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opinions from the head lemur
[Posted] May 18, 1999

Web Standards and Internet Explorer 5


INTERNET EXPLORER 5 FALLS SHORT ON STANDARDS SUPPORT, WEB DEVELOPERS FORCED TO CONTINUE WORKAROUNDS While Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.0 makes marked improvements over version 4.0, it still falls short -- sometimes significantly -- of fully supporting key Web standards, the Web Standards Project said today.

"We realize that many business considerations go into selecting a release date, but we wish Microsoft had delayed Internet Explorer 5.0's release to focus on getting standards support right," said WSP Project Leader George Olsen. "This would've benefited Web developers, Web users -- and Microsoft itself."

Instead, Web developers will be forced to continue extensive -- and expensive -- workarounds and debugging to deal with Internet Explorer's failure to fully implement standards created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

"We'd hoped that the latest round of browsers would take the opportunity to get things right. Internet Explorer 5.0 is an opportunity lost," Olsen said. "We'd like to know: when will Internet Explorer have full support for any one Web standard?"

"We're disheartened because Microsoft helped W3C develop the very standards that they've failed to implement in their browser," he said. "We're also dismayed to see Microsoft continue adding proprietary extensions to these standards when support for the essentials remains unfinished."

The patchwork support for these standards among browsers is wasting millions of dollars spent on Web development each year and threatens to further fragment the Web, especially as browsers move beyond the desktop to televisions and PDAs. Standards-related problems with Internet Explorer 5.0 include: * Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) 1.0 - CSS is supposed to give control over the appearance of many pages at once, from the typography to the behavior of links, as well as precise control over page layout.

Unfortunately, Internet Explorer continues to fail to fully support this 27-month old standard, meaning page layouts aren't always displayed correctly. By contrast, Gecko, the new layout engine under development for Netscape's next browser, already achieves accurate layouts in a number of tests devised by W3C and WSP -- tests that Internet Explorer fails.

Worse than any omissions, Internet Explorer implements key parts of it in ways that assure incompatibility with standard-compliant authoring tools and other browsers -- Gecko, Opera 3.51, and in some cases even Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.5 for the Macintosh - all of which handle CSS more accurately. Meanwhile, as in previous releases, Internet Explorer 5.0 introduces "CSS extensions" that aren't part of the actual CSS standard.

* DOM 1.0 (Document Object Model) - DOM lets developers use scripting languages, such as ECMAScript (ne JavaScript), to manipulate text, images and other parts of Web pages; for instance, dynamically changing their appearance over time, or moving them around inside the browser window. However, support for DOM elements is spotty at best, meaning Internet Explorer falls short in some crucial areas that any Web developers creating a reasonably complex application would need to use. Again, Gecko already shows much more extensive support for DOM despite being still in early alpha testing.

* Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0 - This "super mark-up" language is intended to share information about the content within a Web page, but Internet Explorer has bugs in its basic interpretation of XML data even though there have been freeware parsers available since 1997 that do this correctly. Even more surprising, Explorer's handling of XML namespaces -- which lets developers use more than one XML-based language in the same Web page -- violates both the spirit and the letter of that specification, which Microsoft itself helped develop. For example, Internet Explorer has hard-wired support for the "html" prefix, even though developers should be able to override this.

* Extensible Stylesheet Language - XSL is a standard still under development by W3C, which is intended to allow manipulating and formatting XML pages. It aims to provide a standard, elegant means to accomplish many tasks that full support for DOM 1.0 and CSS would also make possible.

Unfortunately, Internet Explorer is heavily biased in favor of the still-experimental XSL (if a page provides both CSS and XSL, Internet Explorer chooses XSL). This is totally unacceptable given that CSS has been a stable standard since 1996, and XSL is still very far from being finished. Also, the Microsoft XSL examples include proprietary keywords and syntax that do not appear in any of the W3C drafts being used to develop the actual XSL standard.

By implementing an experimental version of XSL before supporting the finished DOM and CSS standards completely Microsoft runs the risk that Internet Explorer will be incompatible with the actual XSL standard when it is finalized.

* HTML 4.0 - While Internet Explorer does appear to support the majority of HTML 4.0, there are still some bugs and missing features, including a several important features for Web accessibility. Failure to support these features makes the Web more inaccessible to people with disabilities. Making a site universally accessible and usable should be almost seamless. HTML 4.0 was specifically created with certain accessibility features to make it easier for developers to do this without compromising the design and layout of a page. However, this requires that the standard be fully supported.

"We're disappointed that Internet Explorer 5.0 has not done a better job supporting standards because they have shown that they do have excellent programmers," Olsen said. For example, Olsen said, while the Macintosh version of Internet Explorer 4.5 doesn't support as much of the CSS standard as Internet Explorer 5.0, of the parts that Mac Internet Explorer 4.5 supports, it does a better job of supporting them more accurately than Internet Explorer 5.0. This puts it on par with Opera 3.51 in doing the best job of rendering CSS accurately among officially-released browsers.

About The Web Standards Project: WSP is an international coalition of Web developers and Web experts who are urging browser makers to fully support Cascading Style Sheet Level 1 (CSS-1), the Document Object Model (DOM) and XML in their browsers. Its effort to bring attention to the existing and potential problems involved with browser incompatibility does not mean that WSP is opposed to innovations by browser manufacturers. The coalition merely urges browser manufacturers to use open standards for enhancements and support existing ones before adding new features.

George Olsen                         mailto:golsen@2lm.com         
Design Director                                http://www.2lm.com
2-Lane Media                                   tel: 310/473-3706 x2225
Chris Carrico                                    George Olsen
Urge Public Relations                         2-Lane Media
chris@urgepr.com                             golsen@2lm.com 
213-848-8743                                   310-473-3706 x2225


  1. Web Standards Project
  2. World Wide Web Consortium

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