Words by c.z.robertson

More vitriol for the WSP

2001-02-23 01:00:00 UTC

Actually it's not really vitriol. I was initially quite pissed off at the Web Standards Project's browser upgrade campaign, and yesterday I wrote about 400 words of complaint about it, but before I'd finished I rethought the matter and now I'm calmer.

I still have problems with their approach, and it's sad that they don't really grok the standards they're trying to support. I'm feeling quite charitable this morning, so rather than blasting them for it, I'll just content myself with the hope that they're still learning.

What bothers me most about the campaign is that it treats CSS as mandatory rather than optional. One of the mechanisms they suggest for encouraging people to upgrade their browsers is to present them with a message telling them to do so if the page is being displayed without the document author's CSS. However, it was one of the design aims of CSS that it should be possible to switch off the author's formatting. As a result, people will be presented with this message who really shouldn't be.

They seem to think of this as an issue of old versus new browsers when it should really be an issue of buggy versus correct browsers. Using an old browser that doesn't pretend to support CSS should be better than using Netscape 4 or Internet Explorer 3, both of which fail horribly on the simplest CSS, but the WSP seem to be implying that their formatting is more important than that. I'm also unhappy with the way in which they are endorsing specific browsers. I know that people need some guidance as to which browsers are better than others, but the way in which it's being presented makes it look no better than the "This site is best viewed in Netscape" buttons that plagued the web a few years ago.

Also the WSP don't seem to be able to follow their own advice. The approach that they're hinting at is writing for the standards, not the browsers, but in the companion articles on ALA they describe the workarounds they used to make the site work in IE5. If web designers design for the bugs in the browsers, what incentive do the browser makers have to improve them? It's this attitude on the part of the web designers that got us into this mess in the first place.

While I'm on the subject of blame I should point out that I have also been guilty of this.