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Support the Standards or the Browser?

Web Standards616 words3 minutes to read

Dave Shea recently asked,

Support the standards and nothing but the standards, regardless of whether or not browsers get them right?

  • or -

Support what standards are available given today’s browser support, and kludge together markup/script/CSS hacks to overcome deficiencies in implementations?

I am all-for the extensive use of web standards. Anyone who’s talked to me for more than two minutes when I’m in geek-mode, or who has read anything I’ve written on the subject knows this.

I would prefer to serve my XHTML pages as application/xhtml+xml, use XHTML 1.0 Strict or 1.1, and have all of my CSS2 work without a hitch. Some people only design for the “trinity” (which I think is a bit of a misnomer — “triumvirate” would be better), being Moz, Opera, and Safari. These kinds of things are fine for them.

Unfortunately, the real world — especially the world of business — requires sites to work as well on IE/Win as any other browser/platform, for no reason other than it hold the largest market share by far. Standards are fantastic, but standards purists are missing something. We couldn’t move on from using tables for layout until CSS was good enough to give us an alternative. Now CSS gives us that (better) alternative, but it’s not flawless — neither the support, nor the spec.

Unfortunately, Microsoft is the driving force on the web. Not “driving” as in progressing, but “driving” as in “this is how it’s going to remain”. I could beat Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer senseless for not implementing :hover on all elements, or :focus on anything. It makes my job as a web designer that much more difficult.

The problem lies with this: Most web designers have a passion for the web, and what it all can be. We want it to move beyond the computer screen and into everything that it possibly can. I can now syndicate another website’s content on my site thanks to the power of the web. How cool is that? Microsoft, on the other hand, just wants control. They want power. They want money. They don’t care about the potential of the web. All of that “Your Potential. Our Passion.” is crap. Hey Microsoft! I wanna be a web designer when I grow up! Are you gonna help me? Where’s your passion now?!

We, as web designers, often say things along the lines of “IE has 90% of the market. We just have to design for them. Oh well.” I disagree with this. On the other hand, standards purists chanting “everyone must code perfectly right now” are wrong as well. We need to transition from the older methods to the newer methods, and that requires us to design standards-compliant sites using necessary (not gratuitous) CSS hacks to make it work.

IE5 was released in 1999. IE 5.5 was released in 2000. IE6 was released in 2001. It’s now 2004. This spring will be three years since the last IE/Win update (not counting SP1). Let’s start putting up “your browser is outdated, please upgrade” messages for Internet Explorer 5.01 now, like we do for Netscape 4.x. This summer, let’s start displaying it for IE 5.5, and hopefully by this time next year a significant majority of people will at least be using IE6 — which will remove the need for the box model hack at the very least, maybe even more.

Promote the use of Moz, Opera, or Safari in these messages, and the Standards-Compliant market share is sure to increase. The more of us who do it, the better the chances. It might not make Microsoft update their browser, but it might make them think about it if they lose enough market share.

Ryan Parman

is an engineering manager with over 20 years of experience across software development, site reliability engineering, and security. He is the creator of SimplePie and AWS SDK for PHP, patented multifactor-authentication-as-a-service at WePay, defined much of the CI/CD and SRE disciplines at McGraw-Hill Education, and came up with the idea of “serverless, event-driven, responsive functions in the cloud” while at Amazon Web Services in 2010. Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than . Ambivert. Curious. Not a coffee drinker.