On the opening day of the Seybold Seminars conference in San Francisco, representatives of the Web standards community called on browser vendors to put more effort into supporting emerging Internet standards such as CSS, XML and DOM.
Conflicting implementations of standards in browser and server products are needlessly complicating life for Web designers, speakers said.
Differing implementations of standards such as HTML 4 and CSS 1 (Cascading Style Sheets) force designers to test their Web pages with all browsers ? including older releases of Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator.
Often, they have no choice but to develop different versions of the same page for different browsers, or to forego using features such as Cascading Style Sheets or Dynamic HTML altogether.
?Creative people who should be spending their time on design, are being forced to instead spend time on compatibility testing," said Tim Bray, a Web publishing technology at Textuality and member of the newly formed Web Standards Project steering committee. Bray was speaking at a panel discussion on evolving Web standards at Seybold.
The Web Standards Project was founded in August. The organisation presents itself as an international coalition of Web developers, dedicated to promoting a worldwide standard for Web and browser design.
One of the standards that is still not fully implemented by browser developers is Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), a standard that allows Web designers to easily assign styles (fonts, colours, layout) to documents. CSS was officialised in 1996. An update, CSS 2.0, was released a few months ago.
?It is totally inexcusable that at this point CSS implementations are still different across browsers?, said Tim Bray.
Hakon Lie, who heads the W3C Style Sheets activity, demonstrated that next generation browsers will do a little better. He demonstrated how early versions of Internet Explorer 5.0, the Opera 3.5 browser and Netscape?s new rendering engine nglayout, all render the same richly laid out Web page in virtually identical fashion.
?HTML 4 has been mostly implemented," said Lauren Wood, who heads the W3C workgroup developing the DOM (Document Object Model) standard. ?But it?s a fairly loose interpretation much of the time."
Wood said the widely differing implementations of Dynamic HTML (or DHTML) are seriously limiting Web designer?s ability to use this technology. ?Simple things work in both [browsers], but the really interesting things don?t work?, said Wood. The DOM effort is meant to address this issue.
Bray called on Microsoft and Netscape to stop adding new features to their browsers, before they finish implementing existing standards. ?They should implement [the standard] as it is written, and stop releasing new browser versions until that?s in place," said Bray.
Further complicating the task for Web developers, said Bray, is the fact that there are still more release 3 browsers than release 4 browsers in use. ?Vendors have failed to motivate users to upgrade," he remarked.
Bray called on Web developers to ?vote with their RFPs?, and refuse to buy products that do not fully implement standards.
?The reality is that we?ll be shipping out plain old HTML for a while yet," said Bray. He said the smart thing for Web designers to do today is to create documents using XML, but use these documents to generate standard HTML pages, which can be read by all browsers.
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