Buzz Archive: July 2004

Netscape Lives!

It doesn't have the cryptic appeal of 'Frodo Lives!' scrawled on a subway station wall, but it does have the advantage of being true: an updated version of Netscape — version 7.2 — is due on August 3rd.

Based on version 1.7 of the Mozilla suite, Netscape 7.2 won't be a quantum leap over the current version (7.1, based on Mozilla 1.4), but should nevertheless offer a worthwhile boost in speed, stability and standards-compliant rendering goodness.

I'm not planning on giving up Firefox any time soon, but it's nice to see some life in the old girl just the same.

Defenestrating Tables

Fellow WaSP Douglas Bowman has posted a analysis of the benefits of tableless design. It's based on his presentation at Digital Design World in which he made-over Microsoft's home page using only CSS for layout.

What's makes this post especially interesting is Bowman's focus on real-world business benefits:

I thought it was worth pointing out that it's now very possible to demonstrate and walk through how they — or any company — could create one super-powered version that uses leaner markup, works in more browsers, and increases accessibility. All demonstrated within the time span of an hour or two…

As Samwise would say, "Now there's an eye-opener and no mistake."

The Value of Samaritanism

Inspired by the Odeon debacle, former WaSP extraordinaire Jeffrey Zeldman holds forth on the value of good samaritans who build accessible, standards-compliant versions of popular web sites for free.

Zeldman also gives an excellent analysis of the accessibility and usability problems with Odeon's official site and how samaritan Matthew Somerville addressed them.

I find Herr Zeldman's explanation of Odeon's stance somewhat less persuasive, however. The thrust of his argument is that it wasn't that the 'business dweebs' were 'clueless', but that the powers-that-be at Odeon had no contract with Mr. Somerville, and therefore no assurance as to the real quality of the work, who actually owned the code and other issues that cause hair loss amongst the pinstripes-and-wingtips set. It's all an exercise in CYA, in other words.

Well, duh. Of course that's part of the problem. But don't you suppose Odeon could have set their legal beagles to drafting a contract covering those points for Mr. Somerville to autograph, rather than having them fire off a boilerplate cease-and-desist? And if the problem is, as Jeffrey says, that the marketroids responsible for the site are unable to evaluate the quality of Mr. Somerville's work, then isn't that a case of, uh, 'clueless business dweebs'? Is looking at the traffic numbers and the feedback emails really so much to ask?

More likely, the idea that a single individual could do better a the firm they paid six figures just set up too much cognitive dissonance for Odeon's management to handle. Besides, they're trying to sell the company. How good a buy is it if management is spending six figures for tasks that could be accomplished by one guy in his spare time?

This is where we come right back to 'clueless business dweebs.' The thing is, what Mr. Somerville did was, in many ways, the easy part. Making that nice, accessible front end work smoothly with all the back-end voodoo required of an ecommerce site like Odeon's is far more challenging than it might seem at first (you'll note that Mr. Somerville's version didn't allow ticket sales directly, so he hadn't done all the integration work). Ditto the creative work in conceiving and executing a design that supports Odeon's brand (though in this case, one might argue that they didn't get their money's worth there, either). And then one must make the back-end of the web site talk to Odeon's legacy systems.

The reality is that there's a reason for hiring those expensive firms: they have the in-house expertise to do far more than just make an accessible front end. And that expertise is expensive. The problem is that, like as not, the 'suits' know nothing of all that complexity. All they know is what they see on their PC, and what they see is the front end. To them, it probably did seem that Somerville was making their decision to hire the firm they did look far more foolish than it really was. Nobody likes to look foolish. Highly-paid executives least of all. And admitting they, with their six- or seven-figure salaries, had overlooked flaws that some maths major could both identify and fix in his spare time would have made them look exactly that.

I'm not privvy to the discussions that go on in Odeon's executive suite, so I have no way of knowing the real reason for their change of heart regarding Mr. Somerville's effort. Nonetheless, if I were to speculate, I would say it's a case of corporate denial. Their organizational knowledge regading the web was all wrong, and wrong in ways that aren't expensive or difficult to correct. But rather than admit that and cut their losses, they'd rather hire another six-figure-fee firm to tell them what they (now) already know. That way, they can pretend that they didn't overlook the obvious, but were instead a victim of arcane forces knowable only to highly-paid experts. 'DeNial' isn't just a river in Egypt.

CSS to Go

CSS guru Eric Meyer has announced the release of the CSS Pocket Reference, 2nd Edition.

My copy of the first edition is among the well-worn pile of books I lug around in my laptop bag on all extended trips. Looks like it's finally going to get a well-earned leave of duty.

Web GUIs: Brendan Eich and Miguel de Icaza on Avalon & XAML

Jon Udell recently discussed XAML and Avalon, Microsoft's next-generation GUI development technologies, with chief Mozilla architect Brendan Eich and Ximian, Mono and GNOME leader Miguel de Icaza .

XAML and Avalon represent the future of Windows applications. The fact that XAML is a declarative markup language — an implementation of XML, to be precise — has led to speculation that they represent a Microsoft attempt to control the next generation of web-based user interfaces. Certainly, XAML bears more than a passing resemblence to XML-based UI technologies such as SVG + XBL (formerly SVG-RCC) and Mozilla's XUL.

I don't know whether Microsoft has any such ambitions or not. XAML could potentially be of tremendous value to those developers currently working on in-house VisualBasic apps or ActiveX controls for intranets. That alone is enough reason for Microsoft to pursue it, even if XAML never makes it onto the public web.

Regardless of whether XAML becomes prevalent on the public web, it's one of the techologies to watch as web apps begin moving past simple HTML UIs towards the sort of rich graphical interfaces we expect on the desktop.

Adaptive accessibility

IBM has a new service called WAT that promises to help make web sites — even those that aren't standards-compliant — more accessible. WAT accomplishes this feat by manipulating web pages before they are displayed to the user. SeniorNet, one of the organizations working with IBM on the service, has a report about a demonstration of the service.

As this article in The Register indicates, the service is a good thing for those with disabilities, though it doesn't diminish the importance of accessible web development techniques.

Popular Magazine Not Cool with Us

Family Circle Magazine's Web site gives you the upgrade your browser message when viewing it in Mozilla v1.7, Safari, or FireFox v0.92. Opera v7.5, however, does work.

Ah, after more than double my coffee in take due to a bad night's sleep, I have woken up to why it doesn't work. It's the Javascript sniffer, stupid. Heck, it won't work in IE if you disable JS. Golly, this sniffing business is soooo '90s that I never dreamt that it could be the cause halfway through the aughts!

Go anywhere else on the site and it is not a problem. When I was going to that site, I was not even that interested and didn't even bother looking around. Thanks to Jack for the shot of espresso. To nap! To nap!

Honey. Vinegar. Flies.

While I'm quite sure this post won't be seen by the folks who most need to read it, I feel the need to speak up.

In a post discussing his new fan site, Robert Scoble notes the surfeit of vitriol directed at the IE Team in the comments to their blog. Jeremy Wright says "it's worse than slashdot."

That's a shame. I know the WaSP members are above such crassness. And I'm quite sure that our friends and supporters are of similar mien. But it's apparent that some in the standards community aren't.

Now I'm certainly no stranger to strong language or strong opinions. But there are two things I try to do, though I don't always succeed: firstly, I try to criticize the behavior, not the person. Just because someone does something I find objectionable doesn't mean they're bad or stupid. Secondly, I try to maintain a modicum of respect when I'm on someone else's site. It's one thing to give 'em hell in your own house, or even from a soapbox on a streetcorner. It's another thing to be invited into someone's living room and berate them there.

So on the off-chance that one of the hotheads from the IE Team blog has wandered over here, I'm asking nicely: please, knock off the abuse. We're all frustrated by IE's shortcomings, myself included (I'm typing this on a break from churning out templates on a Sunday evening; but for IE's sub-bar CSS handling I'd be home sipping a Stella and cooking a nice dinner for my SO). Cursing and abusing the IE Team, slamming them for lack of content or critiquing the blog's markup or stylesheets isn't going to fix anything, though. More likely it'll do the exact opposite.

By all means be critical — they're blogging to get your feedback, after all — but criticize the product, not the people. And do it politely. Or at least civilly.

P.S. Despite the venom, it does seem that they're getting the message. Yay!

Web Standards and IA: A Match Made in Heaven?

Christina Wodtke and Nate Koechley have done an admirable job describing how today's web technologies make sense for process as well as application.

In their recent presentation at WebVisions 2004 (which from all reports was a fantastic conference), Wodtke and Koechley describe how standards-based development with semantic markup and CSS allow designers and developers to address long-standing challenges within Information Architecture.

XHTML 2.0 Draft Update, Debate Ensues

The W3C has released the sixth (that's right, sixth) draft of XHTML 2.0. Despite its draft status, the release re-ignited the ongoing HTML vs. XHTML debate.

Here's a simple little fact: You don't have to use XHTML if you don't want to! The point isn't that XHTML is wonderful and HTML isn't. In fact, there's not a lot one can do with XHTML that one can't do with HTML if the markup is being used for structural purposes.

So pick a markup language and forget the fighting, which is just a waste of your precious time. You think XHTML isn't for you? Fine! No one's saying you have to use it. The W3C recommends markup languages, it doesn't dictate their use. It's not like the W3C is gonna come and get you and toss you into markup prison. It's not like you'll get stung by a WaSP or anything, especially if you're paying attention to better practices and getting as much presentation out of your documents as your situation allows.

The point is to author documents that are well-structured, folks, and that can be done in HTML 4.01 just as efficiently as it can in XHTML 1.0. And leave the drafts to draft status, okay? There's a reason they're called drafts, after all.

IE SP2 Preview

Release Candidate 2 of IE for Windows XP SP, Microsoft's security-minded update of IE, is available for download. The update promises tighter security, which means potential knock-on effects web developers will need to account for.

IE Team member Tony Schreiner has details.

Blogging IE

The recently-reconstituted Internet Explorer team has a new blog. Not much there at the moment but the usual fluffy first posts, a smattering of links to blogs belonging to various IE team members and mentions of the ever-popular IE Wiki.

No doubt that'll change soon enough, though. Definitely worth adding to your bookmarks or aggregator alongside Dave Hyatt's Surfin' Safari, Hixie's Natural Log, Tantek's Thoughts and the like.


The W3C would like to take a moment to clear up some frequently asked questions. In a brand new FAQ, they address the differences between HTML and XHTML, and what they mean to content authors. If you've ever wondered why XHTML changed things that used to work in HTML, this is the place to start looking for answers.

The Clue Stick

After viewing their browser-restricted redesigns, Eric Meyer swings the clue stick at Feedster and

Scott Johnson's response in the case of Feedster is, in effect, "we don't have the resources to support all browsers."

Yes, you do. It actually costs less to support all browsers.

Well said.

Apparently Mr. Johnson thought so, too, as reports indicate that Feedster has relented and begun accepting IE/Mac visitors again.

Perhaps Mr. Meyer would consider taking a whack at UK credit outfit Barclaycard as well?

That's Sir Tim to You, Peasant

Via Dan Gillmor:

Congratulations to W3C founder and 'father of the web' Tim Berners-Lee. TB-L was recently knighted for "services to the global development of the internet."

Well met indeed, Sir Tim.

Macromedia Jumps on the SVG Bandwagon (sort of)

/. is reporting that Macromedia will support SVGT in it's mobile player. An article from Macromedia explaining the decison has drawn fire from O'Reilly's Antoine Quint for what he perceives as inaccuracies in Macromedia's article.

I don't know the technology well enough to know whether Quint has a point or not, and the /. thread predictably descends into mindless Flash-bashing, but the articles themselves are an interesting read.

It seems that while mobile networks and devices are typically locked-down by large carriers — at least when one compares them to the Internet and PCs — vector graphics is one area where the mobile arena may be more open and standards-friendly than the WWW.

One has to wonder: might SVG's success in the mobile space give it a second chance on the WWW? SVG hasn't gotten much traction on the Web, no doubt due in large part to the success of Macromedia's Flash. And designing for mobile devices is different enough from designing for PCs that developing a single UI for both with the same technology isn't a compelling enough proposition to start a mass migration to SVG. However, the proliferation of SVG viewers and authoring tools for mobile devices can't hurt SVG's chances of staging a comeback on the PC.

Here's hoping, anyway.

Happy Anniversary, Moz!

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the Mozilla Foundation, Happy Anniversary to you!

Mozilla has been around for a long while, though the Mozilla Foundation is one year old today.

It has been a great year for the project. On their anniversary page today at Mozilla...

It's already been a year since the Mozilla Foundation was created, and it's been quite a year. The Mozilla Foundation has prospered, our products are receiving rave reviews, consumer and enterprise interest in Mozilla products is at an all time high, the awareness of the importance of choice in browser software is growing and our community remains vigorous and energetic.

If you have not had a chance to download and try any of the Mozilla products, take a look at what they have to offer.

If you want to see what others are saying, or you are already a happy Mozilla user, leave a comment on this anniversary page.

Desperately Seeking Clue

About a year ago, UK web accessibility activist Matthew Somerville worked up an accessible, x-browser version of UK cinema chain Odeon's web site. His work won acclaim from such disparate sources as the Guardian and snarky IT industry newsletter NTK. Even Odeon themselves seemed pleased, as they allowed Mr. Somerville to keep the site going as a public service.

Until now. Starting on the 22 of June, the increasingly appropriately named Odeon started sending Mr. Somerville strongly-worded emails threatening legal action for copyright infringement, among other things. The company insists they are acting in response to customer concerns about having submitted data to Mr. Somerville without realizing it, and also customer frustration at not being able to book tickets through Mr. Somerville's site.

Odeon's concerns about their customers' personal data are well taken. However, if Odeon has received a significant number of complaints then a significant number of people have chosen an accessible, x-browser site over the mess of nested tables, invalid markup, alt-less images and only-works-in-IE/Win JavaScript that is the official site. Yet rather than fix their own site, Odeon has simply forced the accessible alternative off the web.

Apparently, some folks at Odeon think ignoring the desires of a significant number customers makes good business sense. I wonder if the company's prospective buyers know this is the sort of company they're bidding on?

All Music Lovers, Listen Up!

If you’ve visited recently, you may think you’re experiencing a flashback to the 1990s. (Remember those “Best Viewed in Browser X” notices?) Check out their recent redesign using something other than IE 5.5 or above on Windows and you’ll get this browser alert message:

“Notice: You are accessing with a browser that is not currently supported. The appearance and functionality of the site could be impacted. is optimized for Internet Explorer 5.5 and above for Windows.”

Maybe they’re still partying like it’s 1999… or maybe they just need some folks to contact them and help them to understand that their audience is much broader than just IE 5.5 and above on Windows.

WHAT's going on?

Over on the WHAT WG front, Ian Hickson has posted an update on the progress of WHAT WG in their efforts to develop backwards-compatible extensions to HTML. Ian’s post includes some very interesting background to the formation of WHAT and the impetus behind their efforts.

Joe Gregorio has some other tidbits to add as well, most importantly his observations on the relationship between the web as we know it and Sun, IBM, Oracle, etc.

While you're in a background-info frame of mind, you may also want to read Joel Spolsky's excellent article on Microsoft's visions for the future of web applications.

Interestingly enough, the WHAT WG seems to be taking a page out of Joel's strategy book — specifically the one on Fire & Motion.

Interesting days ahead for the web and standards.

What's in a namespace?

Following up on Anders Pearson's Safari post, Dave Hyatt has decided to use namespaces for the Apple's HTML extensions. The move seems to have largely satisfied Eric Meyer and Tim Bray, though Eric would still like to see a different DOCTYPE used. Personally, I agree with their ultimate conclusion: things are headed in the right direction.

safari extensions

Dave Hyatt and the Safari team have been busy lately adding support for a number of extensions to html to be used by the upcoming Safari RSS reader and Dashboard. On the list is IE's contenteditable, along with a slider widget, search fields, a composite attribute on the <img/> element, and a new <canvas/> element.

This has generated a fair amount of concern in the web developer community. Tim Bray and Eric Meyer both worry that this heralds a return to the bad old days of the browser wars with everyone just ignoring the standards and making things up for themselves. Specifically, they point out that instead of trying to put new elements into HTML, they could have used XHTML, which, being XML, is designed to be extensible with namespaces or at the very least used a different DOCTYPE. Dave has responded with an explanation of why they did things the way they did.

Dave argues that the XML and namespaces approach has implementation issues. I'm not enough of an expert on browser internals to say whether this is a cop-out or not, so I guess we'll have to trust him on that. He also says that:

"However, this would have dramatically increased the complexity of crafting Dashboard widgets. People know how to write HTML, but most of those same people have never written an XML file, and namespaces are a point of confusion.

Would the increase in complexity in the markup really be that much of an obstacle? Dashboard widgets seem to me like the kind of thing that would be written by a programmer, or at least have an expectation of being a little more strict than a regular web-page. Besides, web developers have historically shown an incredible aptitude for blindly copy-pasting markup. There's an awful lot of RDF out on the web. Somebody had to write it.

He also doesn't address the suggestion of at the very least creating their own DTD with their extensions and using a DOCTYPE that points at that DTD. This would go a long way towards alleviating the whole "polluting HTML" concern. I haven't really seen any actual real-world examples of this markup in action, so for all I know they've already done this or are planning to.

While I can understand and respect the following:

"In other words, in an ideal world where we had two years to craft Dashboard, maybe we could have used XHTML and SVG, but we aren't living in that ideal world. We can basically manage only one "huge" layout engine feature in a development cycle, and given our developer feedback the choice of HTML editing as the feature to focus on this cycle was clear. We would still love to implement SVG and XSLT and other great technologies in the future, but we simply can't do everything at once."

It does sound an awful lot like the "Our customers don't care about standards support. They want fancy new features" excuse that we've been hearing from browser vendors for years and that the WaSP has been actively trying to debunk.

The fact that they're actively working with other browser makers, with the WHAT WG, and seem to have intentions of eventually getting the extensions approved by the W3C is somewhat reassuring.

Overall, though, it's not that big a deal. Safari does an excellent (not perfect) job of supporting the various HTML, XHTML, and CSS specs as they're written and ultimately, that's what's most important. If developers don't want to use the extensions, they don't have to. The vision that the WaSP has been most adamant about is that developers should be able to build sites that conform to the published specs and have them Just WorkTM in every browser. If browsers want to support additional proprietary extensions on top of that, they're free to do so and the rest of us are free to ignore them.

Tell it to the IE Team!

Ever wished you could give your opinion directly to the IE team at Microsoft?Here's your chance! They're making themselves available for an online chat Thursday, July 8, at 10:00 am Pacific. See you there?

What's that object?

The object element has long been a subject of mystery and frustration. How do we use it? How well is it supported?

As part of the WaSP asks the W3C project, we consult the W3C about the correct way to include multimedia elements such as sound, animation and video into our humble (X)HTML pages. In the first of a two-part article, the W3C provides some context for this issue and fills us in on the history of the birth of multimedia in HTML.