New Browsers - New problems

by Joe Gillespie — May 1, 2000

In the last month, two new browsers have appeared - three, if you count the Windows and Mac versions of Netscape 6. The other one, of course, is Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 for Mac. The introduction of these browsers is very significant as far as designers are concerned. It's as if somebody had pulled the rug out from under your feet.

Let me explain ...

Sitting in a back room somewhere is a group of people called the W3C - World Wide Web Consortium. It is their mission to establish standards for how the Web works. They collect and compile ideas for new features and if they agree that they are good ideas, they are introduced as `standards' with the hope that all the browser producers will adopt them and that any Web page that adheres to those standards will work in all browsers, or at least, not break.

Seems to make sense?

What would it be like if there were no standards for things like the color coding on electric wiring and the strength of medicines - and alcoholic drinks? Standards make everything easier, and safer for everybody.

Up until now, it has been more or less, a free-for-all as far as standards for HTML are concerned, with Microsoft and Netscape adding-in their own propritary tags and features. Netscape's <SPACER> tag doesn't work in Explorer, neither does their <BLINK> - although I'm not going to lose any sleep over those. On the other hand, Netscape knows nothing of Explorer's `HOVER' for highlighting text as the mouse moves over it. There are many such examples and clearly, somebody thought that they were a good idea at the time - and somebody else didn't. But, very few of us would dream of producing Web pages for only one browser and are painfully aware of the heartaches and frustrations caused by having to make sure that our pages work in as many browsers and browser versions as possible.

With pressure from groups such as WaSP, browser manufacturers are slowly, but slowly, being persuaded into complying with the W3C's standards with their newer products. MsIE 5 for Mac goes a long way to meeting those standards, but sadly, not the whole way. Netscape 6 has been developed with the intention of being fully compliant and the preview release looks very promising from that aspect. The best that can be said is that there is a convergence towards standards.

Well, that's all fine and dandy - or is it?

Unfortunately, not. Everybody is not going to change to a new `compliant' browser overnight. There will always be legacy browsers. In fact, the most prevalent browser at the minute is the Windows version of Explorer and it is still a long way from standardisation. You might think that the biggest browser becomes the standard by default and everybody else should toe the line. Microsoft would like to see that happen, it has worked for them before, but no, establishing standards should not be the perogative of any one company, it should be an independent and unbiased process.

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