Since August, 2001. Surely it can’t last…
Sunday, March 31, 2002 ↓
In How to Learn Swedish in 1000 Difficult Lessons, Francis Strand reflects on how despite Sweden being a pretty secular country, Easter … is a four-and-a-half day affair. I know. I left there last week, just as they were running into it. And I fly out there again tomorrow, giving up my Bank Holiday Monday, so that I can be with them first thing on Tuesday when they return from their holiday. Moan, moan, whinge, whinge…
See also Francis’ quickie guide to Swedish pronunciation.
I’ve just been catching up on my reading — the blogs I normally check daily but haven’t had time to this past week — and I noticed that on the same day, Gail Armstrong and Brent Simmons are both quoting Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. What brought that into their heads?
Speaking of Gail Armstrong, I’ve added her OpenBrackets to the list of regulars, filling the space recently vacated by Elise Tomek when she quit Opine Bovine. There’s a suggestion that Elise is out there somewhere incognito, but I haven’t been clever enough to track her down (and just writing to her to ask would be so obvious, wouldn’t it?). Let’s hope she resurfaces again soon.
DO MOST WEB DEVELOPERS REALLY THINK LIKE THAT?
The recent News.com article Web developers wary of AOL switch (which discusses AOL’s likely desertion of IE in favour of a Mozilla-based client for its built-in browser) contains some astonishing assumptions, perhaps based on some astonishing statements from interviewees. See what I mean:
For all practical purposes, the Web has become a one-browser world over the past few years. Web authors mostly write and test their sites to work with one browser: Internet Explorer. If the sites work with Netscape, Opera or other small-time browsers, that’s a bonus, but not one to keep most Web authors late at the office tweaking their code.
I’m not disputing their assertion that IE has become the dominant browser; my server logs (and everyone else’s) attest to that. But I’m stunned that they should think that web authors don’t give a rat’s ass about users of Netscape or anything else. But then maybe this conclusion is understandable, it the article’s writers drew it from the words of one David Averill-Pence:
"If you’re developing, you develop for IE," said David Averill-Pence, a San Diego-based Web developer whose sites include an unofficial site for New Line Cinema’s The Lord Of The Rings movie. "Nobody I know spends a lot of time worrying about whether a site will work with Netscape."
This isn’t the first time I’ve had reason to think that San Diego and its environs must be on another planet; or at least, that some of the residents get too much California sun. If Mr. Averill-Pence is a professional (in the sense of taking people’s money for it) web developer, then he should think black burning shame of himself.
And so should those other worry-free people he knows.
Of course, there have always been, and probably always will be, sloppy, careless or downright incompetent developers whose sites fall apart when viewed in anything but the latest-and-greatest version of Internet Explorer. There are several possible reasons for this:
- They are amateurs. This is not a pejorative remark. Amateurs are people who do something for the love of it, not for payment or compensation. Amateurs are entitled to do what they like, and to get things wrong. If they build sites for their own amusement and that of their friends and relatives, it doesn’t matter if they only work in one browser. Interestingly, though, some of the most beautifully designed, cross-browser compatible sites I know are built by amateurs. And which of us who make all or part of our living from building web sites didn’t begin as an amateur?
- They are ignorant of standards. Just as ignorance of the law is no defence, in the professional world of web development, ignorance of standards is no excuse. More than inexcusable, it is incomprehensible. Why should anyone think themselves entitled to take on a job without knowing the fundamentals that will enable them to do it? Sorry, but if you’re going to exact payment from people for building web sites, then you have a duty to understand your business and to deliver a robust, workable product. Working in Netscape is not merely “a bonus”.
- They are ignorant of the issues. You can quote all the statistics you like; you can say that 80% of the browsing public uses Internet Explorer — hell, you can even claim that 99% of your potential audience uses Internet Explorer. But if your potential audience is a million people, then that other 1% translates into a shitload of folks who aren’t going to see your site if it breaks in their browsers. If your potential audience is ten million, then that’s ten shitloads who just won’t get it. That’s a lot of custom to sacrifice on an e-commerce site, no?
- They just don’t give a damn. David Averill-Pence may or may not belong to one or more of the categories above too, but his remarks clearly put him in this one. Perfection may be difficult or impossible to attain, or its attainment may not be justifiable in terms of the necessary expenditure of time or money. But this “near enough is good enough” attitude is just plain shoddy, especially when “near enough” may be as little as 80% of the potential audience for a site.
By definition, developers who don’t care that a site won’t work in anything except IE can’t give a hoot about wider issues such as accessibility. If American, perhaps they are ignorant of the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 — in which case, see 2. above. In the UK, although there is no express legislative requirement for sites of any kind to be accessible to disabled users, Section 19 of the Disability Discrimination Act could certainly be interpreted in that way, and I’m just waiting for someone to bring a test case. In any event, it looks as if the European Union is considering the matter and will probably hand something down in the form of an EU Directive that will have to be implemented in all the member countries.
When I’m building a site for a client, my first objective for the code and style sheets is that they validate to formal W3C Recommendations. If I start with valid code, I’m well beyond half-way to ensuring compatibility with much more than just my favourite browser. And I haven’t built a site using tables for layout in almost a year, which takes me pretty much the rest of the way in ensuring that sites work in other web-enabled devices as well as graphical browsers. By following those principles, the only tweaking of code I find myself doing is usually to address some failing in a browser to implement a W3C standard properly — which still happens in even the most compliant and best-intentioned browsers.
For example, I’m building a site for these fine folks, and I found Opera version 6 for Windows reacted rather unpleasantly (though not catastrophically) to a perfectly valid, and trivial, piece of CSS — even though the earlier version 5 handled it just fine! In circumstances like these, I could simply say, “To hell with it, the code’s right. Let the browser vendor fix the bug in a future release.” In practice, I’ll try to come up with a workaround in which the code is still valid, but it rectifies the problem in the troublesome browser.
Because it’s my job.
I know there is no guarantee that my pages will be “right” in every browser under the sun. But my aim is to make them accessible and acceptable — and that includes putting in a little extra effort to sort out any deficiencies that I’m actually aware of. And the thing is, I don’t think there’s anything so unusual about my approach, which is why I’m doubtful of the safety of the key assumption in the News.com article. As time goes by, I see more evidence of standards compliance and cross-browser compatibility, not less. I see fewer and fewer of those “Best viewed with Internet Explorer” buttons, and many of those that are still around simply betray the site builder’s own preferences rather than indicate that the site won’t actually work in another browser.
Of course, there’s still along way to go. But I feel that web development is marching in the right direction, and the effect of AOL dropping a highly standards-compliant browser on to so many desktops can only advance the cause. Making sites so they work in the new “AOL browser” would automatically make them work in many others; no additional effort required. The Web will become better for all its users, however they choose to access it.
And any hack who continues to think like David Averill-Pence will look increasingly like a diplodocus.
Footnote. Give Mr. Averill-Pence his due; he practices what he preaches. His home page, which claims “there have been 2943 unique visitors to this site since monday, january 1, 2001” (don’t you just love the authority with which counters talk bullshit — unique, indeed!) doesn’t validate, nor does the related style sheet — and both contain proprietary Internet Explorer markup. He gives the page this health warning: “this site is best when viewed at a screen resolution of 800x600 pixels, in a 16-bit color depth, with microsoft internet explorer. netscape navigator just doesn’t pack the gears to correctly display this, or any other site.”
No mention of which version of Netscape “just doesn’t pack the gears”. It looks just fine in version 6 (as it does in Opera 6). And it’s such a simple (table-based) layout, I reckon I could have got it looking near enough the same in Netscape version 4 with very little work.
His Lord of the Rings site is a dog in Netscape 4, but he didn’t feel the need to put a health warning on the home page this time. And no, it doesn’t validate either. If you don’t care about standards or validation, I really can’t see much point in including a DOCTYPE in your pages, but D A-P did — and a STRICT doctype at that!
Now I don’t want to sound like I’m picking on or poking fun at D A-P. After all, he’s only doing what he says he does: designing for one browser. But I think the guys from News.com might have picked someone more… erm… authoritative to interview. Oh, but then they did: Jeffrey Zeldman. And they called him a gadfly. Twice! That’s when they weren’t misspelling his name. (Zaldman?)
Older material is stashed away under Replays.