Browser Upgrade Initiative: Rants and Raves Abound

Upgrade your old browser. Webstandards.orgMolly Holzschlag (Executive Editor, wrote a terrific editorial Friday for WebReview: Editorial Response to WaSP’s Upgrade Your Browser Initiative. [Thanks to Zeldman for the weblog note about it!]

Molly’s editorial makes some very important points, including the need for web designers to educate themselves well and to consider using the W3C’s recommendations.

I think no Web designer or developer worth his or her salt won’t at least consider using recommendations instead of defaulting to proprietary and problematic methodologies.

Another important point she makes is about coding our pages with W3C recommendations:

We don’t really need to upgrade our browsers to be writing documents that conform to certain W3C recommendations. Even if some people prefer not to use CSS positioning, and even if some want to hang on to the font tag—you can still do it all and be in adherence with the recommendations. Both HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0 offer transitional DTDs that give us a lot of leeway to create great looking, backward-compatible sites and still be in compliance. It just takes a little savvy.

Is WaSP’s Browser Upgrade Initiative unrealistic?

Web design discussion list talk this past week on this issue has often related to wondering how realistic WaSP’s initiative can be given many constraints with which we’re faced, especially:

  • institutions that can’t upgrade because their computers are old and can’t support newer browsers (and often lack funding to upgrade computers),
  • our clients' sites that need to be accessible to the widest audiences so they don’t lose sales,
  • companies and others out there also using old computers with old browsers (and often a lot of old, outdated software), and who may also not be able to upgrade for financial reasons, or have priorities elsewhere,
  • users who don’t know how to upgrade their browsers, don’t know why it even matters, etc.

What are the answers?

Of course answers aren’t all straightforward and clear. Below is a list of possible steps toward finding answers, and by no means even pretend to be solutions.

  • For lack of education
    If there’s lack of education about it, there’s good information available about upgrading computers, upgrading browsers, and much more.
  • For finances
    There are often fundraisers for schools, non-profit organizations, etc. to help provide updated computers. Sometimes companies will also provide them as a donation, too.
  • For finances - companies
    There may be hoops to jump through for software upgrades and even more for computer upgrades. If the management can understand the difference that newer technology can make in productivity, for example, there’s greater incentive to allow for the funds in the annual budget. That may reduce the hoops to jump through.
  • For low priority status
    Of course there are many scenarios without easy answers, including businesses where computers and technology rank low on the priority scale. If financial resources are an issue, then each situation would have different solutions. If they lack the knowledge about browser upgrades and the reasons why to upgrade, there’s good info available, as I mention above.

Providing information and publicizing as much as possible is helpful in making forward strides, especially in situations where people just don’t know how to upgrade, don’t even know there are upgrades available, or don’t know why it would even matter. One of WaSP’s functions is to help provide that information and to inform us of Web sites and other places for good information about this.

Do people care?

Other discussions have centered on whether or not web designers or anyone else even care about the W3C recommendations, WaSP, or standards.

From the people who chose to participate in the discussions on various lists this past week, there were only a handful of web designers who stated that they don’t care about WaSP or implementing browser standards. Those thoughts have been in the minority, though. I found instead that the vast majority of web designers who participated in the discussions DO care even if they can’t participate in the Browser Upgrade Initiative. For those who care but can’t participate, it’s usually for one of the reasons stated in the section above, Is WaSP’s Browser Upgrade Initiative unrealistic?.

Important note: This was not a scientific poll or even a poll at all—just email back and forth in various web design discussion lists this past week resulting from the WaSP’s Browser Upgrade Initiative press release. There are many subscribers who didn’t participate in the discussions, too, so I wasn’t able to learn how they feel, unfortunately.

For anyone using the Internet or have jobs around the Internet, such as web designers and programmers, though, browsers are at the core, and I personally view browser issues as very important. Why?

  • Most web designers do their work for and around browsers, since that’s the primary means users view the Web.
  • The less consistent browsers are, the tougher our jobs are, and the tougher the viewing experience for users.
  • Cost. If we have standards compliant browsers, there’s far less cost to clients since we no longer have to spend so much time tweaking code and figuring out hacks to make their sites work in the wide range of non-standards compliant browsers.
  • Time. Countless hours can be spent tweaking code, providing several versions of a site, writing JavaScript sniffers to direct visitors to various versions of a site based on the visitor’s browser and version, and a variety of things we do to make our sites work well in a multitude of browsers and versions. This is time that is so unnecessary if we’re using standards compliant browsers.

Therefore, if we can implement reasonable standards, we’ll go a long way to help the Internet be far more functional, easier to use, less problematic to build, and often far less costly to build and maintain. The W3C and WaSP have made huge strides in working with the major browser companies to implement the W3C recommendations and standards.

Do the browser companies care?

Another question I’ve seen raised this week is whether the big two browser companies or others even care about the W3C recommendations or promoting standards. Indeed they do!

  • Netscape’s and Microsoft’s browser teams are working with WaSP and the W3C’s recommendations, as reflected by Internet Explorer  5.x and Netscape 6.x being far more standards compliant.
  • An increasingly important browser, Opera, is also in favor of W3C’s recommendations and WaSP, as reflected in their Opera 4 and 5 versions, which are also far more standards compliant.

But doesn’t WaSP insist that we all upgrade NOW and that designers quit allowing for older browsers?

NO! Of course not. WaSP included in their press release that they understand that not everyone can upgrade their browsers right now, noting sites such as Yahoo and as examples.

It appears that some haven’t read the last paragraph of the press release, however, as most of the flames and bashing I’ve seen so far have been due to not reading or knowing this important point.

Here’s that final paragraph:

“This is radical,” said Zeldman, “and not every site can participate. Yahoo and Amazon, for instance, can’t afford to risk alienating a single visitor. We recognize that many sites are in that position. Our hope is that if enough sites are willing to take the plunge, the typical 18-month user upgrade cycle will be drastically shortened, and a Web that works for all will no longer be something we just talk about: it will be every web user’s experience.”

Just as I’ve also suggested, Molly’s editorial also recommends that web designers read what it’s all about and understand what WaSP is really asking.

We must educate ourselves, and evaluate in each individual circumstance who our clients are, who their audience is, what their intent for their Web site is, and what the right approach to the design will be.

If we do it right, we’ll be complying with recommendations as well as creating sites that are appropriate for our audiences, backward compatible if necessary, or refreshingly radical in promoting an idea whose time has most definitely come.

As moderator for the I-Design Discussion List by AudetteMedia, I also raised these questions to our 10,000+ subscribers in the February 20th issue. Responses and discussions will be published in the twice-weekly digest during the upcoming few weeks. (My findings above are NOT based on any of the I-Design responses since they hadn’t responded as of the date of this column.) If you’re interested in further follow-up of what other designers and interested people have to say, check out the I-Design archives available at their site, and you’re also welcome to subscribe and receive each issue by email, in addition to sharing your thoughts with the list, of course.


Related Columns at Brainstorms & Raves

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Categories: Browsers, CSS, Design, Development, Internet, Software, Standards, Technology, Usability

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