Originally written December 2003: more of a grumble than usual…

As you probably don't know, by profession I am a web site designer. I take pride in my work, as I assume most competent craftspeople do. However, recently I've had the most incredible frustration in my job — on this very web site! — due to the lack of browser compatibility or standards.

Standards are such a simple, helpful, wonderful concept. Some informed body within a field of endeavor defines what the basics are that everyone will fulfill. They then make these standards public, and everyone uses them in order to create effectively.

Good examples are using a certain weight of stretched canvas for painters looking for good canvases on which to paint, using a certain quality of steel in the I-bars used for skyscrapers, or mandating the President of the United States must be a citizen of this country.

The sad thing is we do have standards for browsers, but due to pressure from big industry corporations, the standards are either a truly bare bones minimum, or ignored completely.

Microsoft should be ashamed of itself… but needless to say, much like the bully in the schoolyard, they're far more likely congratulating themselves on how well they're forcing their own browser-specific desires on the rest of the industry. Jerks.

So why am I so frustrated? Take a look at this web site in a variety of browsers — and please note, I'm only listing a few! Let's address Microsoft first, while we're still frothing quietly about bullies. Well… rather, I wish we could.

Microsoft has simply abandoned Internet Explorer for the Mac (thank goodness for Safari!). Microsoft has also been informed of several truly egregious security breaches in IE (6.0 is its most recent version) for Windows — and has calmly declined to address them.

This means unless you're willing to compromise your machine's security, or your web site is straight HTML and not much more… it simply can't be seen in IE.

Yes, I know HTML is a suggestion, not a command. Yes, I know complex scripts can get tangled up in browsers other than those for which they were designed.

Still, you should be able to hyperlink within a file! Simple perl scripts and JavaScript should work on IE! Right now, unless you're willing to open your machine to virus attacks by the unscrupulous, IE is just… stupid.

12.04.03: Thanks to George for a correction on the latest MS IE version! He helpfully adds: "You might also check out Avant. It is a free shell that runs over IE and adds things like pop up blocking, flash blocking, tabbed browsing, etc. I use it for sites that only display correctly in IE.

At least in Mozilla (the latest released version as of this date is 1.5) the JavaScript works. However, occasionally Mozz chooses not to show form execution boxes. Don't ask me why — I've not yet been able to figure it out. Also, once you've managed to select a drop-down menu item, you can't use your back button any more.

I must fix this somehow. I truly loathe web pages which try to prevent me moving through their site as I wish, almost as much as I hate web sites which try to force a certain screen size on me.

I don't think those folks understand how truly bad that makes them look. I always immediately kill any site who tries that crap on me. I guess I can at least claim I'm not trying to do this deliberately on my web site, but that's cold comfort to me currently.

Finally there's the legacy browser which "makes fools of us all": Netscape 4.* Argh… don't get me started! Anything even remotely cleverly coded, or standards-compliant, seems to be thrown out by it — CSS is a lost cause.

Some types of links, such as the amazon.com associate links, are rendered as straight HTML, for heavens' sake. Forget CGI scripts or JavaScript or anything similar.

Let us hope the rest of E. T. Bell's quote comes true, and "our only comfort is that greater shall come after." I wish them the best of luck, now AOL's dumped them.

Standards compliancy… this is why I use Opera (7.23, in this case) — it is the most standards compliant browser. Let me rephrase: it's the most aggressively standards compliant browser out there! I really like that.

It's reasonably priced, and for that you get a browser that's blisteringly fast, secure, can block pop-ups, and is user-friendly. There are versions for Windows, Linux, Mac, and even a category called "Other." Ah, customer service — what a concept.

It'd be so nice if we could all just pick a good, consistent, comprehensive set of standards… and stick to them! Wouldn't it be lovely if we could simply tell Microsoft we didn't give in to bullies, and they should get with the program?

*sigh* Well… I can keep on dreaming. Hopefully by the new year we'll have everything ironed out, and my Firestarter column will be less of a rant and more thought-provoking.

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