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The user is a rapidly evolving creature being defined by possibility.
opinions from the head lemur
[Posted] July 17, 2000

You are being Screwed Again!!

I am a proud member of the Web Standards Project.

You are reading this at your computer connected to the internet with a piece of software called a browser. The browser is the most important piece of software created since the beginning of computing. The ability to use a software program to read files on computers across the world is an awesome idea. The growth of files to be read across the world confirms the truth of this.

There are over 20 Million Registered Domain Names. This we can count. There are an estimated 3 Billion web pages out here. This we can't count. The web is expanding that fast.

The Good News

Building webpages is easy.
A few HTML tags, some images, space on a computer somewhere, an Internet Protocol address, and H e l l o M o M !! I'm on the WEB!!!
You do not need to be concerned with the code, standards, or the lack of support of the browsers to publish on the web. Tools and Programs for building websites can be had free or up to thousands of dollars depending on what you would like to do.

The Bad News

Building webpages is hard.
You have to decide how few people you want to see what you do. The farther away from standard coding you go the smaller your audience. This is your choice. This is the web.

As a developer, building websites for clients, I must be concerned with the tags, code, and display incompatibilities of the current browsers. Building websites that work the same in all browsers is impossible.
Building websites that look similar is very hard.
Trust me on this, I build websites for a living.
Why? Lack of Standards Support.

Understand that the W3C Standards, are recommendations and do not carry the force of law anywhere on the planet. They are also a moving target. HTML 4.0 is our baseline standard for rendering content on the web. This standard is 4 years old. The importance of this standard as a baseline is that it addressed the separation of content from display with Cascading Style Sheets. This allows with one set of pages to meet the needs of the entire internet community and to be able to render the content of a website into a understandable format for the visually impaired, the blind, and individuals with physical disabilities that would otherwise prevent them from participation and access the the vast resources available on the internet.

On August 10, 1998, a group of web designers, personal, independent and corporate, put together a website called the Web Standards Project. We called on browser makers to create products that would conform to Baseline standards for displaying web pages.

We want this to make our lives easier.
Our goal is to create a site that has one set of pages, to be seen the same in whatever browser you choose. Working around browser incompatibilities takes time, is expensive, and does not display the same in all browsers.

We want to make your experience more enjoyable.
We want our clients to reach the largest possible audience. We want everyone to participate on the web. Learning, conversing, buying, selling, are a few of the things that are possible on the web. We want you to have all these things.

Lack of Standards Support in the current browsers is hurting everyone on the web. Not just the visually, aurally or physically challenged. Old computers, slow modems, limited access, all are looking for a place at the internet table. We want to enable everyone to have their fill.

In 1998 when the web standards project was formed, there were three major graphical browsers out here, Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator and Opera. They all supportted some standards. They all displayed what they supported differently. The situation has gotten worse.

Accessibility is extremely important to governments providing services and information to all its citizens who are able to use the internet for accessing this information. The United States has already in place guidelines for federal websites to meet the needs of its citizens. The Section 508 Regulations are being finalized will carry the force of law in the United States 6 months after the rules have been finalized. These Regulations are based on the same standards we are have been advocating for two years. Other governments and agencies are promulgating laws and regulations for their citizens as well.

Today on the Web

In our call then and now, we asked for baseline standards support in browsers.

Netscape heard that call and embarked on the Mozilla Project. Mozilla is an Open Source Initiative bringing together the best and the brightest coders, designers and internet users to build a standards compliant browser. This work is continuing.

Opera is a Norwegian company creating standards compliant browsers. It is not a free browser, but it is a standards compliant browser. Version 4 is out.

Microsoft Corporation is the largest software company in the world. Internet Explorer is its web browser and has somewhere between 85-90% of the market of people who use a browser to surf the web. This number does not reflect the popularity of IE. It reflects the business practices of one company who in a recent anti-trust trial in the United States has been found guilty of anti competitive behavior, by bundling the browser with the operating system and limiting your choices.

How you got screwed again

There are two major types of personal computers. Macintosh/Apple and Windows machines. Roughly 90% of the installed base are Windows Machines.

Microsoft has released two major browsers. IE5 for Macintosh/Apple and IE5.5 for Windows

If you are on an Apple using IE 5 for Mac, you are using the most standards compliant browser built. Now every Apple user is crowing about this achievement. Makes me wanna get a Mac.

If you are on a windows machine...Welcome to Browser Hell!!!

IE5.5 is touted as more compliant than earlier versions.
Not 100%, Not 90%, just more.
This is True.
Equally true is the number of proprietary tags introduced. Which limits your choice and everyone's ability to code webpages without yet another round of workarounds and cross-browser insanity.

Microsoft is on almost every W3C committee recommending, drafting and writing these standards. This means that they see and propose what will be written as a recommendation far sooner than you or I. This in a small part may account for the innovation they put in their browser. They also had a representative working on the 508 Standards Committee.

The corporate cry of "innovation drives standards" is particularly hollow coming from them for this reason alone.

This path will not enable the web to flourish, but will lead to it's demise. The release of this browser has already come under fire from a security standpoint less than 1 week after release. With the announcement of the Microsoft.NET, a realignment of the company as a web company, this is a development that foreshadows another round of litigation and confusion on the web for builders, designers and users.

I have to make a choice. I choose to build websites that are useful to everyone with an internet connection. I choose to code to the W3C standards. I choose to use the Bobby validator to ensure that the sites I build have the largest possible audience.

You have to make a choice too. You have to decide if the internet will be available for everyone, or if the only internet is built by Microsoft.

References Off Site

the cluetrain manifesto
Web Standards Project
W3C World Wide Web Consortium
Section 508
Section 508 Update
W3C Validator
CAST Bobby Accessibility Validator

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