Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

Internet Explorer 5 Falls Short on Standards Support, Web Developers Forced to Continue Workarounds

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

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 (née 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.

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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