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Still Jeff

5th of August 2000

     Let's talk a bit about web standards. The World Wide Web Consortium was established in October 1994 to lead the Web to its full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability. W3C has more than 400 Member organizations from around the world and has earned international recognition for its contributions to the growth of the Web.

     "W3C promotes and develops its vision of the future of the World Wide Web. The W3C identifies the technical requirements that must be satisfied if the Web is to be a truly universal information space. W3C designs Web technologies to realize this vision, taking into account existing technologies as well as those of the future. W3C contributes to efforts to standardize Web technologies by producing specifications (called "Recommendations") that describe the building blocks of the Web. W3C makes these Recommendations, and other technical reports freely available to all."

     So what can happen when those standards or recommendations go awry? The web browser engineers, particularly Microsoft, AOL's Netscape, and Opera are in competition for market share of computer placement. They wish to innovate -- to make their product more attractive and interesting to the average web user. Sometimes that means bypassing the standards developed by the W3C. When that happens, it creates a nightmare scenario for those who make their living by developing, designing and programming for the Web.

     A technique that works and displays perfectly well in one browser may look like a jumbled mess in another. Just because the web page programmer complies with W3C standards in code usage does not mean a browser will render that code as intended. The reason? Non-compliance with standards. Enter the Web Standards Project.

     "The Web Standards Project or WaSP is a coalition of web developers and users. Their mission is to stop the fragmentation of the web, by persuading browser makers that standards are in everyone's best interest. Together they can make the web accessible to everyone." In recent articles, WaSP has taken the major browser producers to task for varying reasons, including standards deficiencies and production delays. The latest browser versions are all over the map in relation to their standards compliance.

     Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.0 for the Macintosh platform is perhaps the world's most compliant production browser, but the recent release of IE5.5 for Windows has some glaring weaknesses. Only 80% compliant to standards, Microsoft instead focused on introducing new proprietary features in an effort to continue enhancement of their already dominant market share. Netscape's production browser, version 4.74, is horrible with standards. Developers have been in revolt for years as a result, and have been crying for eventual release of the next version.

     Known as Mozilla, this open collaboration between Netscape engineers and everyday programmers has a goal of producing a 100% standards compliant browser. But, they have been very late to market and have lost whatever advantage the original Netscape gained in the mid-90s. A preview release of the Mozilla engine, named Netscape 6, is available for testing, but still has a number of problems. The third major browser, Opera, is 100% W3C standards compliant, but does not yet support important features in the Document Object Model.

     What are web site developers to do? Many have tried to create versions of their pages for each and every browser. The work becomes exhausting, creating three, four or more different samples of every page on their site. For extremely large sites, this is a terrible waste of productivity. Others simply make a declaration that they are developing for one specific browser and if you don't have it -- tough. How to alienate visitors in one easy step. Most simply limit themselves to simple constructs that are supported, and will work, in all browsers. This, however, is very frustrating and deprives exceptional designers of their creativity.

     Let's take a look at a new proprietary feature introduced by Microsoft for their Windows platform IE5.5 browser. Known as the Gradient Filter, it allows for color gradients to be rendered on the client side, at the resolution of the display, without the need to author images that contain a pre-determined gradient at a fixed resolution. Cool right? The problem? Only Windows users with the IE5.5 browser can view the effect.

Vertical Gradient with Transparency, but if you don't have Windows IE5.5, you're out of luck. With Netscape 4 it just looks like yucky text. With Netscape 6, you at least see the division, but miss the gradient effect because it is not a web standard programming code. Even with previous versions of Internet Explorer, the gradient is not visible because it is a new proprietary feature built-in to IE5.5.

On a Macintosh, the results are much the same. Forget Netscape, there is no difference from any other text block. With that 100% compliant Mac IE5 browser you will get a division, but no gradient because it isn't built-in. And iCab? I won't even go there.

 

     So what is your opinion? Do you think all web pages should look the same in all browsers? Maybe you think browser engineers are constrained by standards and should be given free-reign to innovate. Perhaps you believe there should only be one web browser. Whatever your opinion, it's definitely a divisive issue, one the web pioneers have been battling since day one.

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