Jeff Croft

I’m a product designer in Seattle, WA. I lead Design at a stealthy startup. I recently worked at Simply Measured, and previously co-founded Lendle.

Some of my past clients include Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and the University of Washington.

I’ve authored two books on web and interactive design and spoken at dozens of conferences around the world.

But seriously, who gives a shit?

Blog entry // 09.09.2004 // 2:17 PM // 13 Comments

Carroll on Standards: Drop the Religion

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.

Comments

  1. 001 // Brady J. Frey // 09.09.2004 // 4 PM

    I absolutely, 100% agree with you. Just because one company has become the lag of the industry, does not mean that we need to hold the others back to compensate… otherwise I see us falling back to the way things were before, and they were not that pleasant at times.

  2. 002 // Jeff Croft // 09.09.2004 // 4:24 PM

    That’s the really odd thing — John Carroll seems to be of the opinion that IE is the one way ahead of the industry, not the others. He mentions all these extra features of IE, and I say that it’s all meaningless until they get the basics right, first.

    Look, I might have a hella sweet 12 to 6 curveball, a nice sinker, and even a funky knuckleball, but unless I have a solid fastball and change up, no one is signing me to their team.

  3. 003 // Jonathan M. Hollin // 09.09.2004 // 6:26 PM

    Absolutely brilliant article Jeff, the best you’ve written. I totally agree with your well-argued position on this.

    Great work.

  4. 004 // Tim Hill // 09.09.2004 // 7:12 PM

    He might be thinking that IE is the way ahead for the industry because of its browser share dominance, but this is slowly coming down, and probably won’t be such a convincing argument in the next few years.

    …particularly when that technology offers more features which boost the functionality of their applications and make programming easier.

    Frontpage - making programming easier, with more code bloating. I don’t know if he is directly talking about IE, but the code for the added features in IE, like how to add an alpha or a colour fade or something, are really long winded and kinda overly complicated imo.

  5. 005 // Brady J. Frey // 09.09.2004 // 10:27 PM

    Yeah, a car with power windows and satellite radio — though quite pleasant — probably wouldn’t be much fun if the engine didn’t run so well. I don’t see “extras” as advances — their just cosmetic then!

  6. 006 // KJC // 09.10.2004 // 11:22 AM

    …but unless I have a solid fastball and change up, no one is signing me to their team.”

    Exception: Tim Wakefield

  7. 007 // Mark Wyner // 09.10.2004 // 11:38 AM

    Agreed, 100%. Carroll sounds like the Fox News Channel talking about Bush. This is a partisan Microsoft promotion piece.

    The presence of non-standard features is not a bad thing…”

    Um. Actually it is. The standards initiative isn’t a religious movement to unseat Microsoft or its browser. It’s a mission to ensure people can view the web via any browser of their choice. When Microsoft spends more time implementing prioprietary features than it does working to ensure their browser meets compliant standards, they’re working towards a monopoly. And when designers/developers begin to use those IE-specific features, their sites break for those using other browsers. How is that “not a bad thing”?

  8. 008 // Jeff Croft // 09.10.2004 // 12:12 PM

    KJC-

    How could I forget about Wakefield? Okay, I’ll revise and say this: A pitcher with a crazy knuckleball (and no basic pitches) may have success once in a great while, but it should never become the standard.

  9. 009 // jheyer // 09.10.2004 // 10:16 PM

    Jeff,

    Great entry! Written very well. I agree with Jonathan, definitely your best so far.

    I like most others agree with your analysis of John Carroll’s most recent article. Clearly MS doesn’t care about furthering the web any longer. In fact I think they’re afraid of it advancing too much.

    It’s not that Microsoft didn’t notice this was happening. Of course they did, and when the implications became clear, they slammed on the brakes. Promising new technologies like HTAs and DHTML were stopped in their tracks. The Internet Explorer team seems to have disappeared; they have been completely missing in action for several years. There’s no way Microsoft is going to allow DHTML to get any better than it already is: it’s just too dangerous to their core business, the rich client.

    The complete article is here.

  10. 010 // sfilippone // 09.14.2004 // 12:51 AM

    Drop the religion? I disagree with that, although there were a few notable standards proponents/authors that had a ‘holy-roller’ vibe or were mantra-like in their delivery or when they were making their case. That aside, Carroll does his own holy-roller imitation in trying to convince us that IE is a good browser (It was mentioned somewhere that IE is developed 70% of the time by developers, and 30% by hackers. Hmm.)

    The sad thing is, Microsoft doesn’t want to, nor does it have to update its browser software. They ‘won’ the browser wars, and they won’t play ball anymore. Indirectly, they are responsible for the lag of CSS3 implementation. I fear that we’ll be stuck using the same technology to develop web sites for a decade. At this point, many of us can sneeze out a standards-based web site, no? How much further can we innovate beyond reinventing design without better tools?

    I do think, that in the long-term, standards will win out. It already is. For my part, I teach my students that there are better browsers out there, and to be able to develop both using Truth (Mozilla) and Fiction (IE). In the meantime, I’ll also show them how to create Non-Fiction in IE.

    Great post, Jeff!

  11. 011 // Dave Gregory // 09.16.2004 // 5:05 AM

    I just think it is absurd to suggest that we go back a few steps into the dark ages of past.
    For being such a prominent name, I would think JC would be pro-standards. While the rest of us are cheering, he is pouting? I am not understanding him.
    I guess my first question would be: If we have alternate browsers support IE features, especially one pertaining to rendering, wouldn’t that erode the accessibility of websites? Putting aside all other crazy ideas JC suggested, I think that he is suggesting we relax accessibility standards which bothers me greatly.

  12. 012 // Jared // 09.20.2004 // 1:22 PM

    Mr Carroll’s grossest oversight seems to be his fuzzy memory of how IE became the “de facto” browser for the majority of the internet populus. True, IE may have trumped Netscape in technological terms by rendering proprietary Netscape code even better than Netscape itself. But let’s face it, folks: Internet Explorer is where it is because it ships with Windows. If Firefox shipped with Windows instead of IE, it would soon become the dominant browser.

  13. 013 // Tinus // 09.24.2004 // 9:35 AM

    At this moment me, myself and 1,955,442 other people are totally agreeing with you. As seen on http://www.spreadfirefox.com

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