In his most recent column, ZDNet commentator John Carroll tells any standards advocates who will listen that we need to “drop the religion” and start embracing the non-standard features of IE. He professes that web developers should use them, and “alternative” browser makers should implement them in their rendering engines. While his points have some validity, I have some of my own.
Lets look closley at a few things John mentions:
…the real motivator is the tendency of sites which target IE to use non-standard features (they canât really complain about IEâs failure to implement HTML standards, as standards-compliant HTML/CSS sites DO render well in IE).
This is debatable, at best. IE 6 does a much better job of getting standards-based XHTML and CSS right than any version that came before it. However, there are still many bugs, differences, and flat out missing components that have been there for years now. Microsoft has made no noticecable effort to fix them. And while the Mozilla family, Safari, and other notable “alternative” browsers do sometimes exhibit bugs, their makers have shown a willingness to fix them quickly and unintrusivley. Some areas when IE clearly falls behind other browsers in standards-compliance (specifically CSS) include:
- the nasty 3px float bug
- the lack of :hover support for anything other than the “a” element
- the inability to comprehend more complex selectors
…with the advent of IE 3.0. IE did an amazing job of running sites designed for Netscape. It even supported Netscape plug-ins, allowing developers who targeted the dominant browser to include Internet Explorer for free. Though we didnât explicitly target it, much less test for it, we found that in most cases our site worked with IE 3.0.
Wow, how times have changed. This is very true, and it goes to show that while Microsoft was once interested in what was good for the web, it is now only interested in what is good for it.
I’d argue that, for the most part, the “alternative” browser makers are promoting interoperability and implementing IE-specific features. It wasn’t that long ago that users of Mozilla, Netscape 6, and early Safari found themselves constantly running into sites that simply didn’t work in their browser of choice because they were targeted at IE. Now, though, many of us use Firefox and Safari as our daily browsers and never have to resort to IE for anything at all. Obviously not every IE-specific site is going to run in the alternative browsers, but most do, and again, the browser makers have shown an obvious intention of making that case. If you’re not buying it, read Safari creator Dave Hyatt’s weblog. He mentions doing things “the IE way” many times — often reluctantly. The makers of “alternative” browsers don’t always like it, but they understand they have to be compatible with the IE-targeted sites.
If makers of alternative browsers are truly serious about challenging IEâs dominance, then they need to ditch the standards religion and make their challenge credible. They need to support EVERY feature of Internet Explorer, at least as it pertains to the rendering of HTML pages.
I have three real problems with Microsoft’s added, IE-only features:
- they don’t delineate them from standard features
- they focus on them instead of standards-compliance, which is clearly more important.
- they show no intention of getting their features ratified as standards so other browser makers can use them.
Maybe Carroll didn’t realize this, but there are Mozilla-only features, too. In CSS, they are prefixed with “-moz”. For example, “-moz-border-radius” is a Mozilla-only CSS property. It’s not standards-complaint. But, it exists in it’s own “-moz” realm, clearly outside the scope of the standards. Additionaly, the Mozilla team made and solid effort to get the baseline standards right before trying to buiild extras on top of them. And, the purpose of these “-moz” features is to test upcoming standards-compliant features or to create new features that can be passed on to the W3C for inclusion at some point down the road. They are designed, documented, and built to be shared.
Microsoft creates value-added features as a means of market domination. Mozilla does it as a means of promoting innovation and furthering the web.
Carroll seems to believe in the concept of web standards: a “baseline” set of features and expectations we can have from our browsers. However, he also seems to be suggesting that for those standards we should use “the IE way” as their core. I believe this is a conflict of interest, and a step backwards. Microsoft has shown that it will always abuse a position of power. It has shown that it is no longer interested in interoperability of web sites with other browsers. It has shown that it is no longer interested in innovation, or even fixing bugs in IE (when was the last feature-packed update of IE?). Carroll and I agree that we need a set of baseline standards. For some reason, Carroll believes those that exist aren’t good enough. Fine. Pick someone else to make new ones, if you must — but Microsoft can not be that someone else. It’s patently absurd.
IE doesn’t do basic, long-standing CSS properly. Until it does, I’m not interested in Microsoft’s “bonus features.” Sorry, John.