As system designers, we expected that developing an application that attempted to maximise utility under resource constraint would unconditionally be ``a good thing''. However, for shared applications in which the parties do not necessarily share the same goals, issues arise about which of the parties should retain power.
The degree of control that authors of Web pages have over presentation compares unfavourably with that in most other media, as the standard layout tool, HTML, is a logical mark-up language. HTML is changing slowly to take in more optical factors, such as specified fonts and styles, because of producers' dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. However, these new tags do not guarantee that what is produced is what the user sees, because of the variation in browser's interpretations. And users continue to have the opportunity to override some of the layout tags provided, to switch off images and Java applets if they so choose.
The balance of power between user, technology and author is in continual flux, remaining a negotiable feature of the Web as originally intended. On the face of it, policies strengthen the user's hand and contribute to this uncertain environment for the author. If some authors continue to show the same cavalier attitude to image file size and the provision of ``Alt'' tags as a text alternative, then at least users have redress now.
But policies have been designed to allow either side to claim or relinquish control. An author must defer to user preferences where they exist and cannot insist on certain standards of presentation, but only request them. Conversely, a user may define a policy that is in part overridden if an author has produced a policy and in part defines their definite display and download needs. Thus, they can receive something close to the intentions of the author (if they so wish) or something that is "now readable" on their palm top. In the final analysis, if both parties have conflicting policies, then the user's will triumph. After all, it is the user that must wait while images download and the user who has such special needs as small displays or disabilities that necessitate differing policies. The prototype software offers a workable alternative to browsing with the images disabled and therefore goes a long way to ensuring that the author's vision is delivered, if in slightly modified form.
A philosophical view upon the conflict between the author and user policies is that we are seeing a concrete representation of the post-modern clash about control over the text. Distribution of media over networks has provided another form of distance between the author and the reader, where the network and display may change the experience wished for by the author into something completely different, even before the reader brings themselves to bear. By making the changes forced by networked delivery explicit and configurable, we can enable the author and the user to enter into a dialogue about what the media is intended for, and use the policy precedence to resolve the asynchronous dispute harmoniously. But this dialogue can only occur if authors recognise they must take account of the various alternate representation of their creations.