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 sites.
“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.”
“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 incompatibilities.
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 finished.
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.
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.
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 features.
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 create.
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.