According to Slashdot, AOL has started beta testing their new Firefox-based version of Netscape, and it contains a little surprise: the new browser allows you to choose between Gecko and Trident, the rendering engines used in Firefox and IE, respectively.
As usual, I'm ambivalent. The geek in me says 'cool'. The web developer says 'why include the clearly inferior Trident engine at all?' The standards evangelist just says 'aaaaaaaaaaaargh!'
A quick clarification on Molly's otherwise excellent post on Microsoft's fear of updating IE: Mr. Schare doesn't preclude improvements to IE's standards support altogether. Indeed, neither Molly nor Tristan say otherwise — though my slow brain did get that impression at first.
The truth is, Mr. Schare says quite the opposite:
Right now we're aiming for Longhorn for that because we think it affords us the opportunity to say, "Okay a few things have changed, if you want your apps to work with Longhorn you may have to make a few changes." Versus just blanket upgrading the installed base with some new features, and "Oh by the way we broke a bunch of stuff."
That's an encouraging statement, if a bit disappointing. On the one hand, it means Microsoft is going to update IE's standards support. So far as I know, that's the first time we've gotten a commitment to updated standards support from Microsoft. Yay!
On the other, it means we're going to have to wait unitl 2006 for Longhorn to get it, and we're likely going to have to wait much longer for even a slim majority of Windows users to upgrade, because Mr. Schare has effectively ruled out rendering engine improvements before then. Drat.
As for his argument that updating IE would 'potentially break a lot of things', I'm less enthusiastic about
DOCTYPE switching than Tristan is. Think about this: what if Microsoft failed to fix even just a few of the glaring bugs in IE, but did add support for child and attribute selectors? That would break a fair number of my sites,
DOCTYPE switching or no. And whatever else you might say about Microsoft, they most definitely work hard to avoid that sort of thing.
What I do find utterly nonsensical, however, is the idea that IE's support for stadards is deficient only in ways that, if remedied, might cause such breakage. Sure, suddenly changing IE's faulty overflow model might break a site or three. And even fixing something so obviously wrong as the Magik Creeping Text bug might trigger a chain reaction of new bugs and oddly altered behavior throughout the gnarly old Trident rendering engine. But how on earth would adding support for alpha transparency in PNGs break anyone's site?
Back when WaSP was formed, we heard one question over and over from Microsoft developers, team leads and product managers: show us even one site that breaks because IE doesn't support X. This drove some of us into french-fried fits because of course we couldn't show them any broken sites — we were all spending 20% of our time working around those very bugs so our sites wouldn't break, and we were tired of it. That was the whole point!
Well, now the shoe's on the other foot guys. Show me even one site that would break if IE started supporting alpha transparency in PNGs. Show me one site that would break if IE started supporting
position: fixed. Or
hover: on non-link elements. Or
border-spacing. Or generated content. Or. Or. Or. You get the idea.
Mr. Schare might well argue that adding those things might have other, unintended consequences in the rendering engine. Given that the Trident rendering engine is now over seven years old and has suffered considerable entropy, he might also be right. But that's not a case of 'changing the platform' and breaking people's sites because it no longer behaves as they expect. It's simply the risk of introducing bugs by making changes to the code that Microsoft faces — often quite successfully — every time they release any sort of patch or update.
Update: Be sure to have a look at Eric Meyer's thoughts on the matter. With apologies to Molly and Tristan, it's the best-thought-out, best-argued response I've seen to date.
Is Microsoft breaking the web by not updating the IE browser or planning better standards support in any yet-to-appear OS-based browser?
In his article How Microsoft can support CSS2 without breaking the Web Tristan Nitot, who was with the Netscape Evangelism team before its demise, points to an interview in which Gary Schare, Director of Windows Product Management at Microsoft, says:
“We could change the CSS support and many other standards elements within the browser rendering platform. But in doing so, we would also potentially break a lot of things.”
Nitot's article ponders the truth of this, pointing to the use of DOCTYPE switching and sharing some interesting statistics as to how any change to support couldn't really break existing sites.
The lack of proper CSS support in IE remains one of the more serious concerns for web designers & developers who wish to advance their use of CSS and standards-based approaches to building sites.
C|net has a full plate of browser news today, including confirmation of a new Firefox-based release of Netscape and the obligatory litany of IE security flaws (The Register has more).
They've also got a speculative bit on the possibility that Microsoft may update IE via IE's add-on mechanism, and a most interesting piece on the rising demand for Mozilla-based development.
BetaNews reports that AOL has re-started browser development and will be releasing a new version of Netscape based on Firefox.
Users interested in participating in the beta program for he new Netscape can go here and, after entering your AOL/Netscape screen name (or getting one) sign on with registration code prototype1104.
Beautiful browser, wake unto me,
Standards based web sites are waiting for thee;
I struggle with rude browsers throughout the day,
But lulled by your strength the others will pass away!
Beautiful browser, Fox of my song,
List while I woo thee with my code and my word;
Gone shall be the woes of the IE-only throng.
Beautiful browser, awake unto me!
Beautiful browser, awake unto me!
Beautiful browser, surfin' the sea,
Evangelists praise your arrival with glee;
Over our laments a new hope is borne,
That ugly browsers will fade at the bright of this morn.
Beautiful browser, you have captured my heart,
Until as the other, adrift on the sea;
Then will all clouds of sorrow depart,
Beautiful browser, awake unto me!
In his post What can we talk about now?, Andy Clarke notes how far we've come and ponders how much further we can go with web standards.
So is this it? Have we pushed the current crop of browsers as far as they can go? Is Internet Explorer going to hold the web back for the foreseeable future? Should we just rest on our laurels? Are you kidding?
For every standards-savvy web geek reading this, there's at least one non-savvy web geek building sites without adhering to standards in a meaningful way. Until we've shared the wealth and helped our colleagues adopt more modern working practises, it's not browsers like IE6 holding back the web - it's us.
Today's challenge is to befriend a non-savvy colleague and offer to help them get their skills updated. Share with them some of the fantastic resources Andy talks of in his article. Note their response and any points they struggle with, and then write up some clarifying explanations to share online. We can't wait around for browsers to solve our problems - we need to be part of the solution ourselves.
Most of all, we need to keep talking about standards, exploring standards and not get complacent with where we are. There is a tomorrow for the web - and it has standards at its core.
A great many discussions have taken place regarding the sense of elitism in the creation, implementation, and study of web standards. Here's what I've been thinking about that elitist smell that surrounds us, where it comes from, and how we can freshen the air.
The W3C often comes across as an "ivory tower" organization: cold, high, and distant. The W3C's pervasive use of vague language and a complex process system keep it largely inapproachable to the majority of web designers, developers, software engineers, browser developers and any poor sucker who actually wants to implement web standards in his or her day-to-day applications.
But to criticize the W3C goes against my nature as a web standards evangelist. Producing the most significant and influential specifications, recommendations, and activities for contemporary web designers and developers, the W3C is our mother lode and we owe her respect.
I have long objected the fact that comment systems or discussion boards are not made available on the Web Standards Project (WaSP) site to allow for true community discourse.
I've been a member of WaSP since about 2000, and I am proud to serve this organization. Since my time here, I've heard from many individuals that WaSP members and the organization itself are adding to the elitist odor.
But to criticize WaSP goes against my nature as a standards evangelist. Not to mention that even as a prominent member of the organization I'm able to be here, freely mouthing off at will.
I don't disagree that we often come off as arrogant, opinionated, and bitchy. It's our job to have opinions and that's not a bad thing. But I do think that to avoid the dangers of from-the-mountaintop punditry, we must allow for more direct community interaction.
Oh, and the Rock Stars
Oh yeah, there's also the A-listers. Sporting the fragrance of charisma, books, too many public appearances, overly popular blogs and notorious careers we have to ask: egocentric stage whores or true servants to society?
But to criticize Rock Stars goes against my nature. It's just not easy being seen.
Freshening the Air
So help me out with some thinking points regarding elitism and ivory tower concerns.
I've got these so far:
- Don't let the reputation of a few ivory tower holdouts outweigh the good of many cooperative peers
- Advocate in all cases for more efficient communications (blogs, wikis, comment systems, discussion boards)
- improve organization between web professionals of all types (more organizations? Dare I introduce the idea of unions?)
Let me hear your thoughts, and let's let the bad air out.