31 May – 1 June 2003 :::
Ninth year online begins
On 31 May 2003, Jeffrey Zeldman Presents celebrates eight years online. As of 1 June, our ninth year will begin. Thanks to Ronan for reminding us. With everything else that’s going on, our site’s anniversary had slipped our minds. :::
IE/AOL/Netscape: what happens next?
CNET New.com has picked up half of the story we reported Friday, but it misses the AOL/IE connection, and it fails to ask the tough questions.
In its 31 May lead, “Microsoft to Abandon Standalone IE,” CNET links to Microsoft’s buried announcement that if you want an improved, less buggy version of its market-dominating Internet Explorer browser, you will have to buy the next version of its Windows operating system, codenamed Longhorn. Although this aspect is even more deeply buried, if you want an improved version of IE5/Mac, you will apparently have to subscribe to Microsoft’s MSN service. CNET misses that part of the story.
What CNET misses even more is the simultaneous revelation that AOL, for a chunk of the Redmond giant’s cash, has dismissed its lawsuit against Microsoft, and will prop up the IE and MSN market share at the expense of its own America Online service and Netscape browser division. The two stories are peas in the same pod, even if a major news organization can’t see the connection. That’s why we told them in the same breath in Friday’s Report.
When AOL bought Netscape, that browser company was hemorrhaging market share, partly because its Netscape 4 browser was perceived to be outdated in comparison to IE5, but also because IE came with the Windows operating system, and Microsoft cut “agree or lose Windows” deals with PC makers that gave IE a huge and unfair advantage against Netscape’s product. Netscape and other companies sued Microsoft, claiming that the software giant had illegally leveraged its monopoly power, and the U.S. Justice Department agreed.
Well, you all know the history, and you also know that governments tend not to act against large corporations that contribute significantly to the health of their economy. By the time Netscape came out with a viably competitive browser, IE owned the market. But what happens now?
The announcement that Microsoft will no longer improve IE unless you buy its next OS (or subscribe to its MSN service), coupled with AOL’s announced willingness to play ball for bucks, raises slippery questions. If AOL is to use IE instead of its own Netscape browser for the next seven years, but IE will not change outside the Longhorn OS, will AOL users be stuck with IE6 until 2010? (IE6 was released in the year 2000.)
Will AOL continue to develop Mozilla/Netscape, using the cash it got from Microsoft to create a browser that is superior to the outdated one its AOL members must use? Or will it dump Netscape at fire sale prices after having cut a deal that lowers Netscape’s value by further diminishing its market share?
If AOL abandons Netscape, will Mozilla keep going? If so, will Windows users who do not upgrade to Longhorn switch to Mozilla (or Opera), or will they keep using the current version of IE6 for the foreseeable future? If they do that, will web development methods freeze? What happens to CSS3 and XHTML 2 if the bulk of web users (including AOL users) “standardize” on a year 2000 browser for the next three to seven years?
These are the questions CNET and other news organizations – and you – should be asking. :::
Gettin’ fuzzy wid it
This week at Meet the Makers: Brian Alvey interviews Darby Conley, creator of the popular daily comic strip Get Fuzzy, about “the life and deadlines of a syndicated cartoonist, plans for a Get Fuzzy movie, the bizarre requests he gets from fans, and the color of money.” Meet the Makers is a series of one-day events for creative people in a technical world. Between meatspace events, Meet the Makers conducts in-depth, online conversations with designers, developers, movers and shakers, like Jeremy Allaire and Marty Neumeier. :::
30 May 2003 :::
5 pm | 4 pm | 8 am est
AOL to AOL Netscape: drop dead
Speaking of monopolies, America Online has agreed to drop its suit against Microsoft in return for cash and the privilege of keeping IE as the default AOL browser. As AOL owns Netscape, one wonders how the deal will affect competition and innovation in the browser space. A skeptic might be led to believe that AOL bought Netscape not to own or develop a browser, but as a sacrificial lever to squeeze Microsoft for dough. Mr Ian Hickson takes a particularly dim view of the deal, as do many Mozillans, and we can only imagine what is running through the minds of some Netscape folks.
Meanwhile, even though the corporate owner of Netscape has committed itself to increase IE’s market share, Microsoft has announced that it will no longer make a standalone version of Internet Explorer: “As part of the OS, IE will continue to evolve, but there will be no future standalone installations. IE6 SP1 is the final standalone installation. ... Legacy OSes have reached their zenith with the addition of IE 6 SP1. Further improvements to IE will require enhancements to the underlying OS.” :::
To protect and serve
The FBI Has Been Reading My Diary: “Two men who appeared to be FBI agents” showed up at Chapel Hill High School to grill teenager Erin Carter over a “suspicious” phrase she’d written in her weblog. Carter’s blog was a typical teenage journal, intended to be read by a handful of her school pals. Now it’s offline. Hat tip: Chris van Hasselt. :::
FCC no evil
As we’ve mentioned here before (1, 2), the FCC is preparing to relax regulations that prevent powerful monopolies from controlling American media. Though the implications are profound, American newspapers and broadcast and cable news outlets have given the story almost no play. It’s as if they’re afraid to talk about it.
Jeff Wilkinson has informed us that the FCC is soliciting opinion on the subject via its website through the close of business today (i.e., for about another hour). Before posting this comment, we attempted to verify the FCC’s interest by submitting our opinion via the “ECFS Express” comments button on the FCC’s site. Alas, our every attempt timed out. (We tried with several different browsers on both the Mac and Windows platforms at various times.) If you are lucky enough to get through in the next few minutes, after clicking the “ECFS Express” button, select Broadcast Ownership – Docket 02-277 (Limits the number of radio/TV stations & other media one can own). Good luck.
“We must put all our Word documents online.” Eight words that strike fear into the hearts of web professionals everywhere.
Microsoft Word is the default tool of businesses and organizations, and it includes a button to convert documents into HTML. But the HTML Word generates is littered with invalid, proprietary tags and attributes that are included, not to facilitate web publishing, but to ensure that Word docs and Word-generated HTML cannot be edited by non-Microsoft programs and will not display correctly in non-Microsoft browsers. It is the bane of web agencies, freelancers, and in-house professionals charged with the maintenance of large content sites with low budgets.
Textism’s Word HTML Cleaner cleans up the junk HTML that Microsoft Word generates, removing proprietary crud while leaving basic formatting and typographic entities (like curly quotes) intact. Created by Textism’s Dean Allen, the online tool is available for your use absolutely free. This product is a life saver, and although it is offered free of charge, you might want to slip a buck or two into Mr Allen’s virtual tip jar.
Yesterday, Textism went offline for a while, and that was scary indeed. It was especially scary for web pros who need to publish Word docs and lack the expertise to deploy XSLT or the budget for a standards-compliant content management system. A couple of bucks for Mr Allen, though, ’most anybody can afford.
Besides using Word Cleaner, the other thing web pros can do is ask their colleagues who write Word documents to use standard headings that map to (X)HTML h1, h2, and h3 headlines, instead of using “MyFunkyStyle3” or similar constructions.
If structured markup is one key to the longevity and accessibility of the organization’s site, it is easier to get there when the document being converted maps to standard structural elements than when it does not. :::
Segment: here’s looking at you
In Wednesday’s Report, we mentioned Segment Publishing in relation to the Basefield design remix competition. Segment is an Australian web hosting company founded by Jeremy Bogan, brother of Daniel (Waferbaby) Bogan, and as you might expect from such lineage, the site is a wonderful example of deceptively simple, understated, elegantly minimalist design. Some designers think more is more, but we’ve always believed one essence of design was knowing what to leave out. Segment knows. The site is also a fine example of CSS layout and simple, structural XHTML. For a good time, View Source: the site pastes your IP address into its source and asks what you’re looking at. :::
Return of the son of Quick Picks
We are working hard on many projects but taking time to enjoy Strongbad’s mail, Kapowaz’s 4.0 public beta, and Apple Matters, and to read one of the only American journalists who is willing to discuss the possibility of an upcoming fiscal crisis that might destroy many social programs in the U.S., and that might be the result of deliberate engineering on the part of a powerful fringe group. Oops, that was a bit political. Sorry. Read the editorial and see what you think. :::
28 May 2003 :::
1 pm | 11 am est
Despite its author’s protests (“I am not a writer, artist, or photographer”), Dawn Mikulich’s A Life Uncommon is a fascinating, elegantly designed, content-rich personal site. Among its offerings is a downloadable Amelie Effect Photoshop action that lends even ordinary snapshots some of the magic of the film Amelie, as can be seen in this photo at twoeyes.org.
Another day, another color picker: Kohaistyle’s Quick Color widget is fun to use and works well.
Basefield’s design remix competition offers nifty prizes (including a year’s free hosting courtesy of Segment Publishing). Winning works will be sold online, and 80% of the profits will be donated to Positive Women, an Australian charity that supports women and children. The judges include Karen Ingram, Jemma Gura, and many other digital artists of note.
Like iStockphoto, Germany’s PhotoCase.de allows community members to upload their own images and download other people’s for use in design projects. In viewing the visually striking site, you may notice the use of subtle background patterns (as discussed in the Daily Report of 3–4 May) and the kind of low-contrast, pale-on-pale color scheme that drives some web users batty (but designers are digging it this year).
Corporate lawyers sue poor family living on disability. No further comment.
Despite the sluggish economy, Web Site Optimization’s May Bandwidth Report shows a 1.7% jump in broadband penetration in U.S. homes. Per the Nielsen/NetRatings and the site’s analysis, 35% of wired homes in the U.S. now enjoy a broadband connection.64.55% connect at 56Kbps or less.
Happy birthday to Halcyon Styn! You look mah-velous.
Detter & Co. is a Swedish mergers and acquisitions company with an elegant, HTMLMinimalist site done entirely in CSS and XHTML by our good friend Pär Almqvist, who also wrote “Fragments of Time” for A List Apart back in 2000.
Brian told us about this site over a week ago: StrangeBanana generates random web page designs implemented via CSS. Each time you visit or reload, you get a different layout. Most of them are ugly – they are random designs – but the concept is interesting and the execution works. :::
23 May 2003 :::
7 pm | 6 pm est
A rollover effect on a paragraph
This one is so subtle you may not realize at first just how different it is: as you move your cursor over a paragraph, every link in that paragraph undergoes a hover effect. How is this done and why would you do it? The brilliant Stuart Robertson explains, in “The Search for the Missing Link.” (Hint: it’s done with CSS, you’d do it to make your text more accessible, and it works in Mozilla browsers, Opera 7, and Safari.) :::
Best CSS tabs ever
In the past couple of years, we’ve seen CSS used to simulate tab navigation over and over again. But never like this. Kalsey’s CSS tabs with submenus offer beautiful tab navigation, each tab with an associated submenu, and all of it accomplished using only CSS and nested, unordered lists. Also, as at zeldman.com, the markup does not change from page to page; “you are here” highlighting is adjusted by smart CSS rules. Love it. Wanna steal it. And that’s okay with Kalsey, who encourages visitors to use his code and adapt it as needed. (Also from Kalsey: Button Maker.) :::
Reading for a rainy afternoon
Opera and PNG
In yesterday’s discussion of PNG and petitions, we reported that Opera 7/Win did not support PNG transparency on MacRabbit’s CSSEdit Product Page. This was true in our testing, but apparently the problem was not with Opera but with our testing setup: Connectix Virtual PC running Windows XP Professional inside a Titanium Powerbook Mac running OS X 10.2.6, viewed on an Apple Cinema Screen.
Readers pointed out that Opera has handled PNG transparency correctly since at least Opera 5.0 (reader-supplied screen shot; Opera 6.0 spec sheet). This suggests that there are limits to VirtualPC’s accuracy. It also emphasizes that IE/Win is alone among modern browsers in its lack of true support for the 1995–96 PNG image standard.
VirtualPC is a Windows operating system that runs on a virtual drive inside Mac OS. We use it for all our cross-platform design testing, and this is the first time we’ve encountered such a flaw. Your mileage may vary. :::
DTDs and ducks in a row
We wrote “Fix Your Site With the Right DOCTYPE” in part because the W3C had never published a complete and accurate listing of valid DTDs. Last month, W3C’s Karl Dubost corrected that long-standing omission. Bookmark and remember the W3C’s official list of valid DTDs. Then head over to DevEdge for Tristan Nitot’s “The Business Benefits of Web Standards.” Which you’ve probably already read but we had neglected to call to your attention. :::
22 May 2003 :::
12 noon est
Thank you, thank you, thank you
A petition to include true PNG support in IE for Windows has accrued thousands of signatures, and we urge you to add yours. The Portable Network Graphics (PNG) image format has been kicking around since 1995 and became a W3C standard in 1996. It was created to provide an open alternative to the proprietary GIF format after Unisys (who created GIF) announced that they would charge anyone who used GIF a royalty fee. (Unisys sprung this announcement as the web was beginning to take off, when GIF was the only image format that worked in early visual browsers. They do indeed charge a royalty to any company that displays or exports GIF images. For instance, in order to export GIF images from Photoshop, Adobe must pay a fee.)
If PNG were merely royalty-free, that would be compelling enough. But PNG supports true alpha transparency, whereas GIF “transparency” is limited to a single channel. If your image contains antialiased (smooth) type, GIF images produced in Photoshop can fake transparency by matching edge colors to the background color of your page. But if your background color changes (after a site-wide redesign, or via a user-selectable style switcher like the one we use here), the “transparent” parts of your GIF image will clash with the new background color. The same is true for drop shadows or any other soft-edged elements that abut transparent areas.
While limitations are part of the discipline of design, and especially of web design, it is a pity to be denied use of a smart standard format created eight years ago, and supported in almost every browser except IE for Windows. Mozilla and its children (including Netscape 6+ and Camino) support true PNG transparency. So does Safari for Mac OS X. And so does IE5/Mac, which we believe was the first to do so. But no version of IE for Windows supports PNG transparency, even though Microsoft promised to support it back in the days of IE4.
For an outstanding example of what PNG can do, visit MacRabbit’s CSSEdit product page using Netscape 7 (any platform), Safari (Mac OS X), or IE5/Mac. As you scroll down the page, content you’ve already read scrolls up behind a PNG with true transparency, creating a multi-layered translucent effect that should make any HTML wrangler whistle with admiration. (In Opera 7/Win, the page scrolls correctly, but true PNG transparency is not supported. In IE6/Win, not only is support missing for PNG transparency, but the entire layout looks like it was put through a Mixmaster because of spotty CSS support in IE. But that’s a whole ‘nother problem...)
For another example of the power of PNG, visit Panic’s Audion faces gallery with an appropriately capable browser. Click any thumbnail (try Fat Hip Hop or Light Alloy Ultra) and a PNG image will appear on top of the existing page. Drag this image anywhere you like; as the color behind it changes, the transparency remains true – no ugly halos caused by non-matching edge pixels. With Light Alloy Ultra, you can actually see the page’s contents through the “tinted glass” of the MP3 skin. Duuuude! Panic’s Audion faces page has been around since 2000 or so.
On The Daily Report front page, we use the Fahrner Image Replacement method to swap out different header graphics as you load alternative style sheets.
On landing pages (like World Tour) and anywhere we need to include a graphic that is not perfectly rectangular, we avoid GIF fringing and haloing by using bitmapped (non-antialiased) fonts and limiting ourselves to shapes (such as the 45 degree angle) that we can draw one pixel at a time, with no soft antialiased edges. In a very real sense, the limitations of the GIF format have dictated the visual style of this site.
True transparency is out there, and it’s supported by almost all modern browsers. IE/Win should get on board. Do us all a favor, and sign the petition. :::
Cleaning out our closet
While preparing for our wedding and taking care of client business, we let some worthwhile links pile up over the past few days. Time to flush the cache:
Our daily tour de blogs now includes Drew McLellan’s All In the <Head>. Drew is a developer, author, and co-leader of the WaSP’s Dreamweaver Task Force.
“If you want to be in Google, you gotta be on the Web.” If by some fluke you missed this DaveNet entry, read it now.
Vertigo Then and Now: Before and after images of San Francisco locations used in Hitchock’s 1958 film masterpiece.
Crafting promotional copy for his new, all-CSS, all-XHTML business site, Blue Archer Media, made Michael Barrish feel deep shame. We can relate. Promoting your own work is deeply mortifying. Some people cannot bring themselves to do it at all, and they end up asking if you’d like fries with that. A few people seem to promote themselves as naturally as Barnum. We envy those bastards.
In anytime otherworldly westbound demagogue, it wounded thermometer subsume of interactive publicity debating andorra 1206 newscast heap. More of the same is available via crummy.com.
More closet cleaning to come soon. :::
19 May 2003 :::
1 pm est
On 28 June 2003, Carrie Bickner and Jeffrey Zeldman will be married in a small ceremony in New York City. :::
16 May 2003 :::
6 pm | 5 pm | 2 pm est
The Daily Report brand ID header image has changed in this site’s default (bleached) layout. Depending on your browser, you may need to reload this page.
5 p.m. Daily illustration removed from this entry. Looks better without it. This may be the end of daily illustrations. With the new bleach header, they don’t seem to be needed any more. :::
FCC deadline nears
In any other western democracy, it would be the subject of intense public debate and 72pt newspaper headlines. But this revolution is not being televised, and even the best newspapers barely give it a (column) inch.
As we noted 11 days ago, the FCC is about to overturn laws preventing unilateral ownership of mass media. The existing rules promote localism and diversity. They are the very embodiment of the FCC’s mission and charter. Yet the FCC is almost certain to roll over and give the media conglomerates what they ask. If it does, one or two big companies will control what you and your family can read, watch, or listen to.
There is still time to tell your representatives how you feel about the hijacking of public airwaves by a few powerful corporations. But there is not much time. Short of a miracle, the FCC will “deregulate” American mass media on 2 June 2003. :::
Creating Flash files in Illustrator
Adobe offers a fine mini-tutorial on the niceties of exporting SWF files from Illustrator. There are also tips on working with PDFs in Illustrator, and moving files between Illustrator and Photoshop. :::
An iTunes of IT?
O Canada! O Britannia!
Designing With Web Standards hit a pre-release Amazon Sales Rank of 20 overnight at Amazon Canada and as of this writing is ranked 88 out of the thousands of books available. Canadians can buy DWWS in combination with Eric Meyer on CSS, saving CDN$37.50 on the total package (which is good, because Canadians pay too much for American books).
Designing With Web Standards is now available at Amazon UK, where it is enjoying a pre-release sales rank of 177, and where it can be ordered in combination with Joe Clark’s excellent Building Accessible Websites for extra savings on both. :::
15 May 2003 :::
3 pm | 1 pm | 11 am | 10 am est
Designing With Web Standards has left the printers and is en route to a store near you. Additional banner sizes are being added for those who wish to promote the book from their sites. Amazon’s page says the book has not yet been released. That’s because it takes a few days for Amazon’s records to update. The book has attained an Amazon Canada sales rank of 89 (!) in spite of being listed under the wrong title. :::
82nd Annual Art Directors Club winners
Winners of the 82nd Annual Art Directors Club Awards, selected from over 13,000 entries worldwide, will be shown in four traveling exhibitions, and will be documented in the hardcover book, Art Directors Annual, No. 82. Among the winning entries were the Theban Mapping Project (Second Story, Portland, OR; gold), “Linux Hero” (Ogilvy Brasil; gold) and Fly Guy (Trevor Van Meter, Greenville, NC; gold). We were honored to serve on the panel of judges. A fancy dinner requiring the purchase of new clothes will be held in the Art Directors Club’s NYC gallery early next month to show the work and honor its creators; said dinner is open to the public. :::
400 Helens agree (survey results – free)
Meet the Makers asked over 400 designers and developers what platform they work on, which HTML editors and graphics programs they use, which non-PC platforms they build sites for, which server side languages or technologies and what content management systems they use, whether they’ve begun working with web services (and which ones, if so), which web traffic reporting software they favor and which search engine, with whom they register domains, and more. The respondents were pre-qualified professionals who’d attended the last two Meet the Makers live events. Their answers shine a light on what people in this industry are doing and not doing. The survey results are available absolutely free when you sign up for Meet the Makers’s weekly news (which is also free). :::
In a sudden creative burst, the W3C has posted CSS3 modules that provide mechanisms for controlling opacity(!), placing annotations alongside base text, and handling web text in richer ways generally (for instance, by supporting horizontally and vertically aligned glyphs). There is also a new CSS TV profile, along with two CSS3 working drafts on replaced content and speech modules. :::
Alas, poor Yorick
One of our favorite sites is no more. The Hivelogic Narrative has ceased publication. It wasn’t the fanciest or most popular independent site on the web, but its understated design and writing style possessed charms that will be missed. Recently, on its pages, creator Dan Benjamin wrote one of the most moving, honest, and anxiously amusing accounts of long-term unemployment we have read anywhere.
Each time you visited the site, you were greeted by a different branded header graphic: a digital sleight of hand accomplished via the author’s homespun PHP-based image rotation script. Each image was sweet in its own right; the ever-changing series delivered a cumulative branding effect over the course of repeated visits. We visited every day just to see what fresh image would greet us. Nevermore.
Hivelogic is survived by its author’s software site.
Independent web publishers are under no obligation to produce their sites forever. Life happens. The end of life happens. Whatever Dan Benjamin’s reasons may be for discontinuing Hivelogic, we respect his decision – but we mourn the loss.