Modern Web Documents

Web technology marches forward as an application platform. We’re beginning to get a nice platform for rich media and applications with real time updates. There is something that has been relatively neglected since the first web browsers: plain old documents.

Try out my attempt at modernisation. Please excuse the long loading time – it’s fixable.

Unfortunately, the quality depends a lot on your OS, browser and monitor.

So what does this do?


With wide screen monitors common, there’s often a lot of wasted space on a page. This is my main complaint against PDFs generated with LaTex etc. They’re laid out for print - often A4 or letter size - not for the screen or mobile devices. We could and should be filling the screen up with information.


For me scrolling doesn’t really work for reading large amounts of text. My eye loses track of the content quickly. I think it’s more efficient and comfortable to read the way we read books: a page at a time.

Font Rendering

High DPI monitors are increasingly common, and we decreasingly need tricks like sub-pixel anti-aliasing and hinting. Many people still have these on by default, and some people prefer the slighly sharper text you get with hinting. Personally, I prefer the smooth font rendering you often see in PDFs, even at lower resolutions.

Here, I’ve taken the approach of rendering to the canvas using the opentype.js library and the ‘Computer Modern’ font. How pretty this is depends how your browser handles rendering to a canvas.

Typography and Layout

Typography makes documents easier to read. There has been some progress here with CSS font faces, but the gold standard is probably Tex. It typically uses justified text with Knuth-Plass linebreaking for some very pretty output.

I’ve used that here with a similar algorithm for breaking the text into columns.

Hyphenation is also important for text layout. Although you generally want to avoid breaking in the middle of words, it gives you much greater flexibility when deciding where to break lines.