Buzz Archive: October 2003

Gooey Standards

Microsoft's announcement of their new XML-based GUI language, XAML (pronounced 'zammel'), at their Professional Developers Conference has focused attention on XML-based GUI languages. This is an area that has seen a tremendous amount of activity over the past few years, mostly out of the spotlight. Here's a partial overview of the work done to date.

The W3C's answer to XML-based GUIs is a section of the SVG 1.2 working draft called Rendering Custom Content, also known as SVG-RCC. SVG-RCC specifies how arbitrary XML markup (say, an XForms element) can be transformed on the client into SVG for display to and interaction with the end user. These elements can then be styled using CSS and scripted via the SVG DOM. SVG-RCC is still very much a work in progress. At this time, it does not offer the sort of layout functions available in some other XML-based GUI languages nor does it offer the same range of prebuilt widgets. It also has limitations with regard to the reuse of SVG widgets on multiple, possibly disparate, elements. It does, however, represent one possible way to define the appearance of elements from disparate XML-based markup languages, such as XForms. Using SVG-RCC one could, for example, create a bar graph from an XHTML table.

Perhaps the oldest and best-known XML-based GUI language is the Mozilla Foundation's XUL (pronounced 'zool'). This is the technology used to define the interface for many Mozilla-based projects, including the eponymous Mozilla browser suite, the lightweight Firebird browser, the Thunderbird mail client and the Netscape browser suite. Safari 1.1 has also implemented a tiny bit of XUL. XUL is a markup language for defining the layout of user interface elements. The appearance (colors, borders, etc.) of these elements can be defined either using attributes or via CSS and images, such as PNG. Behaviors for these elements are defined with either interpreted ECMAScript or compiled C++ and interact with elements using the AOM, a superset of the W3C's DOM. Behaviors are attached ('bound') to XUL elements with XBL, a Mozilla technology which has been submitted to the W3C. These bindings are then attached to specific elements using either CSS or the DOM. While XUL makes extensive use of various W3C recommendations, and is in fact based on RDF, it is not itself a W3C recommendation, nor has XUL itself it been submitted to the W3C for consideration (only the XBL portion has been submitted). At present, XUL does not support SVG, XForms, SMIL or other UI-related W3C technologies, though there is no reason it couldn't do in the future. There is, in fact, a project aimed at bringing SVG support to Mozilla, though the effort is still in its infancy.

Microsoft's XAML is the newest entry into the XML-GUI arena, and the one that is most responsible for the recent buzz. It is in fact an integral part of the application development model for the next version of Windows (Longhorn). Since the final release of Longhorn isn't due until 2006, XAML may yet change radically before the final release. XAML is an XML syntax for using Microsoft's new vector-based drawing library, Avalon. Mac programmers will note that Avalon bears some similarity to Apple's Quartz, which is based on PDF and OpenGL. Linux programmers will probably recognize the XML + vectors combination from both the GNOME and KDE desktop environments. None of the technology here is particularly new or unusual. What is (relatively) new is that raw XAML files can be viewed in the Longhorn version of Internet Explorer, sort of like XUL files can be viewed in Mozilla. XAML is used to create instances of ‘canvases’ (drawing areas upon which images, text and widgets are displayed), widgets like buttons and menus or shapes like circles, lines, bezier curves and so on. The initial appearance of these items is defined using attributes, as in XUL and SVG, or with an XAML-specific 'style' element. Behaviors can be defined with any .NET-compatible language (currently C#, VisualBasic.NET or JScript.NET) and are attached to elements either by embedding the code in a CDATA section of the XAML file or by accessing the widget via a tree-like structure similar (but not identical) to the W3C DOM. You can also define your own widgets and the like using a .NET-compatible language and then reuse them (‘instantiate’ them) using XAML. When using prebuilt XAML elements, like menus and buttons, you can view them in one of two ways: by compiling them and running them like any other Windows program, or by loading them into IE/Longhorn. If you use C# to define behaviors for a widget—whether the widget is one of the defaults or one you've created yourself—the widget must be compiled. Likewise, if you wish to run your XAML widget outside the browser, it must be compiled. Whether XAML widgets viewed within IE/Longhorn can use JScript.NET to add behaviors without compilation is, as yet, unclear. So is whether XAML widgets can be embedded in Web pages (with the obvious exception of HTML form elements, which will necessarily be XAML elements in IE/Longhorn) and whether XAML elements so embedded will be scriptable via ECMAScript and the DOM or stylable with CSS. What appears reasonably clear is that XAML eschews W3C recommendations like SMIL, SVG and the DOM in favor of similar—but incompatible—techniques unique to XAML.

How successful XAML will be outside Windows applications is hard to say. Adobe apparently has a plugin for AfterEffects that will produce XAML. Will other vendors follow suit? Steve Maine thinks so. He feels XAML will beat out other technologies because end users don't care about platform independence. He's right so far as he goes: most users don't care that an application works on more than one platform; they only care that it works on their platform. Users of MacOS, Linux, various Unix flavors and even older Windows versions won't be able to use applications that rely on XAML UIs. Judging by the adoption of previous Windows versions, that's going to be a majority of users for a long, long time, even after Longhorn arrives in three years. As Jon Udell points out, that blows a pretty big hole in XAML's utility as a Web technology.

For more comparisons of XML GUI languages, see DonXML's comparison of XAML and SVG-RCC, and Neil Deakin's point-by-point comparison of XAML and XUL.

The three XML GUI languages above represent only a fraction of those available. Others include the Luxor toolkit, XWT, Java GUI Builder, Glade for the GTK+ toolkit used in the GNOME desktop, XML GUI Builder for the KDE Desktop, Laszlo Systems' XML-and-ECMAScript Flash authoring software, Macromedia's Royale Initiative and Kinesis Software's Kinetic Fusion, a Java application that converts Rich Vector Markup Languag, Kinesis' own XML-based vector graphics format, into SVG or Flash and back.


Looking for the ultimate learning resource for CSS, Javascript, and the DOM? What about a remarkably complete listing of current support levels amongst the major browsers? Even a news source devoted to Javascript?

Peter Paul Koch delivers, and how. Launched just today is his brand new QuirksMode, over a hundred and fifty pages of useful and well thought-out documentation that you will find yourself referring to over and over again.

PPK's views on standards, validating, and more specifically the "self-proclaimed caste of bigot priests" mentioned on his explanation page will grate the nerves of zealots everywhere. Perhaps even rightly so, but one wonders if PPK is instead over-balancing in the other direction with such ardent detraction.

Personal views aside, Koch has blessed the world with a wonderful developer's resource that should not go overlooked. QuirksMode offers practical advice for today's web, with a great volume of information readily available from one spot. Share and enjoy!

W3C Calls for Invalidation of Eolas Patent

In the latest bout of activity surrounding the controversial Eolas vs Microsoft case, Tim Berners-Lee, director of the W3C and inventor of the World Wide Web, wrote an impassioned letter to the director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Acting on behalf of the HTML Patent Advisory Group, Berners-Lee urged the USPTO director to first reexamine the Eolas patent, and invalidate it on the grounds of extensive prior art. He maintained that a failure to revoke Eolas' patent would have effects “felt not only by those who are alleged to directly infringe, but all whose web pages and application rely on the stable, standards-based operation of browsers threatened by this patent.”

The New York Times provides additional coverage and commentary (free registration required). Given the impact that the Eolas patent has on the future of an open, standards-driven Web, we here at WaSP anxiously await the results of the W3C's efforts — and will hope for the best.


Why is it that the question you think is stupid is usually the one that everyone else is dying to ask?

So which one is better: HTML or XHTML? Seems simple in the midst of this flurry of acronyms such as XAML and XUL. The W3C wants to help you stop the wind from whirling for just a moment and answer that simple but smart question as to which markup language for the web you should be using today.

CSS-licious Mezzoblue menus

Fellow WaSP Dave Shea has recently implemented an opaque, CSS-driven dropdown menu on his personal site, Mezzoblue. This new menu not only demonstrates the power of style sheets (not a single line of JavaScript was used), but is a perfect example of the kind of progressive enhancement built into standards-based design.

By starting with a foundation of valid XHTML, Dave uses CSS to gradually add layers of presentation to his markup. More standards-compliant browsers will see the full dropdown effect; less CSS-friendly browsers (such as Internet Explorer) will still be able to navigate his site with ease. The end result is a very nicely executed effect, and a perfect example of the power of web standards. Nicely done!

Dumb Browser Sniffing, Microsoft Style

We have mentioned this before: browser sniffing is stupid if you only end up getting it wrong. If you need more proof, try visiting Microsoft's Office section using Firebird 0.6 and you will see this gem:

"Warning: Viewing this page with an unsupported Web browser. This Web site works best with Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.01 or later or Netscape Navigator 6.0 or later. Click here for more information on supported browsers."

Ahem, to borrow the quiz theme from Dan Cederholm, I ask you which of the following is the MOST standards compliant?

  1. IE 5.01
  2. Netscape 6
  3. Firebird 0.6

The answer is c, folks! Will somebody pleeeease tell Microsoft's Office team about this.

Standards/Markup Article Round-up

Some good stuff that I've stumbled across that readers may find of interest. Bzzzzzz.

  • Why Tables For Layout is Stupid - Whoa- that told you! Seriously, although the title of this presentation (from the Seybold 2003 in San Francisco) may seem a bit too admonishing for some, you cannot argue that the content and style of this presentation is absolutely fantastic. I only wish I'd seen this presented for real but, strangely for presentation 'slides', this one stands up on its own.
  • Coding for Easier Redesigns - Mr Zeldman also covers using CSS for flexible site design (and the inevitable subsequent redesigns). If there is one niggle about this article it's that it is Flash and there are is no apparant HTML version available - something that must surely annoy Jeffrey.
  • The Missing <link> in the World Wide Web - Derek Featherstone believes the <link> element in (X)HTML is underused and underachieving, and explains why we should all learn to embrace it like a favorite sweetie-bearing aunt.

Longhorn and XAML

A rumor popped up near the end of last week that Microsoft would be announcing a new markup language for building web applications, comparable to Mozilla's XUL. Today Microsoft made good on the rumor with a few bits and pieces from the distant Windows Longhorn release at its Professional Developer's Conference in Los Angeles.

Specifically, it would appear that this new Application Markup Language (XAML) works in concert with a subsystem code-named Avalon in both a web and operating system environment (see paragraph above figure 2). XAML is XML, according to Microsoft, which brings the desktop to the web, and the web to the desktop in a way we have yet to experience on a large scale.

Which sounds exactly like XUL to a lot of people. While competition is good, concerns have been voiced that Microsoft's XAML brings us back to 1997, and the browser wars of the era, with Mozilla (and Safari) going head-to-head against the Microsoft juggernaut.

Is XAML planned to become an open standard, or another proprietary nail in the coffin of the open web? That ball is in Microsoft's court, and we've got a 3 year long wait until Longhorn. Let's get some answers sooner than that.

Putting The (Big) Cat Among the Pidgeons

So OS X 10.3 is now available, and it looks good to me. Fellow WaSP Mark Pilgrim has already compiled a useful 11-page site detailing all the new features, but there was one thing that struck me about the new OS - and that is the new version of Safari.

Normally, I like to announce new browser updates on Buzz with a URL for you good folk to follow and then download, but I can't do that with Safari 1.1. As it stands currently, the link from the Panther information pages takes you to a page about Safari 1.0. Why? Because version 1.1 is only available with Panther. Just take a moment to let that sink in.

Now, when Microsoft announced that it was cancelling future development on IE, everyone was up in arms. Want a new version of IE? You'll have to wait until the next operating system comes out, mate. People across the web were really hacked off that they would have to buy a whole operating system to get the new browser. Strangely, this is precisely the situation with Safari 1.1 - yet where are the protests?

Now, before you shoot me down in flames let me just say that I am a Mac user, and have OS X (Jaguar) - I'm not a Mac hater by any means, I'm not trying to snipe. But I do find it strange that Apple have not come in for criticism for this in the same way that Microsoft has - especially when the browser has some tantalizing improved support for web standards (like this text-shadow demonstration). We - the Jaguar users - want it too. Heck, we'll probably buy Panther eventually. The browser alone is not enough of a carrot to dangle in front of us to upgrade, but in the meantime can't we get Safari 1.1 on 10.2.*?

About a release for Jaguar users, Dave Hyatt is quoted as saying:

Several trackbacks also ask about Safari 1.1 on Jaguar. As I've mentioned in previous blog entries, I can't comment on future Safari releases.

Well, now that Panther is out I'd love to see something more concrete about this. I'd hate to think that Apple are forcing users to upgrade their OS to get the new browser. I really don't want to think bad thoughts about Apple. Please, Mr Hyatt, tell me something good.

More WaSPs in the Nest

Today, we extend a warm welcome to two new WaSPs, Dave Shea and Ethan Marcotte. Both have done exceptional work for Web standards, and we are really honored to have them join the nest. I'm sure you'll be seeing some great insights and action from both in future weeks and months to come.

He who casts the first stone

WatchFire, who bought out the Bobby accessibility checker last year, is back in the news with a new service called WebXACT, which rolls their old site checking service in with their new accessibility checker. The free online version lets you check single pages for quality, accessibility, and privacy issues; the pay version lets you check your entire site and has some additional features.

When I first visited WebXACT and entered the URL of my personal home page, it was not clear from the UI that it would be recursively retrieving pages based on the links in the entered page. Based on my server access logs, the WebXACT bot appears to lie about its identity (it claims to be MSIE 6), and it does not respect robots.txt while merrily recursing through my links. This means it fell into my spambot trap and was automatically banned, which confused it very much. It always appears to come from, which I unblocked long enough to get an actual report, but which I am re-blocking now until they fix their bot.

The quality report appears to be their old version of Watchfire, which checked for dead links, missing ALT text, missing @width and @height attributes on images, and a few other things. A useful service, to be sure, although simply coding to web standards will catch some of the same errors.

The accessibility report is more problematic. Accessibility checking has always been problematic, since there are some checks that simply can not be automaed. WebXACT appears to be a spruced-up version of Bobby, which was a fine tool for what it did. However, WebXACT appears to share Bobby's main weakness, which is to say that it is still gives scary-sounding false positives on anything it can't verify automatically, with no way for the end user to manually override and say "OK, I checked this one, let's move on". Maybe their pay service has this; I can't tell.

The privacy report checks for the presence of a P3P privacy policy. Many people believe that the P3P model has a number of fundamental flaws, see for example this critique from 2000, and this somewhat more recent critique.

But the main problem with WebXACT is that it does not live up to the rules it purports to require from others. The WebXACT service itself is not even remotely accessible, since it requires Javascript to function. This fails WCAG checkpoint 6.3 ("Ensure that pages are usable when scripts, applets, or other programmatic objects are turned off or not supported"). This is a priority 1 checkpoint. If that sounds bad, you're right. But it gets worse.

I turned off Javascript in Mozilla and the WebXACT home page displayed this warning:

WebXACT may not fully support your browser.

At this time WebXACT requires JavaScript support to operate.

I happened to have my previous report still open in another tab, but it was now next to useless because they use Javascript for all their navigation links within the report. Now that Javascript was turned off, I could not even switch between the tabs within my report, or view linked documentation pages explaining, for example, that I should ensure that pages are usable when scripts, applets, or other programmatic objects are turned off or not supported.

I visited the WebXACT home page in Lynx and did not see the Javascript warning, but when I tried to check a page it got as far as the progress bar page and never progressed.

When WatchFire fixes the accessibility problems in their accessibility checker, I will be happy to re-review it. Until then, I can't recommend it to anyone. I can't put my trust in a tool that doesn't live up to its own rules.

ALA Back from Extended Leave

It would be remiss of us not to mention that WaSP co-founder Jeffrey Zeldman's pet project from days gone by is now back up and a-running - A List Apart lives and breathes, ladies and gentlemen. ALA 3.0 gets a great kick-start with the following articles:

Older articles are currently being ported to the new home, Jeffrey informs us, but all the older articles I tried out appeared to be in the new format - which looks very nice indeed.

Welcome back.

It's Bad Form to be Late

But better late than never, I always say, particularly when mentioning a new W3C official recommendation a week after it's announced. My bad.

XForms 1.0 became an official recommendation on 14 October and is deemed an improvement over HTML for handling electronic forms as it has the ability to separate purpose, presentation and results using XML. HTML has become increasingly limiting for developers and is not as flexible as it might be for smartphones and handheld devices. The W3C sees XForms as the solution and, additionally, it is an open standard as opposed to proprietary web forms technologies offered by Microsoft (InfoPath) and Adobe (PDF). In practical terms, technologies based on XForms allow the the same form to be served up to a PDA, a mobile phone, or desktop computer with identical functionality.

Like any technology, its success is intrinsically linked to the support it receives from the vendors. So far, Adobe, IBM, Novell, Oracle, and Sun have been involded in the development of the standard, but Microsoft abstained as it pursued InfoPath (or XDocs as it was once called). Why am I not surprised by this?

Flash for Flash's sake

Adrian Holovaty points out that ESPN's World Series 100th Anniversary site is a classic example of unnecessary Flash usage. Flash is certainly a popular choice for rich multimedia presentations, and when done right it can produce stunning results. But in this case, ESPN has chosen create the entire site in Flash, badly recreating such basic metaphors as page navigation, with no accessible HTML alternative content. Those without Flash or without the ability to use Flash will have to learn about the World Series somewhere else.

The Old Dinosaur Gets a Makeover

For those who haven't already found out, there are two great pieces of news about Mozilla. First up, there's a new version of the excellent power user-friendly browser - now at version 1.5. Find out about the new features here (no comment from me as I've yet to give it a proper try-out, but the changes to tabbed browsing look promising).

The second bit of good news is that the Mozilla site has had a re-working by Dave Shea (of CSS Zen Garden fame). Dave has teased us about the 'forthcoming project' for a while but today he explains the process in full, and while the makeover is still officially a beta, it is clearly linked to from the home page, so it's no longer a secret.

A note from Dave about markup and validation (before you go and test it out - because you will find errors):

Content was frequently copied & pasted from older documents, so a lot of pages will spit out errors. My templates were okay, so we’ll have to blame the content here. There are a lot of pages to retro-fit, so this isn’t going away any time soon.

As well, the whole XHTML 1.0 and MIME type issue has reared its ugly head. I debated what to do about this at the beginning, and in the end I think chose wrong. HTML 4.01 will probably be the final goal, if for no other reason than to quiet the pedants.

Separation of Presentation and What?

Fellow WaSP Doug Bowman wonders: Are They Really Separated? His thoughtful weblog post offers some interesting points regarding the separation of presentation and “content,” questioning whether the two are really separable at all.

From a markup purist's perspective, the issue isn't about presentation and content, rather presentation and structure. I'd go into a discussion on why this distinction is important, but Eric Meyer has already done it, so I suggest you check out his piece, The Incomplete Divorce.

There Are Standards, and Then There Are Standards ...

What are standards? Well, as far as the WaSP is concerned, 'web standards' are a whole bunch of interrelated standards that form the basis of most of the web pages that you visit every day: HTML/XHTML, CSS, DOM, ECMAScript and so on. These are all documented and owned by the W3C and serve as a reference point for anyone and everyone who wants to conform to the standards. But these are not the only standards ...

There are a whole raft of de facto standards - or perhaps that's not the most appropriate word for them - that are not documented and signed off as being the absolute and unquestionable truth. Sure, there are articles galore that cover the perceived best practices for web design all over the web, but if you were to try to package all these de facto standards together into one document, what would you get? Heidi Adkisson attempted to pull this information together, and you can find a summary of this in her piece at Boxes and Arrows entitled Examining the Role of De Facto Standards on the Web. A quote from the piece reads:

"Surprisingly, I found very little research documenting the frequency of seemingly common (perhaps even standard) design practices such as the left-hand navigation bar, blue underlined links, and top-of-the-page global navigation. I was surprised because as a consultant working with clients, every project seemed to bump up against strongly held beliefs about what was 'standard' on the web. I had my suspicions, but no data, that solutions being put forth as standard were common but by no means employed by all (or nearly all) sites. I wondered: Are de facto standards on the web myth or reality? I decided to investigate."

If you want more detail, the findings have been put to good use - Heidi has created a new site entitled Web Design Practices - Examining Current Design Practices on the Web.

Mobile Graphics Contest, W3C

A Mobile Graphics with Standards contest is currently running at the World Wide Web Consortium.

Announced September 30th, 2003 by the SVG working group at the World Wide Web Consortium(W3C) the SVG Mobile Competition is underway. There is still time to submit entries, though the deadline is November 3, 2003.

The challenge: Create an SVG image entry in SVG or SVGZ (Gzipped SVG) file format, under 30K in file size, and one which also complies to the SVG Tiny Recommendation(January 14, 2003).

The entry could be a greeting card, cartoon, or is open to any creative graphic entry that demonstrates the power of SVG. There is no limit on the number of entries one person may submit.

The prize, a Nokia 3650 tri-band GSM handset.

The W3C will publicly display entries and winner, and will offer several other competitions with varying themes over the next few months. Also see the W3C: Scalable Vector Graphics(SVG) page.

Teaching You How To Float

News from Sydney: Russ Weakley from Max Design tells about a new tutorial to add to the already excellent and much linked-to Listamatic and Listutorial - the Floatutorial. As the name suggests, it illuminates that black art of CSS web design that makes table-free web pages possible by careful use of {float:right} and {float:left;} combined with some other CSS trickery.

Floats are very difficult to master - you need to understand some of the terminology, and particularly how some of the browsers out there get things right and wrong (and boy can they get it wrong). But once you do get it, you will find that unshackling your web pages from <table> layouts becomes so much easier. What these examples do is take an idea ("Floating a scalable drop capital") and show you the before and after, along with the various steps in between. It couldn't be easier.

In addition to the excellent article mentioned above, I'd also highly recommend John Gallant's article in Digital Web Toward a more standards compliant Internet Explorer. Reading this article provided a real Eureka! moment for me, and should sit nicely with the many examples provided in the floatutorial.

Move over David Blaine - this floating business just got much easier!

Standards On The Move

Microsoft and Vodafone are getting their heads together to frame and promote mobile web service standards based around XML. The companies are looking for industry engagement for their plans for greater PC to mobile web convergence. Bill Gates was hauled out for this announcement at the ITU Telecoms World 2003 in Geneva which suggests that this is no small undertaking for Microsoft. Perhaps not as pivotal as Gates' 'Microsoft are going to embrace the Internet' speech that kinda signalled the opening salvos in 'The Browser Wars', but important nonetheless.

Drew Cullen comments in a piece in The Register that "all the major protagonists are agin each other, jostling for position through whatever loose coalition makes best sense at the time. But in public, Microsoft, Sun et al are cordial, nay respectful, in navigating their causes through all those heavily mediated, wearisome Web Standards disputes." It's reminiscent of Microsoft, Netscape and others agreeing on W3C recommendations but going off and doing their own thing with their own browsers anyway. The FT believes something like this is exactly what will happen as a result of this MS/Vodafone coalition:

Analysts asked why Microsoft and Vodafone appeared to have acted alone when both were members of bodies dedicated to developing such standards. "This is the kind of standardisation that leads to fragmentation and, at the end of the day, means the size of the mobile market is smaller," said one.

You Old Dog, You!

Well, perhaps not that old - HTMLdog was launched last week and aims to put HTML and CSS training under people's noses while not making a great song and dance about the standards compliance.

"The underlying philosophy behind this website is to focus standards-compliant HTML and CSS ... but without making a big deal about it. The current way of learning HTML seems to be to learn it the old, non-standard hack way and then, if so inclined (which most probably wouldn't be), to learn about standards at a later date. But I can't see any reason not to teach standards compliant HTML and CSS from the bottom up without saying there's anything special about it - it's just the way it's done."

I think it's true that for some people, if they find out that they are doing something the correct and agreed way (as in standards-based) then they may start to ask "Well, surely there is an easier way to do it?" and find themselves trying to cut corners using the old-school methods. If they're not told that there's another way, then maybe they won't look elsewhere. It's all somewhat academic, but I understand the thinking behind this.

The site splits the two disciplines (HTML and CSS) into three separate levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced) with each section then containing further topics such as, in the HTML advanced notes, Standards Recap, Accessible Links, Mastering Text, Mastering Tables, Accessible Forms and Doctype Declarations.

Go take a sniff. Woof!

We Are the Standard!

I'm often hearing people at my place of work talk about doing things to Microsoft's standards, and am very quick to point out that there is not a 'Microsoft standard' as such - there are agreed standards (or 'recommendations' to use the correct term) laid down by the W3C to which Microsoft and others are supposed to adhere to to. Supposed to ...

The WaSP's original aims were to address the poor support by browsers for a raft of standards - such as CSS, HTML, the DOM - and to a large extent this has been successful. We no longer have the Browser Upgrade Campaign (although some companies still insist on using it in anger), and it's generally agreed that the range of browsers available now offers very good support for the standards. Long gone are the days of the wildly diverging 'interpretations' of the standards that were shown by Netscape and Microsoft when version 4s were considered the hot new browsers. But it's not perfect, and there's one browser out there that has lagged behind in its support for CSS. Unfortunately that browser is the most prevalent - Internet Explorer.

In the article entitled Developers gripe about IE standards inaction yesterday, Paul Festa writes: "Web developers want to light a fire under Microsoft to get better standards support in the company's Internet Explorer browser, but they can't seem to spark a flame." To many this is not news - it's the reality of everyday web development, and try as we might it's very difficult to get a company of this size to pay attention to our calls. Particularly when they have other problems to deal with (and reportedly another 30 patent infringement cases in the pipeline). But then you read this, and your blood starts to boil:

"While it is true that our implementation is not fully, 100 percent W3C-compliant, our development investments are driven by our customer requirements and not necessarily by standards"

So says Greg Sullivan, a lead product manager with the Windows client group. Maybe my work colleagues are correct - there are Microsoft standards, and they are written by its customers! Guys and girls, you helped draft the standards - would it be too much to ask for you to follow them too?

Earlier this year the WaSP asked Microsoft to give some evidence that they were not going to discontinue support for the standalone versions of Internet Explorer - something that they had said was the case. We also re-iterated some of the issues that were most pressing. We signed off by saying that "The WaSP - and the Web - are waiting." It looks like we are in for a longer wait still.

AOL Captions Streaming Media

America Online has announced the availability of closed captions on the service for select multimedia content that will enhance the online experience for members who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

While this might be reason to celebrate, I've heard horror stories about AOL Broadband and we know AOL itself isn't the greatest service. At least, this is a step forward. If only others would follow suit espeially the major TV networks.

Click Here, You Idiot

Trust me, you will feel like an idiot for visiting any web page that forces you to click OK to continue loading elements on the page. But get used to it, because it is - or is very likely - going to happen, thanks to the recent ruling in the Eolas vs Microsoft case. Not sure what this will mean in practice? Well, how about this:

Internet Explorer dialogue: Press OK to continue loading content on this page
Internet Explorer dialogue: Press OK to continue loading content on this page
Internet Explorer dialogue: Press OK to continue loading content on this page

Annoying, isn't it? But this is what the MS update to IE, which is currently in beta, will do for you - it's all spelled out for you here. Or for a more immediate example (and apologies in advance for anyone upset by Tom's colorful but understandable language), visit Tom Gilder's page.

Find out how you can avoid this happening with web pages that contain Flash, Active X, Quicktime and Java (and possibly more besides) by reading the following:

Then visit Instant Voodoo and vent your frustrations on whoever you feel is most deserving. Oh, the voodoo doll thing is a Flash app. Isn't that ironic?

Cingular - Please Attend to your Own Customers

For the past few weeks, we have been subject to the occasional email from Cingular customers, complaining that they can't pay their bills online without a standard browser. At least once, we received mail from someone who had questions about his Cingular bill. Our mail to the Cingular webmaster bounced, so we've been forced to take this to our Buzz-reading public.

Cingular, and everyone else, please stop referring to the now-discontinued Browser Upgrade Campaign pages on our site. You are only confusing your customers and sending the strong message that you do not care about them. If you're using the JavaScript redirect, stop now. Your customers simply cannot understand what has happened, and email us, instead, with questions we can't, and will not, answer.

Also, please refer to RFC 2142 and RFC 2068, which mandate that certain email role accounts be maintained so that people can contact you about your site, as in this case we tried, and failed, to do.

I'm sure the guy who emailed asking about his bill will appreciate it, too. We certainly will.

How Not to Get On the WaSPs Good Side

In fact, the best way to get on our bad side is to email our abuse account, which since we put it on our abuse page has received several hundred messages from spammers.

People have tried to sell us DIY Web Site Solutions (complete with popup window warning us that their site has been "optimised for Internet Explorer V5.5 and above" - gag), "pilfer proof caps", Free CD Business Cards, Exterior Bi-Fold Doors, metal gifts, racing supplies and online address book updaters. Clearly, these are not reputable businesses if they're so stupid as to spam a working abuse account. In fact, one might say that they're worse than scum.

We get spam from Nigerians of questionable status and with questionable holdings. We get spam from French lawyers. We get spam expressing religious fervors of various kinds.

We get spam from damn near everyone, to the address we maintain, per RFC 2142, so that people may report spam and other abuse. This despite the fact that we don't send mail from this domain (our members send mail from their own accounts, even when promoting official WaSP business).

So, on the off chance that someone reading this happens to have purchased a CD containing "opt-in" email addresses (never mind the sheer absurdity of that idea) - if our abuse account is on it, please rest assured that any mail we receive will be reported to your ISP or upstream provider, any relevant registrars, governmental and law enforcement agencies, and may well result in your imprisonment or at least suspension of your account or domain name. Please think carefully before engaging in unsolicited bulk email, as it is not worth the risks. In many places, it is also illegal.

And, please, if you have received any spam that claims to be from, read this before reporting the spam to us. We don't want to hear about all the spam you get, we get plenty of our own. We only want to hear about it if it is forged from this domain, or if the spammer is using the (discontinued for many months) Browser Upgrade Campaign redirect code in their spam or on their Web sites. But even then, we can't do much about it, so please don't email us threats or mention frivolous lawsuits - you're just wasting your time and ours. Thank you.

Tableless Layout Generator

Firdamatic is an online tableless layout generator that allows you to create and customize layouts easily only by completing forms. Create 2-column and 3-column layouts with the online application. [Link: Webreference]

A 'Rally' Good Read

For the past month, almost all of my free time has gone to writing presentation material for the advanced training session of AIR-Austin.

So writes James Craig of Cookiecrook about his Accessibility Internet Rally 2003 Advanced Training Material. And what can I say, other than it was time very well spent. This is as good a resource as you'll find about accessibility anywhere on the web, and written in a very, dare I say it, accessible style. The notes cover such topics as forms, tables, semantics, CSS basics and accessible CSS.

Need an example of the flexibility that CSS offers for alternative styles? Well, these notes are available in presentation mode, web page mode or as plain text - all by swapping the style sheet. Bookmark this one today!

CSS-P in Current Browsers

In this month's WPDFD, Joe Gillespie puts a batch of browsers through to the test to see how well they coped with Cascading Style Sheets layouts. See his results.

CSS Primer

The Bare Bones, No Crap, CSS Text Control Primer, by Wendy Peck. If you've tried looking at one of the many other CSS tutorials but felt like you missed the intro, this may well be the one for you.