Sour Outlook

It’s outrageous that the CSS standard created in 1996 is not properly supported in Outlook 2010. Let’s do something about it.

Hundreds of millions use Microsoft Internet Explorer to access the web, and Microsoft Outlook to send and receive email. As everyone reading this knows, the good news is that in IE8, Microsoft has released a browser that supports web standards at a high level. The shockingly bad news is that Microsoft is still using the Word rendering engine to display HTML email in Outlook 2010.

What does this mean for web designers, developers, and users? In the words of the “Let’s Fix It” project created by the Email Standards Project, Campaign Monitor, and Newism, it means exactly this:

[F]or the next 5 years your email designs will need tables for layout, have no support for CSS like float and position, no background images and lots more. Want proof? Here’s the same email in Outlook 2000 & 2010.

It’s difficult to believe that in 2009, after diligently improving standards support in IE7 and now IE8, Microsoft would force email designers to use nonsemantic table layout techniques that fractured the web, squandered bandwidth, and made a joke of accessibility back in the 1990s.

Accounting for stupidity

For a company that claims to believe in innovation and standards, and has spent five years redeeming itself in the web standards community, the decision to use the non-standards-compliant, decades-old Word rendering engine in the mail program that accompanies its shiny standards-compliant browser makes no sense from any angle. It’s not good for users, not good for business, not good for designers. It’s not logical, not on-brand, and the very opposite of a PR win.

Rumor has it that Microsoft chose the Word rendering engine because its Outlook division “couldn’t afford” to pay its browser division for IE8. And by “couldn’t afford” I don’t mean Microsoft has no money; I mean someone at this fabulously wealthy corporation must have neglected to budget for an internal cost. Big companies love these fictions where one part of the company “pays” another, and accountants love this stuff as well, for reasons that make Jesus cry out anew.

But if the rumor’s right, and if the Outlook division couldn’t afford to license the IE8 rendering engine, there are two very simple solutions: use Webkit or Gecko. They’re both free, and they both kick ass.

Why it matters

You may hope that this bone-headed decision will push millions of people into the warm embrace of Opera, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, but it probably won’t. Most people, especially most working people, don’t have a choice about their operating system or browser. Ditto their corporate email platform.

Likewise, most web designers, whether in-house, agency, or freelance, are perpetually called upon to create HTML emails for opt-in customers. As Outlook’s Word rendering engine doesn’t support the most basic CSS layout tools such as float, designers cannot use our hard-won standards-based layout tools in the creation of these mails—unless they and their employers are willing to send broken messages to tens millions of Outlook users. No employer, of course, would sanction such a strategy. And this is precisely how self-serving decisions by Microsoft profoundly retard the adoption of standards on the web. Even when one Microsoft division has embraced standards, actions by another division ensure that millions of customers will have substandard experiences and hundreds of thousands of developers still won’t get the message that our medium has standards which can be used today.

So it’s up to us, the community, to let Microsoft know how we feel.

Participate in the Outlook’s Broken project. All it takes is a tweet.

[tags]browsers, bugs, IE8, outlook, microsoft, iranelection[/tags]

Beep

For the third edition of Designing With Web Standards, I’ve brought in a co-author: the brilliant and talented Mr Ethan Marcotte.

Mr Ethan Marcotte

Mr Marcotte is a web designer/developer who “works for Airbag Industries as a Senior Designer, swears profusely on Twitter, and is getting married to an incredible lady.” He is also a technical editor and contributing author to A List Apart, and the co-author of several fine books about the intersection between great code and fine design. Then there’s the fact that I dig him. I dig the hell out of him. I love him like a younger, sweeter, funnier brother.

That’s important because I don’t add a co-author to any book, let alone this book, lightly. In asking Ethan to help me bring the awesome to this substantially revised and rewritten edition, I chose not only on the basis of expertise and writing ability, but also on sheer karma.

In his new role, Ethan joins a SuperFriends™ line-up including technical editor Aaron Gustafson (Twitter), another honey of a guy, and truly one of the smartest, most innovative, and most knowledgeable voices in web standards, and editor Erin Kissane (Twitter), whose mastery of the subtlest details of voice consistency alone makes her the finest editor I have ever been blessed to work with. Behind it all, there’s Michael Nolan (Twitter), New Riders’ sagely seasoned acquisitions editor and a designer and author himself, who first took a chance on me as an author back in nineteen ninety humph.

Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Edition is coming this year to a bookstore near you. I thank my brilliant crew for making it possible. Onward!

[tags]EthanMarcotte, beep, unstoppablerobotninja, airbag, alistapart, CSS, design, webstandards, webdesign, designingwithwebstandards, DWWS, 3rdedition, DWWS3e, writer, writers, authors[/tags]

All About Floats

Float is a CSS positioning property. If you are familiar with print design, you can think of it like an image in a layout where the text wraps around it as necessary.

So begins  All About Floats, a brief and unassuming tutorial which, with a single web page of text and a few illustrations, thoroughly explains how designers use “float” to create CSS layouts, the difference between “float” and absolute positioning, and the leading browser quirks to keep in mind when using float to create web layouts.

If CSS confuses you, this page will greatly help you. If you’re an old hand at CSS layout, this page will make a handy reference for you. This page is not new, but it was new to me. Congratulations to author Chris Coyier on a job elegantly done. Hat tip to Elliot Jay Stocks for pointing it out.

[tags]CSS, layout, essentials, overview, tutorial[/tags]

Web fonts now (how we’re doing with that)

THE WEB Fonts Wiki has a page listing fonts you can legally embed in your site designs using the CSS standard @font-face method. Just as importantly, the wiki maintains a page showing commercial foundries that allow @font-face embedding. Between these two wiki pages, you may find just the font you need for your next design (even if you can’t currently license classics like Adobe Garamond or ITC Franklin and Clarendon).

The advantages of using fonts other than Times, Arial, Georgia, and Verdana have long been obvious to designers; it’s why web design in the 1990s was divided between pages done in Flash, and HTML pages containing pictures of fonts—a practice that still, bizarrely, continues even in occasionally otherwise advanced recent sites.

Using real fonts instead of pictures of fonts or outlines of fonts provides speed and accessibility advantages.

Currently the Webkit-based Apple Safari browser supports @font-face. The soon-to-be-released next versions of Opera Software’s Opera browser, Google’s Webkit-based Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox will do likewise. When I say “soon-to-be-released,” I mean any day now. When this occurs, all browsers except IE will support @font-face.

IE has, however, offered font embedding since IE4 via Embedded OpenType (.EOT), a font format that enables real fonts to be temporarily embedded in web pages. That is, the reader sees the font while reading the page, but cannot download (“steal”) the font afterwards. Microsoft has “grant[ed] to the W3C a perpetual, nonexclusive, royalty-free, world-wide right and license under any Microsoft copyrights on this contribution, to copy, publish and distribute the contribution under the W3C document licenses,” in hopes that EOT would thereby become a standard. But so far, only Microsoft’s own browsers support EOT.

Thus, as we consider integrating real fonts into our designs, we must navigate between browsers that support @font-face now (Safari), those that will do so soon (Opera, Chrome, Firefox), and the one that possibly never will (IE, with a dwindling but still overwhelming market share).

The person who figures out a designer-friendly solution to all this will either be hailed as a hero/heroine or get rich. Meanwhile, near-complete solutions of varying implementation difficulty exist. Read on:

CSS @ Ten: The Next Big Thing

“Instead of making pictures of fonts, the actual font files can be linked to and retrieved from the web. This way, designers can use TrueType fonts without having to freeze the text as background images.” An introduction to @font-face by Håkon Wium Lie, father of CSS.

Real Fonts on the Web: An Interview with The Font Bureau’s David Berlow

Is there life after Georgia? To understand issues surrounding web fonts from the type designer’s perspective, I interview David Berlow, co-founder of The Font Bureau, Inc, and the first TrueType type designer.

The W3C: @font-face vs. EOT

A discussion that shows why the W3C may not be able to resolve this conflict. (It’s kind of like asking the Montagues and Capulets to decide whether the Montagues or the Capulets should rule Verona.)

sIFR 2.0: Rich Accessible Typography for the Masses

Mike Davidson’s scalable and accessible remix of Shaun Inman’s pioneering use of Flash and JavaScript to replace short passages of HTML text with Flash movies of the same text set in a real font. The Flash movies are created on the fly. If JavaScript or images are turned off, the user “sees” the HTML text; text set in sIFR can also be copied and pasted. sIFR was a great initial solution to the problem of real fonts on the web, but it’s only for short passages (which means the rest of the page must still be set in Georgia or Verdana), and it fails if the user has a Flash block plug-in installed, as half of Firefox users seem to. It’s also always a pain to implement. I don’t know any designer or developer who has an easy time setting up sIFR. In short, while sIFR is an awesome stop-gap, real fonts on the web are still what’s needed. Which also leads us to…

Cufón – Fonts for the People

Simo Kinnunen’s method of embedding fonts, regardless of whether or not a browser supports @font-face.

Combining Cufón And @Font-Face

Kilian Valkhof: “Everyone wants @font-face to work everywhere, but as it stands, it only works in Safari and the upcoming versions of Firefox and Opera. In this article I’ll show you how to use Cufón only if we can’t load the font through other, faster methods.”

Adobe, Web Fonts, and EOT

Why Adobe supports Microsoft’s EOT instead of @font-face.

Introducing Typekit

Update May 28, 2009: Working with Jason Santa Maria, Jeff Veen’s company Small Batch Inc. introduces Typekit:

We’ve been working with foundries to develop a consistent web-only font linking license. We’ve built a technology platform that lets us to host both free and commercial fonts in a way that is incredibly fast, smoothes out differences in how browsers handle type, and offers the level of protection that type designers need without resorting to annoying and ineffective DRM.

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, 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. — 16 July 2009

[tags]fonts, webfonts, webdesign, embed, @font-face, EOT, wiki, css, layout, safari, opera, firefox, chrome, browsers[/tags]

Floats, clears, and color flashes

After viewing this site’s redesign in progress, Peter Petrus wrote:

[Y]ou’re using footer to clear floats (content + sidebar). This creates a large drawback, because before footer is downloaded and displayed in the browser, parent wrapper lacks any background.

It means that we’re staring on black text / orange background combo for a few moments. Well, few moments now, but should you put any unresponsive widgets in the sidebar, everything can render much slower. Having main content flash like this isn’t very pleasant – especially when you named the redesign “Designing from the content out”.

Solution is very simple – use ‘:after’ clearing for the main wrapper. Sure, it won’t work on IE, but 1) setting width to wrapper sets hasLayout and triggers clearing 2) #footer is still there, in any case.

I’d read about using “:after” clearing but hadn’t implemented it and thought I could solve the problem an easier way. This afternoon, with about five minutes’ work, I did so.

I solved the orange background flash by moving the faux column background image up in the CSS hierarchy.

  • In the original CSS, I used the faux column background image on the wrapper element only.
  • In the updated CSS, I’ve now added the same background image to the body element as well.

Doing so fixed the orange background flash problem, because the browser no longer has to wait for the footer to clear before showing the background image.

Compare body element on new z.css and previous z-bak.css. (Likewise, compare body on alt.css and alt-bak.css.)

[tags]css, workarounds, clear, float[/tags]

A new answer to the IE6 question?

In “Universal Internet Explorer 6 CSS,” Andy Clarke proposes a novel approach to the problem that has vexed standards-based designers since time immemorial (or at least since we could quit worrying about Netscape 4).

The problem is IE6. Outdated but still widely used, especially in the developing world, its inaccurate and incomplete CSS support forces web designers and developers to spend expensive hours on workarounds ranging from hacks, to IE6-only styles served via conditional comments, to JavaScript. Some refuse to serve CSS to IE6 at all; others stop IE6 users at the gate. In some situations (personal site, web app used by first-world hipsters), ignoring IE6 may work; but mostly it doesn’t.

After a brief but thorough tour of current IE6 solutions and their limitations, Andy unveils his zinger. He proposes to serve IE6 users a set of universal styles completely unrelated to the design of the site in question. Not unlike Arc90’s awesome Readability plug-in, the styles Andy has designed concern themselves with typographic hierarchy and whitespace. Here’s the theory: make the page easy to read, make it obvious that somebody designed it, and the IE6 user will have a good experience.

(By contrast, block styles from IE6, as some developers suggest, and that user will have a bad experience. Most likely, in the absence of styles, the user will think the page is broken.)

No hammer fits all nails, and no solution, however elegant, will work for every situation. But if we’re open minded, Andy’s proposal may work in more situations than we at first suspect. Where it works, it’s what business folk call a “win, win:” the visitor has a good reading experience, and client and developer are spared tedium and expense.

Check it out.

[tags]IE6, workarounds, design, development, webdesign, hacks, legibility, styles, CSS, andyclarke[/tags]

Designing from the content out 2

And the saga continues. I took a few days off from the redesign project while in Seattle. Today I designed and quickly prototyped a simple masthead. Have a look. I’m going to live with it for a while.

AEA Seattle after-report

Armed with nothing more than a keen eye, a good seat, a fine camera, and the ability to use it, An Event Apart Seattle attendee Warren Parsons captured the entire two-day show in crisp and loving detail. Presenting, for your viewing pleasure, An Event Apart Seattle 2009 – a set on Flickr.

When you’ve paged your way through those, have a gander at Think Brownstone’s extraordinary sketches of AEA Seattle.

Still can’t get enough of that AEA stuff? Check out the official AEA Seattle photo pool on Flickr.

Wonder what people said about the event? Check these Twitter streams: AEA and AEA09.

And here are Luke W’s notes on the show.

Our thanks to the photographers, sketchers, speakers, and all who attended.

[tags]aneventapart, aeaseattle09, AEA, AEA09, Seattle, webdesign, conference, Flickr, sets, Twitter, photos, illustrations, sketches, aneventapart.com[/tags]

Seattle-bound

City of Puget Sound, Jimi Hendrix, and the space needle, here I come for An Event Apart Seattle 2009—two days of peace, love, design, code, and content.

[tags]seattle, aneventapart, webdesign, webstandards, design, conference, conferences, webdesign conference, webdesign conferences, standards, IA, UX, ericmeyer, jeffreyzeldman, zeldman, meyerweb[/tags]