Building Better Websites

Web Standards445 words3 minutes to read

After checking out this post over at Mezzoblue, I must comment that this has been my process for building websites for the last year-and-a-half or so.

Call it preaching if you will, but it is always better to design sites in standards-compliant browsers first (Mozilla, Firebird, Safari, Netscape 7, IE5/Mac), then almost-compliant browsers next (IE6/Win), then the subpar browsers (IE5.x/Win), then in crap browsers (Netscape 4.x). I always develop in Mozilla or Firebird. Often times, I completely forget to check to see if IE can swallow the valid code. Then I’ll go back and check in in IE, and when I get to class, I check it in the default IE5 on Windows 2000. It’s really a better way to do it.

Another thing that Zeldman goes into in his book (referenced by the Mezzoblue article, Designing with Web Standards), it that “backwards compatibility” is a myth. You cannot legitimately make a site look as good in Netscape 4 or Netscape 3 as it does in current generation browsers. “Pixel-perfect” is a flawed mentality. What about PDA’s, web-enabled cell-phones, WebTV (MSN-TV), or other non-standard devices? There are far more users of these devices than there are of Netscape 4, but many people still believe that it needs to look the same in this archaic browser as it does in newer ones.

The truth is that far more browsers can get get the information from your website (being more important than the look) if you code to standards (XHTML+CSS, no <font> tags, no <table> tags for layout, etc.) than if you try to make it pixel-perfect for far-from-perfect older browsers. Instead of designing for backwards compatiblity (an ever-decreasing market share), we should design with forwards compatibility in mind. Websites that won’t break with the next new browser. Websites that can be completely redesigned in hours instead of weeks or months. Standards-compliant websites also tend to be more accessible without even trying, and nearly always end up very high in search engine rankings, making your site much more noticable to more people.

Also, once you get the hang of CSS-Positioning, you can do anything with XHTML+CSS that you can do with HTML+Tables. To say that CSS sites are ugly is simply because of the fact that there aren’t as many CSS designers as there are CSS coders. So, let’s change that. CSS Zen Garden is a great example of what can be done with XHTML+CSS, and the limits (or, rather, lack thereof) of this method of designing… and it all begins with downloading and installing an awesome standards-compliant browser (Mozilla, for example) and start designing more of your websites from there.

Go ahead, give it a try…

Ryan Parman

Ryan Parman is an experienced software engineer, open source evangelist, and passionate user advocate currently living in Seattle. He is the creator of and , and worked on DevOps and Security at . He is now bringing learning into the digital age as an Engineering Lead and Site Reliability Engineer at . Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than .