Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

The State of the Web: Browser Incompabilities Undermine Web’s Foundations

Released: November 2000 | Author: George Olsen on behalf of The Web Standards Project

As the Web grows far beyond the dreams of the people who created
it 10 years ago, its foundations are becoming increasingly shaky
due to browser incompatibilities, The Web Standards Project
announced in a “State of the Web” report today.

“Imagine if every brand of TV set required a different kind of
signal to receive your favorite show,” said WSP Project Leader
George Olsen. “It sounds ridiculous, but that’s close to the
situation on the Web because browser makers have failed to
implement a common set of standards.”

Though the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has been a standards
body since the Web’s inception, key Web standards remain
incompletely (or incompatibly) implemented. As a result, the
people who build the web have to choose between excluding large
portions of their potential audience, or engaging in costly
workarounds. In fact, nearly two-thirds of top 100 consumer Web
sites are now built in multiple versions, according to a recent
report by Jupiter Communications. Working around browser
incompatibilities adds at least 25 percent to the cost of Web

“The sad thing is that the browser makers who helped W3C develop
the standards are the very ones who’ve repeatedly failed to
implement these standards—some of which are more than two
years old now,” Olsen said.

“These standards are crucial to building a solid foundation for
the future development of the Web,” Olsen said. “Unfortunately,
each new browser release without full support for these standards
means the Web’s foundation becomes increasingly jerry-rigged—
and creates needless expenses for anyone doing business on the

“Web-based content is creeping into every aspect of our lives. If
this lack of support for the Web’s foundations continues, the
effect will not be felt only by Web developers, but by anyone
vested in the new, networked economy of the next century,” Olsen
said. “The impact on e-commerce alone will be staggering, and it
will delay our being able to do truly wonderful things that will
carry the Web forward, and make it accessible to all.”

The Jupiter study found that 85 percent of the top 100 commercial
sites have “no immediate plans” this year to support new browser
technologies – a decision which WSP believes is based on these
developers’ difficulties in working around browser

While both Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Netscape’s Navigator
browsers have been making improvements, it’s been at a pace that
fails to meet the needs of the Web.

Internet Explorer 5.0 did make marked improvements in its support
for core Web standards over version 4.0, but unfortunately it
still falls short of fully supporting them.

It comes close to supporting HTML 4.0 and XML 1.0, although it
has some remaining problems with each. But it has serious
problems with Cascading Style Sheets 1.0 & 2.0 that make it
difficult to use—especially when trying to use CSS to display
XML data. Most seriously, Internet Explorer’s implementation of
the Document Object Model (DOM) 1.0 is spotty at best, which
means Web developers will continue to have to develop multiple
versions of Web pages to work around it.

Instead of putting all its efforts into attempting to fully
support these standards, Microsoft put considerable effort into
partially supporting the still-experimental Extensible Stylesheet
Language (XSL). Unfortunately, since XSL is still under
development by W3C, Microsoft runs the risk of Internet Explorer
5.0 being incompatible with the actual XSL standard when it is

Meanwhile, Netscape has focused its releases last year on its 4.x
version of Netscape, which even the company itself admits falls
far short of support for key Web standards.

Navigator 4.x offers limited support for CSS 1.0 and little
support for these other key Web standards, although Navigator
does offer good support for ECMAScript (ne JavaScript).

Netscape has promised to fix these problems and achieve 100
percent compliance with these standards in Netscape 5.0 by using
its new Gecko (ne NGLayout) rendering engine – which converts
HTML and other code into what users see on-screen.

Although Gecko, currently in a “developer preview” release, shows
potential, it’s not expected to be released as a working browser
until the end of the year—though the delay is in part due to
Netscape’s decision to switch to its new rendering engine.

While there are other browsers, some of which have focused on
standards support, they are used by so few people that their
impact is negligible. For example, two browsers that have some of
the best support for CSS – Opera and the Macintosh version of
Internet Explorer 4.5 – only accounted for 1.5 percent of HotBot
traffic during March, 1999.

“The reality is that Internet Explorer and Navigator dominate the
market, therefore it’s crucial for them to actually achieve
support for Web standards—and not just talk about doing so,”
Olsen said.

About Web Standards

Cascading Style Sheet 1.0 & 2.0 – Provide
precise control over the appearance of the typography and layout
of a page.

Document Object Model 1.0—Enables developers to use scripting
languages such as ECMAScript (ne JavaScript) to manipulate text,
images and other parts of Web pages.

HTML 4.0 – Provides basic structure to a Web page.

XML 1.0—A “super” markup language that helps share information
about the data within a Web page.

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

An Open Letter to Browser Makers

Dear Microsoft, Netscape, Opera and other browser makers,

As a Web developer who spends far too much time working around
browser incompata bilities, I’m here to tell you that it’s time
for browsers to fully supporting the standards the Web depends
on-standards that browsers makers and other vendors helped

While the Web has become grown beyond anyone’s imagining, it’s
foundations have grown increasingly jerry-rigged. As someone who
actually is building the Web, I can tell you how difficult it is
to develop sites that meet the needs of today’s (and tomorrow’s)
Web when we’re stuck with yesterday’s antiquated standards.

Now the thing is, more capable standards exist that should allow
us to use your browsers to do truly wonderful and useful things.
These include:

Cascading Style Sheets 1.0 and 2.0 XML 1.0 HTML 4.0 Document
Object Model (DOM) 1.0

Browser makers helped the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) develop
these standards, some of which are more than two years old now.
But so far, browsers have repeatedly failed to implement 100
percent of these standards. And we’re all suffering for it.

So I need to know when you will be supporting these W3C standards
completely so developers can begin to build pages that will work
in any browser and are accessible to all. If you don’t plan to
ever support 100 percent of these standards, then I need to know
that too. It’s my future – and the Web’s future – at stake.

The Web Standards Project is a grassroots coalition fighting for standards which ensure simple, affordable access to web technologies for all.

All of the entries posted in WaSP Buzz express the opinions of their individual authors. They do not necessarily reflect the plans or positions of the Web Standards Project as a group.

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