Ed Bott’s Lament

In “IE9: Microsoft’s new browser gets no respect at all,” ZDNet’s Ed Bott sees seething contempt where I intended even-handed calm, and asks why my discussion yesterday of the tone of a months-old IE announcement failed to discuss yesterday’s keynote at MIX10, which I didn’t see.

Ed, for the record: I didn’t see the MIX10 keynote, which took place while I was traveling home from SXSW Interactive and after I wrote “IE9 Preview.” I wasn’t responding to the keynote. I was responding to the article I linked to, “An Early Look at IE9 For Developers.”

As a hint, I linked to the article in my lede and referred to it by name.

Hours after I wrote the post, while I was sitting in a jet between Austin and New York, Microsoft unveiled updated information about IE9, with good news on its web standards support, which I’ve since had confirmed by neutral developers—neutral in the sense that their allegiance is to web standards, not to any particular browser or platform.

I look forward to studying up on the latest IE improvements. Contrary to your inference, I respect browser engineers as I respect people generally. Indeed, Chris Wilson, former IE lead, and Tantek Çelik, former IE/Mac lead, are my friends. Heck, a few nights ago, Tantek and I were partying like brothers at SXSW Interactive and I have often written glowingly about his and Chris’s achievements on behalf of web standards and browser UX.

I’m surprised that you built a whole article out of refuting things you inferred but I never said. Slow news day?


IE9 preview

Is it getting hot in here? Or is it just the flames?

In An Early Look At IE9 for Developers, Dean Hachamovitch, General Manager for Internet Explorer, reports on performance progress, web standards progress (border-radius, bits of CSS3, Acid 3 performance), and “bringing the power of PC hardware and Windows to web developers in the browser” (e.g. improved type rendering via Direct2D, a Windows sub-pixel rendering technology that replaces Cleartype).

The reported web standards improvements are encouraging, and better type rendering in IE is a consummation much to be desired. These positive notes notwithstanding, what is most interesting about the post is the political tightrope Microsoft team leaders are still forced to walk.

The world has moved to web standards, and Microsoft knows it must at least try to catch up. Its brilliant browser engineers have been working hard to do so. This web standards support is not optional: having just been spanked hard in Europe for anticompetitive practices, Microsoft knows it is no longer invincible, and cannot continue to use claims of innovation to stifle the overall market or drag its feet on advanced standards compliance.

At the same time, Microsoft’s marketing department wants the public to believe that IE and Windows are profoundly innovative. Thus efforts to catch up to the typographic legibility and beauty of Mac OS X and Webkit browsers are presented, in Dean Hachamovitch’s blog post, as leading-edge innovations. Don’t get me wrong: these improvements are desirable, and Direct2D may be great. I’m not challenging the quality of the hardware and software improvements; I’m pointing out the enforced bragging, which is mandated from on high, and which flies in the face of the humble stance other high-level divisions in Microsoft would like to enforce in the wake of the company’s European drubbing and the dents Apple and Google have made on its monopoly and invulnerability.

In short, the tone of these announcements has not changed, even though the times have.

Hachamovitch does an admirable job of sticking to the facts and pointing out genuine areas of interest. But he is stuck in a corporate box. A slightly more personal, down-to-earth tone would have come across as the beginnings of transparency—Web 1.1, if not Web 2.0—and a more transparent tone might have slightly reduced the percentage of flamebait in the post’s comments. (It could only have slightly reduced that percentage, because, on the internet, there is no such thing as a calm discussion of improvements to a Microsoft browser, but still.)

Although I disagree with the tone of many of the comments—rudeness to engineers is not admirable, kind, or helpful—I agree with the leading thoughts they express, which are:

  • Getting IE fully up to speed on web standards is much more important than introducing any proprietary innovations. (Naturally I agree with this, as it is, in a nutshell, what The Web Standards Project told browser companies back in 1998—and it is still true.)
  • Switching to Webkit might be a better use of engineering resources than patching IE.

On the other hand, Microsoft’s refusal to switch to Webkit gives Apple and Google a competitive advantage, and that is good because a web in which one browser has a monopoly stifles standards and innovation alike. By torturing the IE rendering engine every couple of years instead of putting it out of its misery, Microsoft contributes to the withering away of its own monopoly. That might not be good for the shareholders, but it is great for everyone else.

Last Tangle in Firefox

Incorrect Helvetica in Firefox rendition of zeldman.com

Snow Leopard plus FontExplorer X equals screwed-up fonts in Firefox (especially Helvetica).

  • Google Search on “Snow Leopard Firefox FontExplorer X” reveals numerous incidents of CSS displaying incorrectly in Firefox (wrong font weight, wrong font style) when Font Explorer X is on Snow Leopard Macs.
  • My Flickr thread contains a screenshot demonstrating the problem plus a useful discussion of causes and possible workarounds.
  • Disabling FontExplorer X solves the problem.

Update: Buying FontExplorer X Pro and clearing font caches also solves the problem. (The problem is with Apple’s fonts, not with Firefox or FontExplorer X, but it takes mediation to fix it.)

Chicago Deep Dish

Dan Cederholm and Eric Meyer at An Event Apart Chicago 2009. Photo by John Morrison.

For those who couldn’t be there, and for those who were there and seek to savor the memories, here is An Event Apart Chicago, all wrapped up in a pretty bow:

AEA Chicago – official photo set
By John Morrison, subism studios llc. See also (and contribute to) An Event Apart Chicago 2009 Pool, a user group on Flickr.
A Feed Apart Chicago
Live tweeting from the show, captured forever and still being updated. Includes complete blow-by-blow from Whitney Hess.
Luke W’s Notes on the Show
Smart note-taking by Luke Wroblewski, design lead for Yahoo!, frequent AEA speaker, and author of Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks (Rosenfeld Media, 2008):

  1. Jeffrey Zeldman: A Site Redesign
  2. Jason Santa Maria: Thinking Small
  3. Kristina Halvorson: Content First
  4. Dan Brown: Concept Models -A Tool for Planning Websites
  5. Whitney Hess: DIY UX -Give Your Users an Upgrade
  6. Andy Clarke: Walls Come Tumbling Down
  7. Eric Meyer: JavaScript Will Save Us All (not captured)
  8. Aaron Gustafson: Using CSS3 Today with eCSStender (not captured)
  9. Simon Willison: Building Things Fast
  10. Luke Wroblewski: Web Form Design in Action (download slides)
  11. Dan Rubin: Designing Virtual Realism
  12. Dan Cederholm: Progressive Enrichment With CSS3 (not captured)
  13. Three years of An Event Apart Presentations

Note: Comment posting here is a bit wonky at the moment. We are investigating the cause. Normal commenting has been restored. Thank you, Noel Jackson.

Short URL: zeldman.com/?p=2695

Why Standards Fail

Back in 2000, CSS co-creator Bert Bos set out to explain the W3C’s design principles—“to make explicit what the developers in the various W3C working groups mean when they invoke words like efficiency, maintainability, accessibility, extensibility, learnability, simplicity, [and] longevity….”

Eventually published in 2003, the essay, although ostensibly concerned with explaining W3C working group principles to the uninitiated, actually articulates the key principle that separates great design from the muck we normally wade through. It also serves as a warning to Bert’s fellow W3C wizards not to seek the dark magic of abstract purity at the expense of the common good. Tragically for these wizards, and for we who use their technologies, it is a warning some developers of W3C specifications continue to overlook.

Design is for people

In his introduction, Bert summarizes the humanistic value that is supposed to be at the core of every web standard:

Contrary to appearances, the W3C specifications are for the most part not designed for computers, but for people. … Most of the formats are in fact compromises between human-readability and computer efficiency….

But why do we want people to read them at all? Because all our specs are incomplete. Because people, usually other people than the original developers, have to add to them….

For the same reason we try to keep the specifications of reasonable size. They must describe a useful chunk of technology, but not one that is too large for an individual to understand.

Over the succeeding 25 web pages (the article is chunked out in pamphlet-sized pages, each devoted to a single principle such as “maintainability” and “robustness”) Bert clearly, plainly, and humbly articulates a series of rather profound ideas that are key to the web’s growth and that might apply equally admirably to realms of human endeavor beyond the web.

For instance, in the page entitled “Use What Is There,” Bert says:

The Web now runs on HTML, HTTP and URLs, none of which existed before the ’90s. But it isn’t just because of the quality of these new formats and protocols that the Web took off. In fact, the original HTTP was a worse protocol than, e.g., Gopher or FTP in its capabilities….

And that fact shows nicely what made the Web possible at all: it didn’t try to replace things that already worked, it only added new modules, that fit in the existing infrastructure. …

And nowadays (the year 2000), it may look like everything is XML and HTTP, but that impression is only because the “old” stuff is so well integrated that you forget about it: there is no replacement for e-mail or Usenet, for JPEG or MPEG, and many other essential parts of the Web.

He then warns:

There is, unfortunately, a tendency in every standards organization, W3C not excluded, to replace everything that was created by others with things developed in-house. It is the not-invented-here syndrome, a feeling that things that were not developed “for the Web” are somehow inferior. And that “we” can do better than “them.” But even if that is true, maybe the improvement still isn’t worth spending a working group’s resources on.

Shrinkage and seduction

In his gentle way, Bert seems to be speaking directly to his W3C peers, who may not always share his and Håkon‘s humanism. For, despite what designers new to CSS, struggling for the first time with concepts like “float” and the box model may think, Bert and Håkon designed the web’s layout language to be easy to learn, teach, implement, maintain, and (eventually) extend. They also designed CSS not to overwhelm the newcomer with advanced power at the cost of profound complexity. (“CSS stops short of even more powerful features that programmers use in their programming languages: macros, variables, symbolic constants, conditionals, expressions over variables, etc. That is because these things give power-users a lot of rope, but less experienced users will unwittingly hang themselves; or, more likely, be so scared that they won’t even touch CSS. It’s a balance.”)

This striving to be understood and used by the inexperienced is the underlying principle of all good design, from the iPhone to the Eames chair. It’s what Jared Spool would call usability and you and I may consider the heart of design. When anything new is created, be it a website, a service, or a web markup language, there is a gap between what the creator knows (which is everything about how it’s supposed to work), and what you and I know (which is nothing). The goal of design is to shrink this ignorance gap while seducing us into leaping across it.

What were once vices are now habits

You can see this principle at work in CSS, whose simplicity allowed us to learn it. Although we now rail against the limitations of CSS 1 and even CSS 2.1, what we are really complaining about is the slow pace of CSS 3 and the greater slowness with which browser makers (some more than others) adopt bits of it.

Note that at one time we would have railed against browser makers who implemented parts of a specification that was still under development; now we admire them. Note, too, that it has taken well over a decade for developers to understand and browsers to support basic CSS, and it is only from the perspective of the experienced customer who craves more that advanced web designers now cry out for immediate CSS 3 adoption and chafe against the “restrictions” of current CSS as universally supported in all browsers, including IE8.

If CSS had initially offered the power, depth, and complexity that CSS 3 promises, we would still be designing with tables or Flash. Even assuming a browser had existed that could demonstrate the power of CSS 3, the complexity of the specification would have daunted everyone but Eric Meyer, had CSS 1 not come out of the gate first.

The future of the future of standards

It was the practical simplicity of CSS that enabled browser engineers to implement it and tempted designers to use (and then evangelize) it. In contrast, it was the seeming complexity and detachment from practical workaday concerns that doomed XHTML 2, while XHTML 1.0 remains a valid spec that will likely still be working when you and I have retired (assuming retirement will be possible in our lifetime—but that’s another story).

And yet, compared to some W3C specs in progress, XHTML 2 was a model of accessible, practical, down-to-earth usability.

To the extent that W3C specifications remain modular, practical, and accessible to the non-PhD in computer science, they will be adopted by browser makers and the marketplace. The farther they depart from the principles Bert articulated, the sooner they will peter out into nothingness, and the likelier we are to face a crisis in which web standards once again detach from the direction in which the web is actually moving, and the medium is given over to incompatible, proprietary technologies.

I urge everyone to read “What is a Good Standard?“, and I thank my friend Tantek for pointing it out to me.

[tags]W3C, design, principles, bertbos, maintainability, accessibility, extensibility, learnability, simplicity, specs, standards, css, markup, code, languages, web, webdesign, webstandards, webdevelopment, essays[/tags]

Web fonts, HTML 5 roundup

Over the weekend, as thoughtful designers gathered at Typecon 2009 (“a letterfest of talks, workshops, tours, exhibitions, and special events created for type lovers at every level”), the subject of web fonts was in the air and on the digital airwaves. Worthwhile reading on web fonts and our other recent obsessions includes:

Jeffrey Zeldman Questions The “EOT Lite” Web Font Format

Responding to a question I raised here in comments on Web Fonts Now, for Real, Richard Fink explains the thinking behind Ascender Corp.’s EOT Lite proposal . The name “EOT Lite” suggests that DRM is still very much part of the equation. But, as Fink explains it, it’s actually not.

EOT Lite removes the two chief objections to EOT:

  • it bound the EOT file, through rootstrings, to the domain name;
  • it contained MTX compression under patent by Monotype Imaging, licensed by Microsoft for this use.

Essentially, then, an “EOT Lite file is nothing more than a TTF file with a different file extension” (and an unfortunate but understandable name).

A brief, compelling read for a published spec that might be the key to real fonts on the web.

Web Fonts—Where Are We?”

@ilovetypography tackles the question we’ve been pondering. After setting out what web designers want versus what type designers and foundries want, the author summarizes various new and old proposals (“I once heard EOT described as ‘DRM icing on an OpenType cake.’”) including Tal Leming and Erik van Blokland‘s .webfont, which is gathering massive support among type foundries, and David Berlow’s permissions table, announced here last week.

Where does all of this net out? For @ilovetypography, “While we’re waiting on .webfont et al., there’s Typekit.”

(We announced Typekit here on the day it debuted. Our friend Jeff Veen’s company Small Batch, Inc. is behind Typekit, and Jason Santa Maria consults on the service. Jeff and Jason are among the smartest and most forward thinking designers on the web—the history of Jeff’s achievements would fill more than one book. We’ve tested Typekit, love its simple interface, and agree that it provides a legal and technical solution while we wait for foundries to standardize on one of the proposals that’s now out there. Typekit will be better when more foundries sign on; if foundries don’t agree to a standard soon, Typekit may even be the ultimate solution, assuming the big foundries come on board. If the big foundries demur, it’s unclear whether that will spell the doom of Typekit or of the big foundries.)

The Power of HTML 5 and CSS 3

Applauding HTML 5’s introduction of semantic page layout elements (“Goodbye div soup, hello semantic markup”), author Jeff Starr shows how HTML 5 facilitates cleaner, simpler markup, and explains how CSS can target HTML 5 elements that lack classes and IDs. The piece ends with a free, downloadable goodie for WordPress users. (The writer is the author of the forthcoming Digging into WordPress.)

Surfin’ Safari turns up new 3-D HTML5 tricks that give Flash a run for its money

Just like it says.

Read more

  • Web Fonts Now, for Real: David Berlow of The Font Bureau publishes a proposal for a permissions table enabling real fonts to be used on the web without binding or other DRM. — 16 July 2009
  • Web Fonts Now (How We’re Doing With That): Everything you ever wanted to know about real fonts on the web, including commercial foundries that allow @font-face embedding; which browsers already support @font-face; what IE supports instead; Håkon Wium Lie, father of CSS, on @font-face at A List Apart; the Berlow interview at A List Apart; @font-face vs. EOT; Cufón; SIFR; Cufón combined with @font-face; Adobe, web fonts, and EOT; and Typekit, a new web service offering a web-only font linking license on a hosted platform; — 23 May 2009
  • HTML 5 is a mess. Now what? A few days ago on this site, John Allsopp argued passionately that HTML 5 is a mess. In response to HTML 5 activity leader Ian Hickson’s comment here that, “We don’t need to predict the future. When the future comes, we can just fix HTML again,” Allsopp said “This is the only shot for a generation” to get the next version of markup right. Now Bruce Lawson explains just why HTML 5 is “several different kind of messes.” Given all that, what should web designers and developers do about it? — 16 July 2009
  • Web Standards Secret Sauce: Even though Firefox and Opera offered powerfully compelling visions of what could be accomplished with web standards back when IE6 offered a poor experience, Firefox and Opera, not unlike Linux and Mac OS, were platforms for the converted. Thanks largely to the success of the iPhone, Webkit, in the form of Safari, has been a surprising force for good on the web, raising people’s expectations about what a web browser can and should do, and what a web page should look like. — 12 July 2009
  • In Defense of Web Developers: Pushing back against the “XHTML is bullshit, man!” crowd’s using the cessation of XHTML 2.0 activity to condescend to—or even childishly glory in the “folly” of—web developers who build with XHTML 1.0, a stable W3C recommendation for nearly ten years, and one that will continue to work indefinitely. — 7 July 2009
  • XHTML DOA WTF: The web’s future isn’t what the web’s past cracked it up to be. — 2 July 2009

[tags]@font-face, berlow, davidberlow, CSS, permissionstable, fontbureau, webfonts, webtypography, realtypeontheweb, HTML5, HTML4, HTML, W3C, WHATWG, markup, webstandards, typography[/tags]

Web Fonts Now, for real

David Berlow of The Font Bureau has proposed a Permissions Table for OpenType that can be implemented immediately to turn raw fonts into web fonts without any wrappers or other nonsense. If adopted, it will enable type designers to license their work for web use, and web designers to create pages that use real fonts via the CSS @font-face standard.

My April 21, 2009 A List Apart interview with Berlow explains how a permissions table would enable type designers to support @font-face without DRM or intermediary hosted licensing. A press release provides more detail:

Future web users will not want their browsers clogging the workings of their Operating Systems with fonts, or the browsers’ presenting the users with web content that the user cannot read. In addition, web users do not want imprecisely or un-aesthetically presented content where a simple type-bearing graphic would suffice. Lastly, users do not want fonts to be able to give fraudulent users the unique corporate appearance of a genuine company.

So far, the browsers allowing use of the @Font-face font linking are installing and removing fonts in an invisible way, but future browsers may need to more intelligently manage web fonts for users as more sites employ them. Here, the proposed table can help by containing the links from which the fonts came, and determining their cacheability based on the user’s browsing history. More importantly, the recommendations section of the proposed table could allow a browser to offer reconcileablilty of any font treatment in conflict with a user’s ‘preferenced’ desires in areas such as sizing of type, presentation of line length and potentially dangerous type treatments such as rapid text blinking.

The Permissions Table proposal will be announced tomorrow on newsgroups and forums frequented by type designers.

Read more

  • Web Fonts, HTML 5 Roundup: Worthwhile reading on the hot new web font proposals, and on HTML 5/CSS 3 basics, plus a demo of advanced HTML 5 trickery. — 20 July 2009
  • Web Fonts Now (How We’re Doing With That): Everything you ever wanted to know about real fonts on the web, including commercial foundries that allow @font-face embedding; which browsers already support @font-face; what IE supports instead; Håkon Wium Lie, father of CSS, on @font-face at A List Apart; the Berlow interview at A List Apart; @font-face vs. EOT; Cufón; SIFR; Cufón combined with @font-face; Adobe, web fonts, and EOT; and Typekit, a new web service offering a web-only font linking license on a hosted platform; — 23 May 2009

[tags]@font-face, berlow, davidberlow, CSS, permissionstable, fontbureau, webfonts, webtypography, realtypeontheweb[/tags]

Firefox test page

Firefox gurus, a page demonstrating the Firefox long content bug has been created for your browser fixing pleasure. Kindly visit the test page using Firefox 3.0 and Firefox 3.5 for Windows (and possibly also for Linux). The following defects should be evident:

  • At least half the comments should be cut off by the browser.
  • The footer should be cut off by the browser.
  • The form enabling you to add comments may also be cut off by the browser (or it may be incomplete, or the labels for such things as your name and email address may appear in the wrong location).

View the same page in Safari 3+, Opera 9+, or IE7/8, and compare. In the other browsers, all comments are displayed, the footer is displayed, and the content form is viewable and displays correctly. How often does Firefox compare unfavorably with some of these browsers? Hardly ever. Which is precisely why you want to fix it. (That, and you’d like your users to be able to view all the content on a page, not just some of the content.)

The test page is identical to this 2 July post, with comments frozen as of 9 July 2009, and with the site’s original CSS, which revealed the long content bug in Firefox.

A subsequent 8 July post documents the steps I and two other developers took in order to isolate this bug in Firefox, and the CSS workarounds (suggested by two of the site’s readers) which have since been put in place to cover up for this defect in Firefox. The thread also explains what we changed in the CSS to enable Firefox users to read long content on the site.

The CSS cover-up enables Firefox users to read all the content on long pages, but at a cost: there is a flash of red background during slow load times. And, obviously, it’s better to fix Firefox than to create somewhat flawed CSS workarounds that slightly diminish the experience for all users of the site.

Thanks for your help! Let me and this site’s readers know how we can assist you. And remember, please use the test page (not this page or any other page of the site) to isolate the bug in Firefox.

Read more

  • HTML 5: Nav Ambiguity Resolved. An e-mail from Chairman Hickson resolves an ambiguity in the nav element of HTML 5. What does that mean in English? Glad you asked! — 13 July 2009
  • Web Standards Secret Sauce: Even though Firefox and Opera offered powerfully compelling visions of what could be accomplished with web standards back when IE6 offered a poor experience, Firefox and Opera, not unlike Linux and Mac OS, were platforms for the converted. Thanks largely to the success of the iPhone, Webkit, in the form of Safari, has been a surprising force for good on the web, raising people’s expectations about what a web browser can and should do, and what a web page should look like. — 12 July 2009
  • In Defense of Web Developers: Pushing back against the “XHTML is bullshit, man!” crowd’s using the cessation of XHTML 2.0 activity to condescend to—or even childishly glory in the “folly” of—web developers who build with XHTML 1.0, a stable W3C recommendation for nearly ten years, and one that will continue to work indefinitely. — 7 July 2009
  • XHTML DOA WTF: The web’s future isn’t what the web’s past cracked it up to be. — 2 July 2009

[tags]firefox, browser, bug, firefox3, firefox3.5, windows, linux, bugs, buggery, debugging, demo, testpage, mozilla[/tags]