IN EPISODE 63 of Triangulation, Leo Laporte, a gracious and knowledgeable podcaster/broadcaster straight outta Petaluma, CA, interviews Your Humble Narrator about web standards history, responsive web design, content first, the state of standards in a multi-device world, and why communists sometimes make lousy band managers.
The 10K Apart Challenge had a simple premise: Could you build a complete web application using less than 10 kilobytes? … A joint effort between An Event Apart and MIX Online, the 10K Apart reaped 367 web applications in 28 days—everything from casual games to RIAs—that demonstrate, even with their tiny footprints, what is truly possible with modern [web] standards.
Read about the winning entries: 10K Apart – IEBlog.
See also: Internet Explorer usage falls below 50%.
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.
When Apple chose KHTML rather than Mozilla Gecko as the basis for its Safari browser, some of us in the web standards community scratched our heads. Sure, KHTML, the rendering engine in Konqueror, was open-source and standards-compliant. But, at the time, Gecko’s standards support was more advanced, and Gecko-based Mozilla, Camino, and even Netscape 6 felt more like browsers than Konqueror. Gecko browsers had the features, the comparative maturity, and the support of the standards community. Apple’s adoption of KHTML, and creation of a forked version called Webkit, seemed puzzling and wrong.
Yet, thanks largely to the success of the iPhone, Webkit (Apple’s open source version of KHTML) 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. Had Apple chosen Gecko, they might not have been able to so powerfully influence mainstream consumer opinion, because the fully formed, distinctly mature Gecko brand and experience could easily have overshadowed and constrained Apple’s contribution. (Not to mention, tolerating external constraint is not a game Apple plays.)
Just how has mobile Safari, a relative latecomer to the world of standards-based browsing, been able to make a difference, and what difference has it made?
The platform paradox
Firefox and Opera were wonderful before any Webkit-based browser reached maturity, but Firefox and Opera were and are non-mainstream tastes. Most people use Windows without thinking much about it, and most Windows users open the browser that comes with their operating system, again without too much thought. This doesn’t make them dumb and us smart. We are interaction designers; they are not.
Thus, the paradox: even though Firefox and Opera offered powerfully compelling visions of what could be accomplished with web standards back when IE6 offered a comparatively poor experience, Firefox and Opera, not unlike Linux and Mac OS, were platforms for the converted. If you knew enough to want Firefox and Opera, those browsers delivered features and experience that confirmed the wisdom of your choice. If you didn’t know to want them, you didn’t realize you were missing anything, because folks reading this page sweated like Egyptian pyramid builders to make sure you had a good experience despite your browser’s flaws.
The power to convert
Firefox and Opera are great browsers that have greatly advanced the cause of web standards, but because they are choices in a space where most people don’t make choices, their power to convert is necessarily somewhat truncated. The millions mostly don’t care what happens on their desktop. It’s mostly not in their control. They either don’t have a choice or don’t realize they have one, and their expectations have been systematically lowered by two decades of unexciting user experience.
By contrast, the iPhone functions in a hot realm where consumers do make choices, and where choices are badges. Of course many people are forced economically to choose the cheap or free phone that comes with their mobile service. But many others are in a position to select a device. And the iPhone is to today’s urban professional gym rat what cigarettes and martinis were to their 1950s predecessors. You and I may claim to choose a mobile device based on its features, but the upwardly mobile (pardon the pun), totally hot person standing next to us in the elevator may choose their phone the same way they choose their handbag. And now that the iPhone sells for $99, more people can afford to make a fashion decision about their phone—and they’ll do it.
Although there were great phones before the iPhone, and although the iPhone has its detractors, it is fair to say that we are now in a Mobile 2.0 phase where people expect more than a Lynx-like experience when they use their phone to access the internet. Mobile Safari in iPhone, along with the device’s superior text handling thanks to Apple and Adobe technologies, is changing perceptions about and expectations of the web in the same way social networking did, and just at the historical moment when social networking has gone totally mainstream.
Oprah’s on Twitter, your mom’s on Twitter, and they’re either using an iPhone or a recently vastly upgraded Palm or Blackberry that takes nearly all of its cues from the iPhone. Devices that copy the iPhone of course mostly end up selling the iPhone, the same way Bravo’s The Fashion Show would mostly make you miss Project Runway if you even watched The Fashion Show, which you probably haven’t.
Safari isn’t perfect,
and Mobile Safari has bugs not evident in desktop Safari, but Webkit + Apple = secret sauce selling web standards to a new generation of consumers and developers.
- 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
- 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
- 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]webdesign, webstandards, design, standards, browsers, CSS, webkit, gecko, mozilla, firefox, opera, safari, mobile, mobilesafari, iphone[/tags]
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]
Between hurricanes and hericanes, you could easily have missed the technology news. Released yesterday in public beta, Google Chrome is a standards-compliant web browser created to erode Microsoft’s browser dominance (i.e. to boost Google’s web dominance) while also rethinking what a browser is and does in the age of web apps and Google’s YouTube.
The new browser is based on Webkit, the advanced-standards-compliant, open source browser engine that powers Apple’s Safari for Mac and PC, but Chrome currently runs only in Windows. You figure that out.
Here are the new browser’s terms of service.
And here’s an important early bug report from Jeremy Jarratt: Google Chrome wrongly displays alternate styles as if active, thus “breaking” websites that use them. (Here’s more about alternate style sheets, from Paul Sowden’s groundbreaking 2001 A List Apart article.)
To compete with Microsoft, the new browser must offer what other browsers do not. The risk inherent in that proposition is a return to proprietary browser code. It is not yet clear to me whether Chrome will compete the wrong way—offering Chrome-only features based on Chrome-only code, thus prompting Microsoft to rethink its commitment to standards—or the right way.
Competing by offering features other browsers do not (easier downloads, streamlined user interface) or by consolidating other browsers’ best features (Opera’s Speed Dial, Firefox’s auto-complete) avoids this risk, as improvements—or at any rate, changes—to the browser’s user interface have no bearing on the display of existing web content.
Competing by supporting web standards ahead of the pack, although not entirely without risk, would also be a reasonable and exciting way to compete. When one browser supports a standard, it goads other browser makers into also supporting it. Because Safari, for instance, supports @font-face, Firefox is not far behind in supporting that CSS spec. @font-face raises font licensing problems, but we’ll discuss those another time. The risk that concerns us here is when a browser supports an emerging specification before it is finalized, thus, essentially, freezing the spec before it is ready. But that is the traditional dance between spec authors and browser makers.
For web standards and web content, we once again live in interesting times. Welcome, Chrome!
[tags]google, chrome, googlechrome, beta, software, browsers, standards, webbrowsers, webstandards, bugs, standards-compliant, alternatestyles, alternatecss[/tags]
Yesterday, before publicly announcing it, developers from Microsoft called me and others to let us know that IE8’s version targeting will now work the same way other browsers work, i.e. advanced standards support will be on by default. Some people will say Microsoft caved; others, that they listened to public opinion; some may even buy the company’s own explanation, which is that, given a company-wide reorientation away from proprietary winner-take-all competitiveness and toward interoperability, “web standards by default” takes precedence over “supporting all those badly made websites that were created specifically to work in IE.”
- Beyond DOCTYPE: Web Standards, Forward Compatibility, and IE8
- “Having the ability to lock your site to a particular browser version is fantastic for ensuring that your site will be usable well into the future, but does it undermine the concept of progressive enhancement?” – Aaron Gustafson, A List Apart Issue No. 251, January 21, 2008.
- From Switches to Targets: A Standardista’s Journey
- “We say forward-compatible development is the mark of a professional because that’s what the profession demands. With the advent of version targeting, that need may simply evaporate, rendered not wrong but moot.” – Eric Meyer, A List Apart Issue No. 251, January 21, 2008.
- They Shoot Browsers, Don’t They?
- “Standards-aware developers, by their very nature, will object to adding a line of unnecessary markup to their documents just to get one single browser to behave as it should by default.” – Jeremy Keith, A List Apart Issue No. 253, February 19, 2008.
- Version Targeting: Threat or Menace?
- “Version targeting shakes our browser-agnostic faith. Its default behavior runs counter to our expectations, and seems wrong. Yet to offer true DOM support without bringing JScript-authored sites to their knees, version targeting must work the way Microsoft proposes.” – Jeffrey Zeldman, A List Apart Issue No. 253, February 19, 2008.
- WaSP Round Table: IE8’s Default Version Targeting Behavior
- “On 16 February, Web Standards Project Members Faruk Ateş, Porter Glendinning, and I got together with Chris Wilson, Platform Architect for Internet Explorer to talk about IE8’s proposed default version targeting behavior of having to opt-in to the browser’s new standards mode.” – Aaron Gustafson, The Web Standards Project, February 24, 2008.
- Microsoft’s Interoperability Principles and IE8
- “We’ve decided that IE8 will, by default, interpret web content in the most standards compliant way it can. This decision is a change from what we’ve posted previously.” – The IE Blog, March 3rd, 2008.
- Microsoft Expands Support for Web Standards
- “In keeping with the commitment we made in our Interoperability Principles of being even more transparent in how we support standards in our products, we will work with content publishers to ensure they fully understand the steps we are taking and will encourage them to use this beta period to update their sites to transition to the more current Web standards supported by IE8.” – Microsoft.com, March 3rd, 2008.
- Microsoft rethinks IE8’s default behavior
- “This was a very complex issue and I fully understood and had come to accept Microsoft’s earlier decision to break with convention and not automatically opt sites in to the new engine, but I have to say I’m glad they’ve reversed that decision. In the end, this does put more pressure on them to get the word out about how version targeting can prevent a recurrence of the issues that came about when IE7 released, but, personally, I feel their product (and the web at large) is better for it. ” – Aaron Gusatfson, The Web Standards Project, March 3rd, 2008.
[tags]IE8, versiontargeting, webstandards, alistapart, WaSP[/tags]
Just when you thought it was safe to forget about version targeting. In Issue No. 253 of A List Apart, for people who make websites…
- Jeremy Keith argues that version targeting in IE8 is all right, but its default is all wrong, in “They Shoot Browsers, Don’t They?“
- And I insist that the default seems wrong, but is actually right and necessary, in Version Targeting: Threat or Menace?
Read. Discuss. Decide.
Comments off. (Comment inside ALA, where it counts.)
We knew when we published this issue of A List Apart that it would light a match to the gaseous underbelly of standards-based web design, but we thought more than a handful of readers would respect the parties involved enough to consider the proposal on its merits. Alas, the ingrained dislike of Microsoft is too strong, and the desire to see every site built with web standards is too ardently felt, for the proposal to get a fair viewing.
The always dapper Mr Jeremy Keith provides a pleasantly thoughtful exception to the massive glowering.
Jeremy sees that version targeting offers a solution to the problem of keeping Microsoft’s Internet Explorer on the web standards track, but he quarrels with an implementation detail: namely, that if you omit the
meta element that instructs IE to behave as a particular version—in other words, if you opt out—the browser defaults to IE7’s rendering.
Jeremy thinks, if you opt out by omitting the
meta element, the browser should default to the latest version’s rendering, be that version IE8, IE10, or IE412.
I respect Jeremy—all the more so after reading his reasoned response to a bombshell proposal—but disagree with his reasoning on this point.
In his post, Jeremy provides the following example to prove that the “IE7 rendering=default” decision is broken:
Let’s say you’re building a website right now that uses a CSS feature such as generated content. Any browsers that currently support generated content will correctly parse your CSS declarations. Future browsers that will support generated content should also parse those CSS declarations. This expected behaviour will not occur in Internet Explorer. IE8 will include support for generated content. But unless you explicitly declare that you want IE8 to behave as IE8, it will behave as IE7.
It sounds reasonable, but it’s an unlikely scenario, and the exact opposite of what will happen over and over again out there in the real world of web development, which, for too many, is a fallen world.
Jeremy, since you are among the tiny minority of enlightened web developers who know what generated content is, and who care that IE8 will support it (and since you read ALA), you will know to include a
meta element that instructs IE8 to act like IE8—or you will use “edge” to instruct IE14 to act like IE14. Easy-peasy. No hardship for you.
By contrast, the many developers who don’t understand or care about web standards, and who only test their CSS and scripts in the latest version of IE, won’t opt in, so their stuff will render in IE8 the same way it rendered in IE7.
That sounds bad, but it’s actually good, because it means that their “IE7-tested” sites won’t “break” in IE8. Therefore their clients won’t scream. Therefore Microsoft won’t be inundated with complaints which, in the hands of the wrong director of marketing, could lead to the firing of standards-oriented browser engineers on the IE team. The wholesale firing of standards-oriented developers would jerk IE off the web standards path just when it has achieved sure footing. And if IE were to abandon standards, accessible, standards-compliant design would no longer have a chance. Standards only work when all browsers support them. That IE has the largest market share simply heightens the stakes.
When I look at the scenarios of who is likely to do what where web standards and version targeting are concerned, the IE7 default for those who don’t opt in appears to be the correct design decision. Of couse I’m more than willing to be proved wrong.
Regardless, the discussion raised by Mr Keith is exactly the kind of discussion our community should be having.
Unfortunately, the conversation we’re mostly having so far is neither thoughtful nor helpful. But perhaps when the shock dies down, a few more people will consider the merits of version targeting.
To help them do so, let me break it down the way I did for myself:
- With version targeting, IE stays on the path of web standards.
- Without it, ineptly made websites “break,” putting IE’s standards compliance at risk.
- If IE were to stop supporting standards, standards would stop working.
I’d love to live in a world where the vast majority of websites were compliant and accessible. But that’s not the real world. At least, not today.
Today too many sites aren’t semantic, don’t validate, and aren’t designed to specs of the W3C. Idealists think we can change this by “forcing” ignorant developers to get wisdom about web standards. Idealists hope, if sites suddenly display poorly in IE, the developers will want to know why, and will embark on a magical journey of web standards learning.
You feel that way because you are special.
You care about semantics and accessibility because it’s right.
That’s how we’re going to get more converts. By persuading more people that it’s right.
We won’t get converts by breaking sites and ridiculing their creators for not knowing as much as we do.
I commend Aaron Gustafson for his courage and intelligence and thank him and his small band of colleagues, and the engineers they worked with at Microsoft, for offering a way forward that keeps web standards front and center in all future versions of IE.
Discussion is now closed, but you can enjoy the 235 responses that came in before we shut the iron door.
[tags]microsoft, IE, versiontargeting, alistapart, ALA[/tags]