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Designing With Web Standards

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Recent ALA: Night of the Image Map. CSS Design: Creating Custom Corners and Borders. Retooling Slashdot With Web Standards II.

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The Daily Report

25 June 2003 :::

7 pm | 6 pm est

Midnight in the garden

Midnight in Central Park. Two couples on a bench. After forty days and forty nights of rain, summer has come suddenly. Above the park’s dark sleeping treetops glows the golden apparition of the city. The Plaza Hotel, the Essex Hotel, lit like movie marquees. Then trees, then dark duck pond. The two couples, tired, smiling, nearly silent. Each knowing it is time to leave. None wanting to be the one to say so. :::

To err

Errors in the first edition of Designing With Web Standards have been posted on the mini-site. Few in number, they are being corrected as the book goes into its second printing. :::


Coudal Partners presents Summer Reading 2003. :::

24 June 2003 :::

11 am est

Wedding week

We’ve returned from the wonderful HighEdWeb conference in Rochester, New York, and are heading into the final days of Wedding Week. Besides last-minute wedding stuff, there’s a metric ton of last-minute business stuff to handle. Postings may be less frequent than normal, and we may merely allude to some topics we would otherwise cover in depth. :::

Safari 1.0

While we were flying home from Rochester, Apple released Safari 1.0. We downloaded it. We like it. No major surprises so far. As we had hoped and urged (for reasons discussed in Designing With Web Standards), Safari’s default font size now matches that of other Mac and Windows browsers including IE/Win, IE/Mac, Mozilla, Opera, Netscape, and so on. This should encourage keyword and ems-based text sizing methods. The browser remains peppy, seems to display most well-made CSS layouts correctly, and rarely encounters scripting problems unless the developers have gone out of their way to build an IE/Windows-only site. Some areas need improvement (support for the title attribute has a long way to go), but Apple’s engineers are aware of these problems and the open dialogue with lead developer Dave Hyatt is both reassuring and refreshing. :::

Supremes blow it: bad filters are here to stay

The Supreme Court has upheld a federal law requiring U.S. libraries to install web filtering software or lose their funding. Two years ago in A List Apart, Carrie Bickner explained why this is a terrible idea. The American Library Association agrees.

In theory, the law shields minors from obscene content. The trouble is, filtering software is notoriously inaccurate, blacklisting innocent sites while missing others that are truly foul. (Some filtering software also blacklists along political lines.) Once your site is wrongfully blacklisted, it is practically impossible to get it whitelisted again. And because many filtering programs share their lists, if one flawed program decides your site is obscene, five other filtering packages will also blacklist it.

Famous examples of filtering flubs include blocking access to women’s health sites because they include the word “breast.” has been blacklisted by most filtering software programs almost since its inception. If you’re teaching yourself web design, and using a library’s network, you will likely be unable to view this page. Carrie’s ALA article also includes the example of Oregon Republican Jeffrey Pollock’s congressional campaign site, which was blocked because (unknown to Pollock) it shared a server with a pornography site.

Alas, like many other U.S. public institutions, libraries have already lost much of their funding and are cutting essential services and staff. They cannot afford to lose more funding. So in spite of widespread librarian opposition, most libraries will be forced to comply with this well intended but flawed law. Who will be most hurt? Those who are always most hurt by bad laws: working people and the poor. :::

21 June 2003 :::

weekend edition

Pre-wedding jitters

There’s a tradition that just before a wedding things go wrong.

Our minister seems to have disappeared: we’re unable to reach him by phone or email, and the event is a week away. Probably he’s at a retreat, or taking a short vacation, but frightening scenarios color our thoughts as our efforts to contact him meet with silence.

Then too, Carrie and I leaving for an out-of-town conference tomorrow. Ordinarily this would be a fine thing, but a week before our wedding it feels absurd. It also interferes with a third problem that has cropped up.

Our shower is broken. The super and the handyman were unable to fix it. The handyman said we’d need an engineer to come in and knock down the walls. Our guests begin arriving on Thursday. We think they’ll expect walls, not holes, and privacy, not a team of engineers.

Monday we’re at the conference; Wednesday and Thursday I’m at all-day client meetings. So the engineers will have to come in, do their work, and clean up after themselves on Tuesday. We will have to pull teeth, jump through hoops, and bribe officials to get the required services performed well and quickly and on the day we need them done.

I just want to get married. :::

Dot net clarification

I work with backend coders but I’m a frontend guy. I debated posting anything about .NET, because, after all, I’ve never worked with it – I only know what I’m told by people who do. I revised my post three times after publishing it. The first version started an uproar in the forums at YayHooray. My point is limited to this: in the 21st century, web tools should create compliant markup. If .NET is wonderful except in this one area, then that one area needs to be fixed. If developers can only coax valid markup out of some of .NET’s tools by overriding their rendering methods, then those tools are interfering with the product’s usability and posing an unnecessary challenge to the interoperability that everyone, including Microsoft, agrees is key to the web’s continued health. Hopefully Microsoft has noticed that some developers are upset with this aspect of .NET, and will act to fix it. :::

20 June 2003 :::

6 pm | 2 pm | 9 am est

Here we go again: .Net and standards

Mails we’ve received from developers in the public and private sectors, forum discussions, and recent Splorp posts all complain that .NET’s built-in tools and controls generate invalid XHTML and CSS. The workaround? Don’t use the built-in tools and controls. But those tools and controls are part of .NET’s strength as a platform.

.NET is Microsoft’s platform for web services, among other things. It derives it power from XML, C#, and ECMA standards. A product based on open standards should support related standards, not break them. As a W3C member, Microsoft knows better. Last year Microsoft contributed an HTML test suite to the W3C precisely because the company knows how important good semantic markup is to the health of the web. (The test suite was presented on behalf of Microsoft, Openwave Systems, and AOL, and was additionally reviewed by Opera and The Web Standards Project.)

You are not helpless. You have a choice of development platforms. You also have power by virtue of being a customer. Despite its compliance problems, .NET may be right for you. If you work at a big company and use .NET, you can leverage your purchasing power to persuade Microsoft to do the right thing: “We want to keep using your product across our enterprise, but we need you to address these web standards problems.” :::

Since1968 interview

Web application developer and computer book author Marc A. Garrett interviews Jeffrey Zeldman about Designing With Web Standards, keeping it fresh, and moving it forward. ::: is a free online library of over 5,000 corporate logos in Adobe Illustrator format. Whether this is legal or not, we can’t say. But it might come in handy if your corporate client sends you a small, crummy GIF image when you request original vector artwork. The large archive is organized alphabetically and includes a fast Search function. You may preview any logo before downloading.

Update: Reader Eric Stoller has informed us about Logotype Free, another great Russian-hosted logo repository, also of dubious legal standing, and with a frightening 75,000 logos available. :::


Bongo11 combines pixelicious animation with interactive games. Have some fun. Hoogerbrugge continues to offer amusing bits of surrealism in a minimalist setting that supports the artist’s clean illustrational style. :::

Bomb shelter beats

If J. Edgar Hoover’s cocktail hour had a soundtrack, it probably included this 1965 recording. Over a reverberant bed of lush pluckings, a young Mike Wallace extolls the virtues of the Zenith 2G Stereophonic System with Micro-Touch Tonearm. Dig that stere-ere-ereo separation! A must for any audio exotica fancier. Hat tip: Swingin’ Jim Heid. :::

Flash, CSS, and content

Designer Michael Pick surveys excellent recent Flash work and draws interesting conclusions about how the choice of technologies (Flash or CSS/XHTML) affects visitor expectations and freshness of content. :::


On Monday the 23rd, Carrie and oneself will speak at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Fourth Annual HighEdWeb Conference. Additional speakers include rich media accessibility dude Andrew Kirkpatrick of WGBH. :::

No can do

Between congratulations on the upcoming nuptials (the wedding is 28 June) and comments or questions about the book, our mailbox is ready to burst. If you’ve written, we thank you. If you’ve heard back, it’s a minor miracle. We sincerely regret that we can’t respond to every note. :::

17 June 2003 :::

1 pm est

Interview central

Published this morning, Part Two of Meet the Makers’s A Conversation With Jeffrey Zeldman covers “Zeldman’s career leading up to the web, online storytelling, his tools-of-the-trade and survivor guilt, as well as his most popular creations, A List Apart and” Also today, in the WebReference newsletter, Andy King interviews “Jeffrey Zeldman on Cause Campaigns.” We try not to clutter our front page with too much of this stuff. Then again, nobody reads Sid our press agent’s blog, so we are occasionally obliged to self-pimp in this fashion. Additional interviews plus book reviews are listed on the DWWS mini-site’s Press page. :::

16 June 2003 :::

3 pm | 11 am est

ALA 158: Accesskeys – Unlocking Hidden Navigation

In Issue No. 158 of A List Apart, For People Who Make Websites: All your favorite applications have shortcut keys. So can your site, thanks to the XHTML accesskey attribute. Accesskeys make sites more accessible for people who cannot use a mouse. Unfortunately, almost no designer uses accesskeys, because, unless they View Source, most visitors can’t tell that you’ve put these nifty navigational shortcuts to work on your site. In “Accesskeys: Unlocking Hidden Navigation,” Stuart Robertson unlocks the secret of providing visible accesskey shortcuts. Dig in and have fun.

Many have asked when ALA will provide an RSS feed. It will do so as soon as we finish redesigning the site. The old design is tired and unattractive, and less usable than it ought to be, in part because the old architecture points to the wrong things and does not point to the right things. All of this will be fixed soon. :::

W3C needs you

A few days back, The Daily Report commented on the unhelpful error message language of the W3C’s free online CSS and Markup validation services. (We also wrote to the group responsible for the development of these services; although their resources are few, they welcome and encourage your comments.)

Our pals Olivier Thereaux and Karl Dubost at W3C tell us that lack of manpower is the single greatest impediment to improving the W3C validation services. The CSS validator is developed in Java; it is handled by one W3C member (Phillippe Le Hegaret) and one volunteer (Sijtsche de Jong). The markup validator is crafted in Perl by three underappreciated volunteers: Terje Bless, Nick Kew, and Ville Skytta.

If you want to do something for web standards, and you have the time and technical knowledge, you can help the W3C improve these free, essential products. Download the markup validation service source code or the CSS validation service source code and be part of the solution. :::

Worth your time

Typorganism presents a series of creatively engaging visual experiments designed in Flash: check “Visual Composer” and “Good News, Bad News.” XPAIDER offers free bitmap fonts in a clean-edged presentation from the same stylistic school as K10k and GUI Galaxy, but with its own sharp charm. (Not charming at all: XPAIDER blocks Netscape 7 and Mozilla, advising would-be visitors to use “IE5.5.” The site works fine in Safari.)

Pixeltable Studios has redesigned beautifully in CSS. Design Matters discusses the virtues of white space and the basics of fonts, color, and alignment – and unlike some online design tutorials, Design Matters’s stuff looks as good as it reads. Swedish pop bands will bring tears to your eyes.

Emilio Vanni’s JnkMail is a well designed personal blog and portfolio. SimpleBits offers yet another take on the quest to replace 10K of junk code and GIF fragments with a few lines of structured markup and CSS: its CSS Mini Tabs are sweet.

Asterisk has launched a conversation about the use of weblogs for marketing and PR. CreativePro’s Chuck Wegner explains how fonts really work in Mac OS X. Linked from everywhere else, but you may have missed it anyway: Martha’s New Digs. (People can be so cruel.) Inspired by ours, Andy King launches a banner campaign on behalf of his superb book, Speed Up Your Site. Spiderweb Studios offers a small but nice collection of downloadable desktop backgrounds. :::

More IE5/Mac perspectives

Our friend Tantek, father of the Tasman rendering engine, contributor to the CSS and HTML working groups, and inventor of the Box Model Hack, describes how he found out the product he gave three years of his life to had been cancelled. Tantek also links to third-party posts discussing IE5/Mac’s demise.

Eric Meyer explains the benefits of innovations IE5/Mac introduced, all of which helped the cause of web standards, and still do: no matter what browser or platform you favor, much of this stuff probably found its way from IE5/Mac into your browser of choice. (Which is why we get a little nuts when people who don’t know the history put IE5/Mac down.)

Interestingly, we may still get standalone IE5/Mac upgrades for a while. Microsoft will release IE 5.2.3 for OS X later today, claims the Mac News Network. :::

Conspiracy theory

Dave Winer puts the death of IE5/Mac into context, concluding “It took [Bill Gates] ten years to erase the web as a threat. It’s done now. He owns it, it’s in the trunk (I know you don’t like to hear this), it’s locked, and they’re driving it off a cliff into the ocean.”

The timing of recent events bears out Dave’s thesis, at least as far as Microsoft’s intentions are concerned. The U.S. government found Microsoft guilty of having criminally abused its monopoly power to crush competing Internet-based businesses. Yet the government did nothing about it. The AOL lawsuit posed a problem for Microsoft; so Microsoft bought off AOL. Only after AOL took the money did Microsoft quietly let slip the news that it intends to kill its Mac and Windows browsers. (And in fact, we now learn, some eighteen months ago a few Microsoft marketers told a designer friend that the company intended to kill its own browsers once all the legal hubbub died down.)

By its recent actions, Microsoft seems to believe that if consumers want the Internet, they will use the next version of Windows to access Microsoft-based web services and MSN content, and to download XBox patches. And some consumers will do just that. But consumers have a choice.

By its recent actions, Microsoft has also made dupes of its employees who contributed to web standards. In light of recent news, it appears the company tolerated these employees’ activities because they pacified the developer community.

Yet regardless of Microsoft’s intentions, those standards did make it into all recent browsers and the availability of browsers that commonly support CSS1, XHTML, some of CSS2, and the DOM is changing the way designers and developers create websites. And that will not stop. So long as we design with standards, we and the end-users on whose behalf we toil will continue to have a choice. :::


Although it works fine in our copies of Mozilla, several readers have told us about a problem when viewing our site in that browser. One reader did something about it. Bugzilla Bug 209217 describes the bug, which has now been confirmed by Mozilla Quality Assurance engineers, and will hopefully be fixed soon. :::

Previously in The Daily Report...

IE5/Mac, R.I.P.