Buzz Archive: September 2005

Build Your Own Standards Compliant Website Using Dreamweaver 8

If you're working with the new version of Dreamweaver, you may be interested in a new book from SitePoint aimed at those who wish to build standards compliant sites.

Written by WaSP member Rachel Andrew of the Dreamweaver Task Force, and tech edited by Group Leader Molly E. Holzschlag, Build Your Own Standards Compliant Website Using Dreamweaver 8 is apparently everything you need to create standards compliant, accessible, cross-browser compatible websites with - you guessed it - Macromedia Dreamweaver 8.

Sample chapters are available, and the book is shipping right away. When asked to say something witty for the folks at home, Rachel uttered:

My aim was not only to show existing Dreamweaver users how to work with web standards, but to also help out those who are already up to speed with standards but need to know how to apply that within Dreamweaver.

Of course, Rachel isn't the only DWTF member to be working on book projects, and we hope to have more exciting announcements for Dreamweaver users later in the year.

Got Browser Woes? Think Again.

If you've been losing hair due to browser incompatibilities on the desktop, blame your remaining gray hairs on IE 6.0, Safari or Opera bugs and implementation problems, and have felt the calcium leeching from your tired bones while trying to make standards-based sites compatible in older browsers, you may wish to stop reading right now.

As we expand our horizons from desktop to wireless, browser support isn’t going to get easier. In fact, anyone who has done wireless development already knows cross-device and wireless agent development is much more insane than anything we deal with on the desktop.

The battles we’ve fought and ultimately appear to be winning for screen-based browsers have done nothing to inspire those in the wireless manufacturing and user agent environment to think standards. Add to that literally thousands of unique wireless devices, many with proprietary user agent implementations, and if you haven’t gone bald, gray or lost bone mass, you’re about to.

Here’s a little taste, and I do mean a little, of what kind of XHTML support major agents sport.

Device or Browser XHTML Support
Openwave XHTML MP (XHTML Mobile Profile) and WML Extensions
Access Systems XHTML Basic
AU Systems XHTML Basic

“Okay,” you’re thinking. “That doesn’t look so bad! It’s pretty much either XHTML MP or XHTML Basic, right?”

Wrong. Despite the simplicity of both the XHTML MP and XHTML Basic specifications, there’s such inconsistent implementation between the individual devices and browsers it’s enough to make a standardista give up the old holy ghost.

Ready for another morsel? If you’ve read this far, you know you are. So here’s a little taste (and I do mean little) of mobile device and browser inconsistencies:

  • title element woes. Some browsers render it as text, some use it properly within existing agent chrome, some use it for bookmarking. Which does what? You’ll have to test to find out, because even devices coming from the same manufacturer are likely to have different rendering capabilities
  • Device manufacturers like to confuse us. Samsung, for example, uses the AU System browser but, get this, implements their own rendering engine. That’s almost as weird as Netscape 8.0 and its dual Trident / Gecko rendering engines
  • Provider gateways are not our friend. If MIME types and content negotiation in XHTML 1.0 and 1.1 annoy you, try this on for size. Provider gateways can totally influence the rendering of your documents. Some are sophisticated: They let only valid, conforming XHTML through. Some don’t. Some might translate any graphics, or drop them all together

I did say this was only a little taste, right? Well, we haven’t even covered mobile CSS support, which is either very limited or downright non-existent in most mobile environments. Where it does exist, what happens to many of the best practices we teach for the screen? Out the window! Why? Because most existing mobile browsers that support CSS do not cache CSS! As a result, any CSS in use must be embedded or inline.

I’ll revisit CSS in mobile devices on another day. Right now I think I need to go color my hair.

This entry cross-posted to take your comments.

Developer Toolbar for IE

As mentioned in a previous post, Microsoft have been at work on a web developer toolbar similar to the one available for Firefox. The toolbar has now been made fully available and can be used on IE6 and IE7. I often find myself trying to resolve issues in IE but having to use Firefox, just for the developer toolbar so that I can reveal the page structure or whatever, then going back to IE and trying to map what I just saw in Firefox on to IE. A developer toolbar for IE, therefore, is a welcome addition for me (even if it is not quite as fully featured as my precious!)

Validation, meet Unit Testing. Unit Testing, meet Validation.

Are you "test infected"? Do you work on dynamic sites and wish there was an automated way to run the output through the W3C validator? Do you wish it was integrated nicely with your unit testing framework?

Scott Raymond has come up with a nice bit of code to add automated validation to the unit tests for a Ruby on Rails application.

If you're not on Rails, the technique should be pretty straightforward to adapt to your prefered language/framework. Just make a POST request to sending parameters fragment (your page, encoded) and output=xml. Then check the response for a header called x-w3c-validator-status to see if it says Valid. If so, your test passed.

This entry cross-posted to take your comments.

MSIE7 Will Not Support application/xml+xhtml MIME Type

Announced a few days ago on the IEBlog:

Why aren’t we supporting XHTML when it’s served as the “application/xml+xhtml” media type in IE7? I made the decision to not try to support the MIME type in IE7 simply because I personally want XHTML to be successful in the long run.

Obviously this is going to disappoint many web developers whose expectations had been raised by a recent series of encouraging announcements from the IE development team.

Personally, I would prefer Microsoft to concentrate on fixing HTML/CSS bugs and implementing the missing CSS2.1 features. If implementing full XHTML support impacts on the release date of IE7 then my opinion is that we should wait for IE8. But that’s just me. Other web developers may have different ideas.

Opera is Free.

While upgrading my Opera Browser to 8.5 today, then vising the community page, I noticed today's Opera news item Opera is Free!. No more ads, better browsing, no more banners. Free.

From the Opera Why Free? page:

Opera has removed the banners, found within our browser, and the licensing fee. Opera's growth, due to tremendous worldwide customer support, has made today's milestone an achievable goal.

New to Opera? Check its Features.

XML Nanny: Validation Tool

For those who design and develop their sites on a Mac, Todd Ditchendorf has developed a handy tool to help validate XML and XHTML documents from the comfort of your own desktop.

XML Nanny cares for your XHTML documents in places the W3C web-based validation service can't reach... Suppose you are developing a standards-based web site or application on your local web server or behind a firewall. The W3C validator can't reach your document to validate it. XML Nanny can.

You can literally just pump in the address of a local development site, hit a button, and back come your results. That saves a heap of effort uploading to a server that is publicly accessible - especially if you need to iterate a few times to get on top of any errors.

XML Nanny is available to download free of charge, and requires Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. I don't know about you, but useful, simple and free sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

No Mr. Ballmer, Microsoft Will not Win the Web

Reading through an article about Microsoft in Business Week, I was not shocked but oh so enraged by this bit from an interview with CEO Steve Ballmer:

“We won the desktop. We won the server. We will win the Web. We will move fast, we will get there. We will win the Web.”

In the past months, WaSP and Microsoft have been working together in the trenches to improve standards support in Microsoft products. While this is certainly a very positive move on Microsoft's part, critics of both Microsoft and WaSP have pointed out Microsoft's long history of aggressive business practices and ideologies. As a member of the WaSP / Microsoft Task Force, I'm extremely confident that the developers we're working with get it and it's been my take to separate Microsoft business practices and ideologies from the day-to-day software development work. And I stand by that perspective.

What I cannot stay silent about when reading these words is how blatantly uncaring a statement this is. How ignorant and arrogant and just plain wrong.

The Web is not a prize to be won, and Mr. Ballmer's attitude is deplorable in the light of what the Web means to the world, to users, to designers and developers and to put it into Microsoft parlance, customers.

The Web belongs to everyone. The Web's core vision and value is to be platform independent. Microsoft has no right to think it can win a tool that is for the people, of the people, and ultimately - by the people.

No Mr. Ballmer, Microsoft will not win the Web for one very good reason: We the people will make sure you never do.

This entry cross-posted to take your comments.

Multi-National Team to Focus on Accessibility Tools

A new consortium launches today and is announced at Juicy Studio with the entry Web Accessibility Tool Consortium (WAT-C), authored by Steven Faulkner, who is a co-founder of WAT-C. Gez Lemon of Juicy Studio is also a member of the WaSP Accessibility Task Force.

The goals of the group include a focus on free accessibility testing software, enhancing development of existing software, and internationalization of testing software. Goals include development of new tools, improving existing tools, and expanding the availability of these tools to a wider range of operating systems, browsers, and languages.

Members of this group include:

From the WAT-C homepage:

The Web Accessibility Tools Consortium [WAT-C] provides a collection of free tools to assist both developers and designers in the development and testing of accessible web content. The consortium is a collaboration of some of the world's leading accessibility practitioners, founded by Accessible Information Solutions (Australia), Infoaxia (Japan), The Paciello Group (USA), Wrong HTML (Japan), and Juicy Studio (UK).

Current projects, recent releases, and a list of tools developed by WAT-C members can be found at the WAT-C website.

Congratulations everyone! We are looking forward to your work.

News From the IE Development Team

I can't believe how useful and informative the IE blog has been since its launch. Once the topic of rumour, guesswork and conjecture, what's happening with IE is more open than I could ever have imagined. There is some more news about IE that I wanted to pick through here (you can read about all of the new features previously not mentioned here).

  • Firstly, there is news that IE7 will include a native XMLHTTPRequest object for Javascript applications - no ActiveXObject needs to be created, which is great news for developers. You all hate ActiveX, right? ;-)
  • Secondly, the select element has been rebuilt as a "windowless control, so it can be visually layered under other elements". Comments on the thread point to the popularity of that move, but I would like to find out if in rebuilding it has the IE team also made it possible to style the select element better using CSS? Styling forms in CSS is all well and good, but this pesky little element always lets the side down. Borders? Nope, you're having a laugh, mate! For me, it would be a missed opportunuity if they have re-worked the select element and not taken this golden opportunity to put that right (but maybe I'm misunderstanding the scope of the rebuild)
  • IE is getting page zoom! I wonder if this will be an Opera-style page zoom whereby all elements scale up? And how will this impact font scaling (although I've had a dig around, I can't see whether IE7 will change its font sizing beyond the current 5 levels)
  • Finally, there's news of a Web Developer Toolbar. Well, readers of this site will already be familiar with the excellent toolbar that's available for Firefox/Mozilla. It's one of the main reasons why I am so wedded to using Firefox, so it's not difficult to see why the Microsoft team are looking into adding this in - a carrot to dangle in front of otherwise reticent developers. One request I'd like to make here though - please, Microsoft, play nice. Don't do what Aevita did (and please don't tell me that you bought the toolbar off Aevita, explaining why it's no longer on their site!).

This entry cross-posted to take your comments

Web Developer Toolbar - Update

For all those people who have been itching to try out/update Firefox to the new 1.5 beta but were put off because it won't work with the Web Developer Toolbar, there's good news - Chris Pederick has done a minor update to make it compatible with the new browser. Form an orderly queue now [Download the extension here].

Update: Sorry - first posting didn't contain a link to the toolbar!

European Parliament: Nil Point

BBC News reports on the launch of a new site for the European Parliament. With the intention of putting a 'friendlier face' to a parliamentary body who has historically felt very distant to most, if not all, European citizens, you would have thought that only good things can come from this.

But oh dear. With the whole of Europe to pick from, the European Parliament has somehow managed to get a site built by people who don't know how to build web sites. Who'da thunk it?

I wish this came as a surprise and a shock, resulting is slack-jawed gasps from all corners of a continent, but truthfully this is something that has come to be expected. If multinationals are characterised by their total disregard for any kind of standards, governing bodies are characterised by a token nod to what they should be doing, followed by blatant flouting of the rules of the DOCTYPE they've so diligently declared.

There's a turnout for the books - politicians saying one thing and then doing another.

This entry cross-posted to take your comments.

Web Standards Are Your Responsibility

In his recent article Web Standards Are Your Responsibility, Keith Robinson makes a convincing argument for sticking to your standards-guns against all odds.

I know, probably better than many, how much of a challenge Web standards can be to implement on a day-to-day basis. I've expressed my angst towards standards and validation in particular many, many times, but when all is said and done the only way I've been able to use standards on my paying projects is because I pushed long and hard for them and probably spent many an extra hour of my own time making sure Web standards were a part of my projects.

There's plenty to get temperatures rising and pulses pumping, and agree with Keith or not, his arguments are eloquently made and well worth a read.

WaSP Welcomes Sweden

The WaSP Education Task Force welcomes Lars Gunther as our liaison to Sweden. Lars is working with Skolverket (Swedish Language), Sweden's national agency for schools, to encourage the adoption of Web standards in their curriculum reform project for Gymnasium (Swedish Language) scheduled for launch in 2007.

Gymnasium is similar to high school in the United States, and A level studies in England. During Gymnasium studies, students are prepared for entry to a university or college, or are trained to work professionally upon completion of studies.

Teaching students interested in a career in web development with a curriculum based in semantic, standards compliant, accessible design is a logical first step.

Skolverket is in a position to become a leader in web design education and training if it includes these changes to its current web design curriculum (English Language).

Lars tells us,

Skolverkets own website recently underwent a major overhaul, throwing out tables and while it still is not perfectly standards compliant and accessible, it is a big step forward.

With the growing number of websites converting to or requiring standards support, the demand for experienced and skilled web designers and developers increases. So it makes sense to start including standards in career based learning for all levels of education.

Our EduTF looks forward to working with Lars and hearing about the educational progress and news from Sweden.

addEvent() Recoding Contest

Here's one for lovers of the language of the rhinos:- over on the WaSP DOM Scripting Task Force blog, PPK announces the launch of a JavaScript addEvent() recoding contest.

Write your own version of addEvent() and removeEvent(), submit it by adding a comment to this page, and win JavaScript fame.

Entries will be judged by a panel consisting of Scott Andrew LePera, Dean Edwards and myself on script quality, simplicity and portability, and the clarity of your explanation.

That's fighting talk, right there.

So if you fancy yourself as a bit of a JavaScript hero, or heck, if you just fancy yourself, submit your entries over at Quirksmode.

Attention All Developers ...

There's a new browser in town. Well, there's a beta update in town - Firefox 1.5 is available as a beta, and the people at Mozilla are asking developers to go give it a whirl. Try it out, see what breaks. If you're an extension developer (Cough! Cough! Chris Pederick!) here's your chance to see what works and what needs fixing before it goes fully public (although, let's be honest, a large proportion of people using Firefox are the early-adopter geeky types who balk at the prospect of waiting for a full release). I've tried out the Mac version, which finally seems to have that Mac look and feel (behaviour of the preferences options changing shape/size according to section you are in, for starters) but had to uninstall because I just can't do without the Web Developer Toolbar installed.

Searching for Standards

I did a small comparative analysis of markup practices at several major search engines. It's interesting to note that only one engine is using valid markup and CSS layouts, and that would be MSN. Close behind is AOL, whose validation problems are mostly related to ampersands not being escaped, and HotBot, who have a few easily corrected errors.

Engine Markup Language Table Layouts or CSS? Markup Validation
Alta Vista Presentational HTML, no DOCTYPE Tables Does Not Validate
AOL (beta) XHTML 1.0 Transitional CSS Does Not Validate (mostly due to ampersands not being escaped)
Excite Presentational HTML, HTML 4.01 DOCTYPE Tables Does Not Validate
Google HTML, no DOCTYPE Tables Does Not Validate
HotBot XHTML 1.0 Strict CSS Does Not Validate but only a few conformance errors
Lycos Presentational HTML, no DOCTYPE Tables Does Not Validate
MSN XHTML 1.0 Strict CSS Validates
Yahoo! HTML 4.01 Transitional with presentational and proprietary elements and attributes in use, partial DOCTYPE CSS Does Not Validate

With the exception of Yahoo! which I know has progressive developers examining markup issues, it's curious to think that many search engines and portals, which tend to be highly trafficked, haven't been exposed to the benefits of Web standards.

This entry cross-posted to take your comments.

Disaster Aid for Windows users only?

At Boing Boing yesterday: FEMA to Mac, Linux users: drop dead.

Bottom line: if you're not using Windows + IE, it appears that you won't be able to file a disaster assistance claim on

A Javascript enabled browser is another requirement. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers federal aid to disaster areas in the United States, such as the recent Katrina hurricane disaster.

The Online registration requires Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6.0 or above. If you do not have Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher, you may still be able to access the Individual Assistance Center where you can check the status of your application and update your information.

Also visit FEMA Registration Requirements (FAQ) for more information.

There are a few comments that follow the Boing Boing entry, where users have been able to access the process using Opera, or Firefox with a user agent switching extension to emulate Internet Explorer, however, in a better situation, none of this should be necessary if the process were available to a wide variety of users and browsers. The last thing a disaster victim wants to worry about or figure out is how to manipulate their computer browser in order to apply for aid.

Software requirements are not the only problem for users or victims, however. If a blind or low vision user, or a person accesses the site with a device that does not display images and tries to start the registration process, the first item they will encounter is a captcha when they visit the *Register for Assistance* link . Captcha is server generated characters in picture format that must be entered and submitted before the application process begins. Users that cannot see or make out these images will not be able to enter the characters into the form. Applications are not accepted via mail. Information packets can be mailed to the applicants, though are mail services or mailing addresses available for displaced victims? More information found at FEMA: Registration Requirements.

The FEMA agency website has a published Section 508 Accessibility Statement.

Slashdot Goes CSS: Help Beta Test

After 8 years. That's EIGHT years, the infamous Slashdot is finally working with CSS. They are asking folks to look at their CSS and report bugs.

And don't blame me if you can't connect. We're talking Slashdot after all.

Welcome an Event Apart

Zeldman and Meyer are two names that will always pack a punch when it comes to being shapers of the Web, particularly when it comes to standards. Now, they've teamed up for the long-awaited, content-rich Event Apart.

Having worked side by side with Eric for many years, I know how much fun he is to learn from. And Jeffrey never fails to be thought-provoking and entertaining, too.

Yeah, so, Eric was a CSS Samurai and Jeffrey is a founding member of WaSP, they're great friends of ours over here in the hive and we're biased as hell. I think we can all agree they're two among the very best when it comes to knowledge, experience and the ability and willingness to share it.

An Event Apart kicks off in Philadelphia - a great city that has long been under-represented in terms of killer Web workshops and conferences. The workshop series promises to deliver detailed and technical topics, and we've no doubt it will.

Harnessing the Power of User Groups

Web sites in a university environment are, more often than not, micro-managed within individual faculties, colleges and administrative units. It stands to reason; each department is often responsible for their own content.

However, it is a common problem that resources are not evenly spread across the different areas of an academic environment such that all webmasters and web content providers have a common level of knowledge in order to undertake their responsibilities. As a result, lack of standardisation from technological, content and stylistic standpoints ensues. From the perspective of a student visiting a university Web site and searching for information across different academic areas, inconsistency in the presentation and delivery of information is more than likely to provide a less than satisfactory experience.

How can this be addressed? In the case of the Pennsylvania State University, interested parties, including Rose Pruyne, attacked the root of the problem with the formation of the Web Standards Users Group.

It started out as a vehicle for those of us who were interested in the technologies to swap information. It wasn't too long before we were working with Penn State's administration to revise its Web policy to include standards/accessibility compliance.

Currently, Rose also chairs the Content Management Best Practices Group.

Content is one of the weakest aspects of a lot of sites. Often behind this bad content is the tendency for organizations to think of the Web as an afterthought to print media. The process is to spend a lot of time and money developing and mailing print publications and then turning around and dumping this content wholesale onto the Web.

How effective can user groups be in a higher education environment? What kind of impact can such groups look to achieve? Rose Pruyne certainly has no shortage of experience in managing user groups and providing training; in this interview, the WaSP EduTF asks Rose to share her stories.

Helping Hands for Displaced Designers

Designer Matthew Richmond of the fantabulous Chopping Block is someone I regard highly not just because of his creative skill, but because he's a designer who does beautiful Flash work and cares deeply about Web standards, too.

Matthew sent out an email to friends and colleagues about a site dedicated to helping designers displaced by Hurricane Katrina get back on their feet. While not related to standards per se, I felt it was a great thing to be doing for our community at large and wanted to let folks know about it.

The site matches any displaced creative designer with those who are willing to offer a desk, a place to sleep, a computer - anything to help folks get back to work and re-establish self-sufficience.

If you have resources to offer or are in need due to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, please visit Displaced Designer for more information.

Best Practices for Declaring Languages in HTML and XHTML

There's a lot of misinformation about how, when and where to declare a language - or multiple languages - within HTML and XHTML documents. Fortunately, the GEO group at the W3C provides us with details as to how to do this. Here are some guidelines to help:

  • Always declare the default text processing language of the page, using the html tag, unless there are more than one primary languages.
  • Use the lang and/or xml:lang attributes around text to indicate any changes in language.
  • Do not use Content-Language to declare the default text processing language, and do not use language attributes to declare the primary language metadata.
  • Do not declare the language of a document in the body tag.
  • For HTML use the lang attribute only, for XHTML 1.0 served as text/html use the lang and xml:lang attributes, and for XHTML served as XML use the xml:lang attribute only.
  • If the text in attribute values and element content is in different languages, consider using a russian doll approach.
  • For documents with multiple primary languages, decide whether you want to declare a single text processing language in the html tag, or leave it undefined.

This BUZZ entry is also available in German.

IE7 CSS Improvements

Over at the IEblog, Justin Rogers details further improvements to CSS 2.1 parsing in IE7 - particularly when operating in strict mode.

On the list is improvements to pseudo-element selectors (like :first-letter), multi-class selectors, and root-node selection.

It's all pretty heavy CSS geekery, but it's important CSS geekery, and is as ever excellent to see these bugs being addressed. Executive summary for your mom: CSS support in IE is getting better all the time.

Inspiration for Tables

Do you ever find yourself longing for inspiration where it comes to designing tables? Finding examples of good CSS-based tables is not easy - inevitably you'll have to post to a discussion list and see what people recommend. Now, finding inspiration should be a little easier with the CSS Table Gallery. It's only just gone live so there are not a huge number of examples there at present, but you can always submit a style yourself to help build this useful resource.

Microsoft Dropping Support for XHTML1.1

Or at least they're dropping support for it in ASP.Net 2.0. Is this a bad thing? The initial reaction might be one of shock and indignation, that it is a step backwards. Another response might be to accept that it's a realistic decision to make and one that actually helps support standards. The W3C suggests that XHTML 1.1 should be served with the application/xhtml+xml MIME type, something that Internet Explorer does not currently support. Judging by this announcement, I would infer that IE7 will not support it either (but am happy to be proven wrong). If ASP.NET 2.0 shipped with the ability to output XHTML 1.1, it would have to serve up a mime type of text/html for it to be supported by Internet Explorer, and that would go completely against the W3C's way of thinking .

So what does this mean? It appears to this observer that the Microsoft team responsible for the authoring tools are acknowledging their own web browser's shortcomings and dealing with it in a sensible way - no point pumping out XHTML1.1 on the basis that it's "the future" while the world's most prevalent browser chokes on it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on IE7 getting that fix still, though!