When good browsers go bad -- and they all do

Better browsers. Better standards. Better tools. So why are Web pages still breaking?

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No browser today is 100% standards-compliant, says Meyer. "I don't think they ever can be. But they're certainly much, much closer than they used to be."

Tooling up for standards

Offering developers good tools that produce clean, standards-compliant code is critical to having an interoperable, standards-compliant Web. "Tools like Dreamweaver have made tremendous strides forward in standards support," says Derek Featherstone, group lead for the Web Standards Project. This advocacy group is best known for the Acid3 Browser Test, which checks browsers for standards compliance.

Meyers agrees that the improvement has been dramatic. "You really have to work to make them not produce standards-oriented markup and CSS now," he says.

But Web authoring tools are just one piece of the puzzle. Other sources of Web output -- such as Microsoft Word, with its ability to save a document as a Web page, and the default page templates used by many content management systems -- aren't always up to snuff.

"You have many automated tools -- wikis, content management systems -- that produce millions of pages every day. We need to make sure all of those tools provide valid markup," says Le Hegaret. While some tools do a good job -- and some even link to the W3C's HTML validator -- overall "we still have less support in authoring tools than we'd like," he says.

Educating the masses

You can have complete, unambiguous standards in place, fully compliant browsers and state-of-the-art authoring tools that generate compliant code, but nothing will change until Web site developers change their behavior. "There are lots of people who just slap code together until it works," says Meyer. But how do you get the world's Web developers -- and the more than 20 billion Web pages they've created -- up to speed?

The dangers of browser-sniffing

Although the user is running Firefox 3, this site doesn't think so.

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Getting developers on board has always been a challenge. When Cascading Style Sheets were largely ignored by most developers in 2001, developer apathy almost killed the effort. Zeldman and his peers at the Web Standards Project evangelized to the broader community, converting high-profile developers at some of the largest and most successful Web sites to the new standards religion. "Today, as a result of that grass-roots advocacy, all browsers support standards, and most clued-in Web designers use standards as a matter of course," he says.

But many still aren't clued in, and education is now the Web Standards Project's biggest focus, says Featherstone.

Zeldman says developers who aren't following standards today fall into three groups. "Some are unwilling, some don't know any better, and some are willing and know better but are prevented from implementing best practices because of wrong-headed directives by out-of-touch marketing departments -- and sometimes, even IT departments."

Koch thinks that too much of the Web development community today consists of amateurs. "There are a lot of Web developers who haven't the faintest idea of what they're doing," he says. But he expects that to change as standards take hold. "Over the next few years, the people who aren't professionals will be out of a job."

But Le Hegaret thinks amateur designers are part of the fabric of the Web. He doesn't think they need to understand the details of the specifications to publish on the Web. "People shouldn't have to know CSS to produce nice Web pages. They should just have their tools produce CSS for them," he says.

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