up to look like a moron to folks all over the world.
You see, when you export a document as text for hand-editing into HTML, or avail yourself of the "Save as HTML" features in newer versions of Office applications, these incompatible, Microsoft-specific characters remain in place. When viewed by a user on a non-Microsoft platform, they will not be displayed properly--most browsers seem to just drop them, as opposed to including a symbol indicating an undisplayable character. Hence, the apparently ungrammatical text, which the author of the page, editing on a Microsoft platform, will never be aware of.
Having no desire to hand-edit the HTML for a long presentation to correct a raft of Microsoft-induced incompatibilities, I wrote a Perl program, the demoroniser, to transform Microsoft's "junk HTML" into at least a starting point for something I'd consider presentable on my site. In addition to replacing the incompatible characters with HTML-compliant equivalents wherever possible (a few rarely-encountered characters which can't be translated result in warning messages if encountered), the following sloppy or downright wrong HTML is corrected.
This software is in the public domain. Permission to use, copy, modify, and distribute this software and its documentation for any purpose and without fee is hereby granted, without any conditions or restrictions. This software is provided "as is" without express or implied warranty.
by John Walker