Web Standards

Standards are necessary; if standards were non-existent, objects could not be bought, one could not switch among Unix systems, no one would speak or understand another, and so on. Thus, standards exist for almost everything, especially computing specifications, including the hypertext markup language (HTML). In fact, the official standard for HTML is available extremely easily, for free, from a well-known organization; so why, then, does no official, stable web browser follow the standard? It is only one simple standard; the browser need not support Java, ActiveX, VBScript, JScript, and so on; a simple supporting of the basic language of the World Wide Web, the hypertext markup language, is all that is necessary!

Is this really a big deal? Simply put, yes, it is a big deal, not because web browsers cannot render web pages, but because no known web browser can render all of a web page. Standards-supporting web developers know this; when was the last time you wished to create a left floating unordered list using HTML 4.0 strict and CSS2, and, after viewing the page in MicroSoft Internet Explorer (MSIE) 4.x and Netscape Communicator 4.x, realize that under Netscape the list is indented but under MSIE it is not. Which one is following the standard, and why can not the other follow, too? Web development has become a mixture of building to the standard and building around browser bugs.

Should you, as an user, care? Yes, I would think you should, considering that if you do not care you may never see a page as it is meant to be. You may find the table of contents to be too far on the left of the screen, or black text on a black background, or text that runs together. This may be claimed by many to be the page author's fault, but, in fact, your own software may be at fault. This is not a problem-between-chair-and-keyboard, this is a problem created by the propriety software company, and we are expected to live with or ignore it. This shall not be the case.

True, others have taken steps to rid hard drives of standards-free software; the Web Standards Project (WSP or WaSP) is a fine example of people forcing companies to follow the rules, and Mozilla is a fine example of the rules being followed; but Mozilla is source-freed and is still extremely unstable. What is needed is a propriety, but money-free, web browser from a major software company for the majority of the population. Apparently, Opera is the closest to standards compliant of all the major web browsers, but this hypertext client comes with a price tag of more than nothing, and thus the freely available web browsers are still being used.

In closing, all I can say is to keep pressuring the companies to develop a high-quality web browser. Tell them to take it slowly and create it correctly; start with HTML 2.0, move to 3.2 and 4.0, then move to CSS 1, then to CSS 2, then to ECMAScript, and finally to XML and XSL. If this can be done, web developers will spend less time working around and more time actually building something useful, such as a text only web site using HTML 4.0 strict and CSS2 with a left-floating table of contents unordered list without indention.

See also:
Web Standards Project
The World Wide Web Consortorium
The HTML 4.0 Standard


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Mike Burns <mike@mike-burns.com>