Standards: Do We Need A Revolution?

Nick del Pozo’s article this past week at, Making a Standard, discusses the extreme and very real mess we developers have with trying to code our JavaScript to not only follow the W3C’s recommendations but to also work with at least the major 2 browsers for versions 4 through 6, maybe even back to versions 3.

Nick is taking a bold stance in his decision to build his new site to be standards compliant and to work with Internet Explorer 5.5 and Netscape 6, disregarding prior browser versions.

On the other hand, is it any more bold than what the browser companies have done? Their actions have previously indicated that while they’ve followed some of the recommendations, they’ve also disregarded so much, too.

Here’s an excerpt from Nick’s article:

"The Revolution Will Be Standardized

. . . It seems that for as long as we are willing to write endless passages of ungainly, accommodating code, people will continue to use what they’ve always used. Worse yet, while we’re willing to support browser specific "features," we’re practically inviting the companies responsible for building our Web browsers to do whatever they please, safe in the knowledge that we’ll find a way to work it in. And it probably serves us right.

I’m coding the new site to be 100% standards compliant. I simply refuse to write my code more than once. It’s been tested, and works on both Navigator 6 and Explorer 5.5. . .

Perhaps if we, as those responsible for piecing together the Web, refuse to write code for anything but the W3C standard, it’ll be the Netscapes and Microsofts who’ll eventually start writing their programs to accommodate us."

Wait a minute. Why is it such a big deal to take the stance that Nick has taken? Is it really so unreasonable to build a site that works in these browsers even if it means it may break in prior versions?

Nick’s new site may not work in older browser versions, NOT because his code is lacking, but because the browsers DIDN’T follow the W3C recommendations.

It’s an absolutely intriguing thought to me for us Web site developers to refuse to continue to spend thousands of hours (no exaggeration!) trying to figure out workarounds and hacks to get our Web sites to work in various browsers and platforms. It’s also very costly to do this, both for our clients and for our time and effort.

Nick isn’t the only one taking this stance, either.

A List Apart’s News of January 26th, Issue No. 96 states that they’ve also decided to drop the hacks and workarounds they’d so painstakingly done for their site to work in Netscape 4.x.

"Though the latest browsers have greatly improved their support for web standards, 35% of you rely on 4.0 or older browsers. So instead of using clean, structural markup and a global Style Sheet, we bang like angry monkeys at deeply nested HTML tables. That will change soon.

Already, we’ve removed some non-standard markup that made this site look better in Netscape 4. The way we figure it, we can keep grinding out junk code to support a dying, non-standards-compliant browser, or we can practice what we preach."

While I definitely agree that all the hacks and workarounds are ridiculous, if I choose to also write only W3C recommended code for standards-compliant browsers, what do I tell my clients when they complain to me that a bunch of visitors got garbled junk at their sites, couldn’t buy their products because the site wouldn’t work in their visitors' 4.0 browsers, or that when they checked out their site on their friend’s Mac with Internet Explorer 4 or their PC with Netscape 4 that it looked horrible?

On the other hand, it’s also the clients who continue to pay for us developers to test, hack, test, more hack, more test to get the sites to work in all the non-standards compliant browsers.

To get even just a glimpse of the problems with which we’re faced, scan through the annotated listing of articles, tutorials, and charts at’s sections, Accessibility, Cross-Platform, Cross-Browser Design or Cross-Browser, Cross-Platform Font Issues. The titles alone will provide a quick visual sample.

Will it take a revolution of sorts from us developers to get the browser companies to produce standardized browsers? Do the companies who make electrical appliances have a problem because they must follow standards so their appliances work in businesses and homes all across the U.S?

I don’t think we’re asking too much.

Related Columns at Brainstorms & Raves

02:47 pm, pst27 January, 2001 Comments, Trackbacks ·';}?>

Categories: Browsers, CSS, Design, Development, Standards, Usability

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