Time to toss the 3.0 and 4.0s in the trash - and I'm not talking about GPA.
February 16, 2001 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Time to toss the 3.0 and 4.0s in the trash - and I'm not talking about GPA. The biggest problem for Web developers right now is the prevalence of old browsers that don't fully support standards like HTML 4.0 and CSS 1 & 2. Now that we have at least 3 browsers that can handle most of these standards, why not encourage a move from the less standard browsers to ones that will allow us to more easily design sites. Write once view anywhere....Woo hoo!
posted by bkdelong (50 comments total)
Amen, bkdelong
posted by Popstar at 6:55 AM on February 16, 2001

My company won't let me redirect 3.0 and 4.0 browsers, but they did let me link to the graphic. I may see if they'll let me create my own "non-standard" browser redirect page that will explain why they should upgrade in the context of our business.
posted by bkdelong at 7:03 AM on February 16, 2001

ALA has decided to get serious about standards as well.
posted by harmful at 7:06 AM on February 16, 2001

I had a good, long look at CSS lately and worked up a dummy theme for my site, but I immediately ran into snags: the much-heralded layout options don't work across all browsers (Netscape Communicator 4.75, Internet Explorer 5.0 on Mac and Windows, Mozilla .7 and iCab on Mac), Netscape mis-displays fonts of a certain pixel heights and a few other problems. As far as I'm concerned, they're all deal-breakers and they lead me to mis-trust CSS: what would I be missing elsewhere? Hell, the browsers don't even all accept curly quotes “ ” (try them in Netscape).

Even if I did want to use CSS, I'm not all that keen on making three different CSS files (at least) in order to redirect according to user agents (itself a dubious if-then, as anyone who's been frustratingly redirected to the you-are-an-out-of-date-loser page despite the fact they're running a modern browser will tell you).

Using the sloppy code I've got, my site displays acceptably on six different browsers on the two major platforms. That's my bottom line. I'll spend my time gradually cleaning up the mess I've got--a mess that works--before I get into all new trouble.

However, however. Given a couple of weeks of time, I, too, will go the way of ALA and others. It's a necessary thing.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:21 AM on February 16, 2001

Curly quotes and other non-lower-128 characters are a pain. You have four options:
  • type the characters in directly and pray (bad! test: “ ”)
  • use the"descriptive" HTML character entities: “ (don't work in some clients; test: “ ”)
  • use the Windows character code entities: (I can't find the codes right now, but this approach doesn't work anyway on many non-MS non-Windows clients)
  • the Unicode entities like “ seem to work pretty widely (test: “ ”)
but it's a problem. I recommend learning and using the Unicode numbers, and testing like mad. Bonus: you also get to use useful characters like … and √ and ∞ and ‰.

By the way, check out the Metafilter source. Pretty nice.
posted by rodii at 7:43 AM on February 16, 2001

I'd just like to point out that you don't have to go through extreme measures like shutting people that may or may not have the option to upgrade out of your site to be standards compliant. I'm all for standards compliance, but not for exclusion.

"Supporting your decision not to upgrade forces the people who build websites to keep making bad ones. "

Thats statement makes it sound like the only way people stop making 'bad' pages is if they have one set of browser features to write for, which isn't true. People write 'bad' pages regardless of what browser they're expecting their audience to have

posted by djc at 7:50 AM on February 16, 2001

I dunno, I'd argue that a lot of the bad code out there is simply included to bend over backwards for browsers that don't do the standards properly. You'll note, too, that ALA does work in a non-compliant browser - it's just nowhere near as intended, and does encourage you to upgrade.

I don't know if hardware is even an issue, since Opera works on a 386. When you're talking on a corporate level, things could be considerably hairier.
posted by hijinx at 8:12 AM on February 16, 2001

hmmm. one of the main drawbacks of this campaign is that many people still using IE 3 or NS 3 or NS 4 do so because that's what their computer came with and they don't know how to upgrade their software.

How are you supposed to help them?
posted by mathowie at 8:27 AM on February 16, 2001

I think the "bad code" started in the mid-1990s when there were few ways to achieve the layout desired. I remember my business partner making a Christmas tree's star flash using the blink tag. Ah, the good old days!
posted by tranquileye at 8:29 AM on February 16, 2001

How are you supposed to help them?

Education. Explain it in layman's terms, and offer extensive help where necessary/confusing.
posted by hijinx at 8:45 AM on February 16, 2001

As a fellow founding member of the web standards project I find myself highly ambivalent about this latest campaign. It's great of course, but what about the backwards compatibility that's built into HTML? Do we pay no mind to that?

Happily, the new ALA design works (but doesn't look) fine in Netscape 4.76 (which is still my main browser at home).
posted by artlung at 8:53 AM on February 16, 2001

How are you supposed to help them?

Exactly. Thats why its important to not design to exclude people from the websites you may build. I realize its also important not to code 5+ different versions of a site to deal with inconsistancies between various platforms/etc..

As I mentioned above you don't have to exclude people from your website if you're making it compliant. Keep it compliant, go ahead! Make it super charged on CSS-1, HTML4 and WAI! You can get the advantages of all that without forcing users to upgrade.. Sure, they won't get the supercharged site, but at least they'll get something other than an opaque message telling them to download a 15-50Mb piece of software.
posted by djc at 9:00 AM on February 16, 2001

I looked into css awhile back and realized what a nasty minefield it is, and decided it simply wasn't worth it.

So now the most complicated thing I use is tables (*), and I plan for it to stay that way for awhile. And I still worry about what difficulty that might cause Lynx users. :)

What's so great about the stuff that css offers? Sure, it's spiffy I suppose, but is it really necessary? Not to me...

I mean, if you could take the time that people are willing to spend bending over backwards with different stylesheets designed to accomodate the various browsers' incongruous (lack of) support of css, and instead plow that time back in to creating a good-looking, well-laid-out website within the constraints of what can generally be relied upon to be consistent across major browsers, you'd be miles ahead, methinks.

Of course I recognize the right of others to differ in opinion. I secretly chuckle at their foolishness while I have plenty of fun (and far less frustration) designing things that work quite happily even in old, decrepit browsers.

And I scream with frustration and hit the back button when I'm faced with monstrosities that attempt to assault me with excessive Flash or completely incomprehensible interfaces. I don't give a crap what the site says or how "cool" it might be - just give me my normal browsing experience back!

Good design doesn't require a zillion bells and whistles, you know. There's a concept called elegance that is something admirable to shoot for, imho. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you devote yourself to using simple tools very, very well.

Another word for it is "workmanship", and it has a long and illustrious history in the tangible arts, where it originated.

I certainly haven't gotten there yet, myself, but it's what I'm aiming for someday.

Waiting and wishing and hoping for users to catch up with the 21st century's best browsers is a good way to frustrate yourself - it just ain't gonna happen (not unless you create an army of millions of volunteer geeks with the mission to Go Forth And Help The Throwbacks Upgrade!).

Show me a site that genuinely *NEEDS* css (or the various obnoxious forms of user-hostility) in order to accomplish its mission, and I'll eat my hat. (and a mission of "Annoying the crap out of the user" doesn't count!).

* my friend who hosts my weblog has added some css and javascript to it, but that will all go by the wayside once I quit my job and rewrite the whole thing myself (in a couple o months).
posted by beth at 9:09 AM on February 16, 2001

And of course, some people are using 3.0 browsers because they're on an ancient computer.

Truth is, for my weblog I have a standard of "looks best in MSIE 5.5" and "looks passable in everything else I've tried". And you can get around it in lynx.

For a professional site, though (something I don't do at the moment), it would seem advisable to handle it in some more customer-friendly way. That can mean chucking some of the latest&greatest, which can a) not endear you to the powers that be, b) cripple site functionality, c) make things ugly, in roughly decreasing order of importance.

But here we are! It's the 21st century, yes indeedy, and tools like XML and template-driven CMS etc. allow us to serve up multiple versions of our sites. I tend to feel, myself, that this should be limited to two models: call them k10k and jakob, with nobody forced to jakob even if k10k doesn't work right for them. Jakob is always available. A laudable side benefit is that this can also keep your site handicap-accessible.
posted by dhartung at 9:24 AM on February 16, 2001

CSS != "bells and whistles"

likening it to Flash is comparing apples and running shoes.
posted by Sapphireblue at 9:24 AM on February 16, 2001

Anyway, how are we going to incentivize the upgrades? Maybe we'll have to give browsers away for free this time.
posted by dhartung at 9:26 AM on February 16, 2001

What mathowie said: often, we're talking about corporate deployment here, where every upgrade has to be agreed by management. So turning a network that was set up with IE4 pre-installed into one that has IE5.5 on every PC is, um, non-trivial. And it's that conservatism, most often, that drives commercial site creation, so that catering to the extra 1% who still use Netscape 3.0 is more important to the suits than exploiting the features of modern browsers.

dhartung: you don't just have to give away the browser, you have to offer to install it for free. Perhaps that's the banner you need: "This site is designed for 5.0+ browsers; if you haven't got one, call me on xxx-yyy-zzzz and I'll come round with a cover disk from PC world."
posted by holgate at 9:41 AM on February 16, 2001

However you break it down, Zeldman and Web Standards miss the point -- unless people _do_ upgrade, few sites can simply blow them off. A List Apart looks terrible on my IE4 here at work. Is that a good way to do things, or has ALA just lost me as a reader?

I made a comparison on my site today (obnoxious self-link right about here) to light bulbs. If California forced everyone to use fluorescent bulbs, there'd be a lot more power to go around. But without a compelling reason to switch over, and a noticeable improvement, no one bothered. And they're still not.

Push forward to your own benefit, but neglect your audience at your own peril.
posted by werty at 9:44 AM on February 16, 2001

artlung, I'm pretty ambivalent about this too. While it's a welcome push (the more upgrades the better), I really feel like this is somehow punishing or chasing away a potential audience/customer/browser.
The average user doesn't know (and in my opinion, shouldn't have to know) about web standards, and shoving it in their face seems rude and a little misguided.

I've always taken it to be my task as a web developer to make the page(s) the best I can. This means "works great in latest browsers, okay in older ones". I've worked on some pretty huge sites, and yes, the HTML/CSS incompatibilities can be frustrating, but you know what, that's our job.
Getting people to change their habits is insanely hard, and I wish all the luck to WaSP for their efforts, but I do not think I'll ever redirect or nag any visitors to my pages simply because their choice of browser makes my job a little more difficult. The only time I've ever done that was at drugstore.com, back when the security certificates started expiring on old Netscape browsers - now that was a good reason to call visitor's attention to the problems of their older browsers.

posted by kokogiak at 9:53 AM on February 16, 2001

Here's my plan. I know that this is in very poor taste and I will go to hell for suggesting it, but if Jehovah Witnesses and other groups are going door to door to spread the faith anyway, can they simply add in a query about what browser the family might be using? They could help with an upgrade. That might take care of the "at home" market. Kidding....
posted by heather at 9:54 AM on February 16, 2001

OK. Let me see if I can address a few things here.

unless people _do_ upgrade, few sites can simply blow them off.

Then simply post the "standards campaign" graphic on your site or have some text that says "Best Viewed with a Standards Compliant Browser." I, on the other hand, plan to take their "JavaScript OS sniffing and forwarding" code and sending people to a page that details why, in the context of my company and business, users should upgrade.

How are you supposed to help them?

Hijinx is right. There's no reason you HAVE TO forward people immediately to the WaSP upgrades page. Send them to a page on your site that better explains how to upgrade your browser. For people who don't know how to, offer them a more detailed page to go to that walks them through it.

And of course, some people are using 3.0 browsers because they're on an ancient computer.

You can install IE5.0 on a 486 and both Opera and Mozilla can be so stripped down to just their standards-based core, that you can get them onto a 386.

what about the backwards compatibility that's built into HTML? Do we pay no mind to that?

Of course we pay attention to it! Web accessibility is just as important as Web standards are... The problem with the 3.0 and 4.0 browsers is that they have bugs and errors that cause problems when you try to use standards-based code. The whole point of this campaign is to markup content in HTML 3.2, HTML 4.01, or XHTML and use CSS for layout and formatting. You simply can't rely on HTML backwards-compatibility for most older browsers because they don't implement enough of HTML to all for that.

I'm all for standards compliance, but not for exclusion.

Neither is the WaSP. While the Upgrade Campaign page is currently setup to encourage immediate upgrading, the developers tips page offers alternative such as the graphics or the ability to redirect users to an upgrade page on your own site.
posted by bkdelong at 10:07 AM on February 16, 2001

No commercial sites are going to do join the WaSP in this campaign (at least the redirection to an upgrade part), but I sure hope some of you independent content creators will seriously consider this call from WaSP.

Please note that it is most certainly a form of activism to take part in the WaSP campaign, and like all activism, it will cost you something. You will lose some visitors, and you will lose some time learning how to do the things you are used to doing with tables and font tags. But hopefully the effect of the campaign will be to drag some users into the present by showing them how and why to upgrade to a modern browser, and also to raise the general level of awareness of how important the standards are to the future of the web.

Those of you that complain about how difficult it is to learn CSS and standards-based layout, yet who have mastered the art of table-based layout, well, I think you need to step back for a minute and think about your complaints. If you have learned table layouts, you can learn CSS. It is no more difficult, though it may be frustrating to have to learn to do something in a new way. And you may have to decide to not do some more complex layouts that are doable with tables but currently impossible with CSS. But once again I say this is a form of activism. If the browser makers put out standards-based browsers and nobody uses the standards, well then what reward do they get for the work they have done to bring us this current generation of browsers? And how likely are they to continue to adhering to standards? It is now largely in the hands of web-builders, not browser-makers, to ensure that support for standards continues to grow.

The browsers now support standards; will you?
posted by ericost at 10:14 AM on February 16, 2001

If you have learned table layouts, you can learn CSS.

This was my big fear when my boss told me what she wanted to do on my company's Web site. Here I am an active member of the Web Standards Project and a computer book technical editor, and I don't have a good practical knowledge of how to USE CSS. So I hunkered down for a weekend with the W3C specs and tested things out with IE5, NS6, and Opera 4.

It took me about 2 weeks to really get a handle of it but let me tell you - being able to link to a stylesheet and reference different "class selectors" for different pages or sections of the site was awesome. All I had to do was edit the Stylesheet...no need to touch the HTML.

Mind you my site has problems in Netscape even with an NS-specific stylesheet....but it's getting there. And relearning to use HTML only for markup....and sticking to CSS for format and layout was really great.
posted by bkdelong at 10:27 AM on February 16, 2001

Way back when, during the dawn of the web, when Netscape went from version 1 to 2 there was a quick and mass upgrade. Partially because everyone was an early adopter, but mostly because you had to upgrade because suddenly you were missing out on half the content on the web. Everyone had switched over to frames (for good or bad) and even if they provided an alternate version of the site for the non-frame capable browser, they would put up a little sign making sure you knew that you were missing out.

That type of activism only occurs now-a-days with flash. But it works. Even those people that loathe and detest flash will most likely have the little plugin installed. So why not do it with the standards that everyone wants? It's not the best business practice, so I personally am not advocating sites that depend on getting the numbers in, but what about on your personal site? Your blog or fan site?

If we all bend over backwards to always accommodate broken standards, what reason does anyone have to upgrade? The service that the browsers offer haven't changed in the past couple of years, and the changes in the interface are more of a hindrance than a help. This is really the only reason to upgrade the browser to the current version, it makes the lives of professional web developers easier. And since I happen to be one, that's a good enough reason for me.

Now I gotta go redo Captain Cursor.
posted by captaincursor at 10:41 AM on February 16, 2001

CSS rocks. There's no reason for font tags. I hated font tags.... still do. Complete and utter stupidity how it's necessary to stick <font> tags inside every table cell. I worked at a mutual fund company for a while, and they had TONS of tables with fund data in it, each one had to be formatted with font tags. Let me tell you, that's some really big clunky code.

HTML's a markup language. It never was meant to be used to pretty up a page. CSS is a step in the right direction.
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 10:47 AM on February 16, 2001

I am generally supportive of the WaSP campaign. particularly for indie sites. I have practical worries about my main site because it is being viewed by people in the developing world, and we get every possible combination of bandwidth, browser, language, and OS coming to visit. We are engaged in a substantial redesign, and I am going to jump into the breach with what will essentially be a HTML 4 compliment set of pages that should degrade okay. All the font formatting will come from CSS redefining standard HTML tags. God knows I'll hear about it if it doesn't work.

WaSP has created a number of great banners and boxes that one can display on a page, but it would also be useful if they had a number of different destination pages other than Browser Upgrades. I'm not sure I would want to send my mother to that page, not because of the colours but because it could be a little clearer.

Eric is right: CSS is not hard to learn at all, and I find it makes the whole process of creating and maintaining a site much easier.
posted by tranquileye at 10:47 AM on February 16, 2001

There's another factor behind the non-rush to upgrade, at least from my European perspective. If I were on a metered dial-up account in the UK, no fucking way would I pay per minute to download the latest 17Mb upgrade to my browser. And I'd be reluctant to splash out a fiver on a magazine with IE/Netscape on a cover CD, too.

So, if WaSP fancies a mass-mailing programme in Europe, it might just tip the balance in its favour.
posted by holgate at 11:09 AM on February 16, 2001

posted by honkzilla at 11:18 AM on February 16, 2001

Beth... *sniff*.... I think you brought a tear to my eye....
thank you
posted by ookamaka at 11:32 AM on February 16, 2001

I haven't used font tags in about a year. it's been liberating. I also despise how Netscape makes most everything coded to a decent standard look like crap. NO Netscape, 11 point font is NOT 2 pixels tall. *grrr*

back to the middle jump. Always a new joy in the hellacious world of web dev.
posted by eljuanbobo at 11:35 AM on February 16, 2001

The next version of the site I'm working on at work, which is a huge and complete overhaul, is going to implement CSS sitewide and will urge visitors to upgrade.

But it's not going to say, "Get a new browser or else." It's going to explain why getting a new browser (or rather, an updated browser) is important. It's going to tell them to use whatever browser they'd like. And, if they're using an old browser, it's not going to turn them away.

Coincidentally, a book I ordered on CSS arrived today and I was blown away at how generally nifty it is (and how incredibly sloppy Dreamweaver's CSS in-HTML code is!)

I totally support this campaign. It's controversial, that's for sure, but ericost is right: all activism costs something. I think the biggest blow might come from people using WebTV and the like, but they aren't a majority at this time.
posted by hijinx at 11:41 AM on February 16, 2001

I've used CSS for text styling for a few years now, though not for layout. But then, I've always looked at any CSS stuff as a bonus, designing things so that they look OK even without the stylesheet, but a little better with it. Primarily, I can't bring myself to have to maintain a page full of a zillion individual font tags.
posted by harmful at 12:06 PM on February 16, 2001

you know, the browser manufacturers are probably better positioned than anyone else to Do Something About This. Plenty of programs have a new-version alert coded in; it seems as if for a web browser, this is almost a no-brainer.

A little alert saying "many websites take advantage of advanced display capabilities of newer browsers and you're missing out", with access to more information plus a walkthrough on how to upgrade, would go miles toward educating the user base.

(of course, this would have had to be implemented from the beginning to be any help to us now.)

A couple of years back I visited an aunt and uncle in another state who'd been using the net for about 2 weeks, and got drafted into doing some free user support. It may have been the single most instructive learning experience I've ever had, in terms of a glimpse into the newbie mind. When I explained that IE3 was evil and why they should upgrade, they said: "Oh! All those messed up pages we were seeing, we thought we were doing something wrong and it was our fault!" And they had no concept that webpages can look different from browser to browser. This really is a new, confusing idea for a lot of people.

Back in the day, when Mindspring was little, fast, and hip, their software installation disks displayed little lessons on netiquette as they loaded up. I always thought that was way cool of them---take the captive audience of rank newbies and give them a head start to getting a clue. It showed great intiative for making sure their customers had a good experience and for taking some responsibility for how those users would affect the *rest* of the online community. Browser makers themselves could do the same, to great benefit I should think, with the added perk of perhaps scoring a couple of karma points with the WSP folk.
posted by Sapphireblue at 12:12 PM on February 16, 2001

Sapphireblue -- Earthlink and any number of smaller ISPs (hell, aren't they all smaller?) still send out tutorial information to new users. I was shocked when I signed up for a dial-up account with a small company (to use when I travel) and they sent out a disc with IE 5.5, NN 6.0 and some e-mail client or other, a detailed explanation of how to configure dial-up networking, etc. and a booklet that was a glossary of 'net-related terminology.

My brothers stole the booklet as a jumping-off point for stuff to put online as part of their design business' FAQ.
posted by Dreama at 12:21 PM on February 16, 2001

Here's my situation. I use Netscape 4 because I like its quirks more than I like IE's. I'm used to it. I've been using it for 5 years now. And it works well enough for me to read the content on 98% of websites. Am I going to upgrade it to version 6? No, because Netscape 6 is a piece of junk that sucks worse than IE. Who cares if it supports standards if it is slow and crashes?

So, am I really the only one who is in this situation?
posted by smackfu at 12:39 PM on February 16, 2001

At home, I use opera 3.6 for everything, except mp3.com and metafilter. There's nothing else I'm interested in that requires a better browser.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:49 PM on February 16, 2001

Good gravy smackfu. IE 4+ is far superior to NS4 by nearly all accounts. Comparing the quirks of NS4 to the quirks of any other browser is almost absurd; that is the most quirky, buggy, inconsistent, frustrating browser out there, from a developer AND a user perspective. You may have gotten used to it, but there ARE better browsers. I suspect you need to give IE another chance. If you really prefer NS4 after using IE for a while, then I'd say you are a part of serious minority that actually chooses NS4 over IE because of user experience.

And believe me, I was once a hardcore NS4 advocate.
posted by ericost at 1:11 PM on February 16, 2001

I would expect tutorials or manuals of any ISP. But taking messages like "typing in all caps is considered yelling!" and the like and putting them in a place where I can't miss them is a nice extra touch.

Likewise, "how to use your new web browser" is one thing, but "why you should *stop* using it after a certain point" would be A Good Thing. I suppose the correlation I was aiming for was that of going beyond the bare minimum.
posted by Sapphireblue at 1:14 PM on February 16, 2001

Hey smackfu, I didn't mean to sound haughty there in my previous comment; sorry about the tone. Of course I realize that you are free to use whatever browser you choose, and that I should not be so serious about the subject :)
posted by ericost at 1:36 PM on February 16, 2001

Sapphireblue wrote:

CSS != "bells and whistles"

likening it to Flash is comparing apples and running shoes.

I didn't mean to imply that I thought they were the same thing, merely that I felt the same way about them, namely, that they're not worth my time to learn about & use at this juncture. I do not in any way consider them indispensible tools in order to create my web pages (and express my creativity adequately while doing so).

ericost wrote:

If you have learned table layouts, you can learn CSS. It is no more difficult, though it may be frustrating to have to learn to do something in a new way.

I'm not too stupid to learn CSS, and I'm not saying it's too hard.

I'm saying it's not worth it for me. I can do what I want to do without it, and we're not just talking about dealing with any old new feature... we're talking about a feature that is supported to vastly different degrees (and in different ways) in different browsers.

For me, it's not worth the hassle to try to sort through and find the small subset of features that won't come out all warped in IE 3.x, 4.x, 5.x, and Netscape 3.x, 4.x, etc, not to mention other browsers.

In my personal cost-benefit analysis, it's not giving me any huge advantage that I lack without using css.

If someday I could rely on a good chunk of the body of CSS being supported by, say, 85% of the browsers in use, then I might consider it, but how many decades down the road is that going to be?

Obviously, other people can differ in their opinions and are welcome to spend hours writing different stylesheets and browser-dependent code (and testing - don't want to get hit by a little-known bug that makes your site unreadable to a significant portion of your audience, now, do you?).

Me, I'd rather spend the time writing or napping or playing with my daughter, or even *gasp* reading a book.

But I suppose if you're being paid to do it, then your cost-benefit analysis shifts perceptibly in a different direction....
posted by beth at 1:51 PM on February 16, 2001

How are you supposed to help them?

By guiding them to more standards-compliant browsers, as done on the WaSP upgrades page. As B.K. said and the text points out, you can easily create your own user upgrades page tailored to the needs of your specific audience. You can use our DOM sniffer, IFRAMES/OBJECT trick, mini-banner or none of the above—as you fancy. You can use our browser links, our Bobby and validator links, or none of the above. It's just a toolkit. Linking to WaSP (or not) is unimportant. Taking a second look at your existing development techniques is the most important thing.

And of course, some people are using 3.0 browsers because they're on an ancient computer.

There are lightweight, non-RAM-intensive browsers that comply with standards and will work just fine on those old computers. » More

So, if WaSP fancies a mass-mailing programme in Europe, it might just tip the balance in its favour.

As a non-commercial, no-staff, no-budget, non-hierarchical organization with no ties to any corporate entity, we of course cannot do that—but the point is well taken. AOL could do that, though they seem far more interested in portals and eyeballs than in creating a good WEB-BASED user experience. Local ISPs could do that, and if anyone reading this wishes to set up an ISP outreach program we will be happy to work with you to the best of our time-limited ability.

posted by Zeldman at 1:58 PM on February 16, 2001

I tend to feel, myself, that this should be limited to two models: call them k10k and jakob, with nobody forced to jakob even if k10k doesn't work right for them. Jakob is always available. A laudable side benefit is that this can also keep your site handicap-accessible.
This, unfortunately, is a pervasive myth. Accessibility of a page has something to do with complexity of tables, though screen readers like Jaws and Window-Eyes can handle tables OK. It has nothing to do with the subjective qualities of graphic design. Quite graphically beautiful sites can be completely accessible. That even includes K10K, though the exact level of access on that site is in question. (The recent upgrade was alleged to be WAI-compliant, but I have seen no conclusive evidence of it.)
posted by joeclark at 2:02 PM on February 16, 2001

ALA vs. WaSP
Standards-compliant sites don't HAVE to be ugly in older browsers. For propoganda purposes, I thought it would be more effective to do it that way. (Why upgrade if the site looks dandy in your old browser?) It's a personal decision, not a necessity for those who wish to participate in the WaSP browser upgrades campaign.

At ALA, I made the decision not to support 4.0 browsers visually—though 4.0 browser users can still read the content, and there is a small concession to those users in the BODY tag of every page. That is an ALA decision. WaSP doesn't say anything about that. If your site validates and looks great in Netscape 2, hats off to you.

I've spent years making sites that look and work pretty much the same in any browser, and for some sites I will continue to use that tactic. But the separation of style from content is the future, and I think it's important to get comfortable with these technologies BEFORE they become the norm—especially if it helps them become the norm sooner than later. We worry about backward compatibility, but what about accessibility? It's easier to upgrade a browser than to get a new pair of eyes or a new set of hands.


U3 is great and was an inspiration, and Lance of course helped found the WaSP. Why was it necessary to create a WaSP Browser Upgrades campaign when U3 has been out there for years? Because U3 is not specifically standards-oriented. The WBU is intended to help DEVELOPERS take a second look at the way they build sites, and if they choose to upgrade their methods, help their audience move with them. U3 is great, always will be. WBU provides a specific educational/action focus for developers in the context of HTML/XHTML, CSS, and the DOM.

k10k and jakob

What Joe said.

posted by Zeldman at 2:06 PM on February 16, 2001

I just moved to style sheets. the hardest part was figuring out how css works in each browser on each platform (and I have yet to figure that out on *nix).

I'm excited about this initiative. I was very excited to go to ALA in NN 4.7 (my browser of choice) and see it all unpretty. I actually threw my hands into the air and cried out "whoo-hoo!"

note that ALA is now unpretty, NOT unreadable. it's perfectly readable.

my layout relies on tables, so I'll have to think long and hard about whether I can convert to a non-table layout. I'll have to learn what issues exist with the most current browsers regarding positioning of elements. and I'll have to evaluate whether I have the time to make the switch (the last re-do took WAY longer than I had anticipated.)

but I resigned myself to an unpretty site in 3.x browsers when I went to CSS. perfectly readable, just not pretty.

really, I'm proud of the web standards project and of zeldman for bravely taking the lead on this. and I support the effort, whether a further redesign is coming to the pocket anytime soon, or not.

posted by rebeccablood at 2:16 PM on February 16, 2001

And believe me, I was once a hardcore NS4 advocate.

So was I. Never used IE at all until last year. One day the thought occurred to me "gee wouldn't it be cool if there was a way to change the color of a text link, sorta like an image rollover?" So I looked for a way to do it, and found that it pretty much can't be done in Netscape 4, but is beyond easy in IE using the CSS "a:hover" attribute. I was floored to discover that, and many other, simple visual things that I'd been missing for years through my snobbish adherence to Netscape. So I switched to using IE5. Netscape 6 just might lure me back, but I run into too many sites that are busted because they're full of crappy non-standard code.
posted by dnash at 2:20 PM on February 16, 2001

what interests me about the whole debate is that we have so many people coming from so many different perspectives. Personally I work at 3 levels-- I have personal sites, I do freelance work, and I work for a large multimedia company was webmaster and designer.

All three endeavors have different "standards" as it were. For my personal sites I usually either go way standard-compliant when it's an informational site, or the totally opposite direction when it's a personal site. For a client site, it often depends on what the client's goals are. Some people don't want their site to be viewed by everone-- some clients want to be cutting edge, even if it means some users won't be able to view the site.

At my fulltime gig is where it gets trickiest, and where I most wish we had real standards-- one the one hand I have producers and art directors begging me for more outlandish stuff, and on the other hand I know that we need to accomodate as many people as possible. Hard choices have to be made, as there are certain aspects 'higher ups' in the company will insist upon, and a lot of that is look and feel. If we had standards, I could uequivically say "that's not standard," whereas now, when I'm honest, I'm forced to say "well it can be done, but we might lose XX% of our audience," and the XX% isn't 100% certain.

I don't enjoy putting in 15% of my time making sure the site works on every browser and every system and set-up. AOL compliance alone becomes a huge hassle. Desipte the fact that our content may be displayed in any number of options, the pressures from audience, management, and creative are strong enough that without standards to fall back on, the work of webdesigner becomes very annoying! However I know that if standards ever do become common, there will still be innovators who push the envelopes that may capture the attention of users in a non-standard way, meaning that the 'standard' has to be refreshed-- because trust me, even if it's 'bells and whistles' people in every level (users, management, art direction) will want it.
posted by rad dude at 2:37 PM on February 16, 2001

I work for a software company that specializes in commercial database applications and sidelines in making databases browser-accessible, integrating with a content management system for page presentation and static content. Some of these sites have dozens of page templates and, potentially, thousands of possible page permutations.

Such sites simply would not be possible if CSS didn't exist. As it is, inconsistent CSS browser compatibility is a trivial headache in comparason to hard-coding font and layout tags for every page permutation.

Larger commercial web and intranet sites are moving to database and server-script managed systems, both to deliver the pages and for behind-the-scenes management of content. This would be simply impossible without CSS.

The more the developers of such systems can rely upon robust CSS rendering in major browsers, the cheaper they will become. I'm all in favor of the WaSP's campaign, but I suspect real change in favor of standards will happen when large corporations wake up to the development costs shoddy browsers cause.

posted by normy at 2:38 PM on February 16, 2001

How are you supposed to help them?

I for one would be highly impressed if one of the hackers out there would break into a site, as they so often do, and change nothing except for the addition of a link or two pointing to exactly this sort of thing. Joe User would be so much more likely to find and follow an "Update Your Browser" link out of yahoo or msn than out of MeFi or ALA, and I doubt those sites will be bothering to support browser standards themselves anytime soon. I could be wrong of course, but, if not, maybe this should be an rtmark project.
posted by Lirp at 5:46 PM on February 19, 2001

This issue is agonizing! On the one hand, I love Zeldman's ALA article on the subject -- it spoke eloquently to my ongoing pain regarding crossbrowser compatibility. On the other hand, it also brings into sharp relief the reason why it's essentially a hopeless situation. There's too much reliance on asking users to upgrade their browser software. We can talk about "education" and making it as easy/convenient as possible for users to upgrade, but let's get real -- the fact is that average users simply have no compelling reason to upgrade. The pitfall of Zeldman's argument is that it stems from a web designer's frame of reference -- a perspective in which the web browser assumes an importance that simply does not exist for the vast majority of users. Most users do not care one way or another about their web browser, or optimizing their web experience.

It's a simple process: they go to a website, and if it meets their needs, they stay. If it does not, they leave. These people are not sitting there going, "Gee, this table didn't draw correctly and the text looks like shit -- I'd better upgrade to IE 5!" All they see is a site that looks unusable, and they move on. There's not a single website on the internet that is important enough to compel this type of user to spend an hour downloading IE 5.5 on his/her 56k modem just so they can view that site. It's like asking people to wear special glasses so they can read billboards more clearly. It ain't gonna happen.

This "standards compliance" notion is great, but in some measure it's preaching to the choir. The people it's most likely to have an impact on are those people who are likely to upgrade anyway. That's far from the majority of users that a movement like this should be addressing if it's going to have yield any practical benefit. I mean, I don't disagree with anything said here, and I'd love to be able to leave this crossbrowser compatibility issue behind for all time, but until they come up with a way to automatically upgrade people's browsers over the internet with zero or minimal effort on the part of the user and without impeding the user's internet experience (i.e. tying up his/her net connection with huge downloads), nothing is really going to change. Ten years from now, when everyone in America has ultra-high-speed internet access and upgrading browsers is something that happens invisibly and instantly, we'll all look back at this and laugh. Until then, those of us who don't have the luxury of telling NS/IE 4 users to f*ck off will have to continue dealing with backwards compatibility.
posted by Byun-o-matic at 2:51 PM on February 20, 2001

There is much in what you say.

Personally I'm not telling any user to fuck off, and I'm not using the bruteforce method in any sites I rework. Will the removal of design niceties persuade average citizens to upgrade their browser? Probably not. Millions love EBAY, and have you LOOKED at it? Dead wino ass has more visual appeal. And it doesn't matter.

If the campaign inspires some to upgrade their standards compliance, reconsider the way they build sites, and think about talking to their audience in their words about how they might have a better web experience, then it will have helped a bit.
posted by Zeldman at 11:00 PM on February 20, 2001

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