Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

a few valid points

By Steven Champeon | July 8th, 2002 | Filed in General misses the point

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It’s a real pity that there is so much misinformation flying around out there. (validate) posted an article recently, which makes a number of untenable and unsupportable claims about why developers don’t develop with standards in mind (validate). Apparently, most developers don’t develop for anything but IE, and do not support Netscape 6 or Opera. What they do is build a site and then test it in IE on Windows, and are apparently satisfied with that; if they use standards at all it is a happy accident combining IE’s lax parser with a lucky experience with an authoring tool or a CMS or dynamic backend that produces the markup automatically.

The claims do not stand up to scrutiny, however. First we are asked to believe that Jim Clark founded Netscape to give users a way around the Microsoft juggernaut, though it took Microsoft another year before they woke up to the fact that the Internet even existed. Then we are told that Clark’s latest venture, Shutterfly (validate) does not support Netscape’s browser (though later in the article a spokesperson claims it does). Next, we are asked to believe a variety of claims about why the situation is as bad as it is: market share dominance by IE, ignorance of or lack of testing with other browsers, lack of support for standards by authoring tools vendors, or that users just “give up” after they try surfing with anything but IE. All of which are true to some extent (though we have seen strides towards standards support from some vendors, and most non-IE browser users tend towards an almost fanatical obsession with their “smaller browser”) but the point is lost.

Web developers don’t go out of their way to create non-standard pages, they do like everyone else does: try to work within their budget, with the tools they’re given. Some do make extra effort to fix those tools, or to ensure cross-browser compatibility and single-source development by using valid markup and degradeable documents. Where the article goes wrong, sadly, is when it parrots the party line about how much more appealing IE is because of its “nonstandard extras”, and how “advanced, flashy stuff” is the realm of those who must forsake validity and good, solid, intelligent, markup and styles and scripting. Sadly, because the primary reason IE is popular at all with Web developers is that it is so badly written; it accepts almost anything you throw at it, and does its best to display it, rather than taking the high road, like Mozilla and Opera and others have done (though Opera could stand to implement more of the “advanced, flashy stuff”, such as the nearly four year old DOM Level 1 Recommendation or the several year old industry standard ECMAScript).

We are asked to believe that standards must be sacrificed for “complex features and functionality”, that only IE can deliver these things. We are also asked to believe that it is not possible to deliver standards-”complaint” (sic) “code” (sic) to older browsers, all of which is (poorly proofread) baloney. We call on the Web developers of the world, asking only, “is this true?” Or is it that ignorance, deadlines, budgetary constraints, lousy authoring tools, and a lackadaisical lack of concern for easy debugging of complex applications, ongoing maintenance costs, complete audience penetration and availability, and the like merely mean it is easier for you to build the site for the 85% and leave the rest of the debugging to users of non-Windows, non-IE browsers?

We would like to think that Web developers and journalists have good intentions. But like the rest of us, sometimes they just miss the point, for various reasons. Perhaps it will require a wake up call of the sort that AOL is sure to spring on those of us who haven’t been paying attention; when a browser that supports standards and discourages Web developer laziness and laxity becomes the default for AOL’s millions of consumers, maybe we’ll hear a different tune. It’s up to you.

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