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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Corporate holdouts

The last to get standards religion may be internal-facing corporate Web sites, many of which were built specifically to work with Internet Explorer. "You find more proprietary approaches in the corporate environment because they control which browser they're using," says Le Hegaret. For example, ActiveX controls, which work only on Windows and are supported only in Internet Explorer, are more common on internal-facing Web sites.

Because IT can control which browser is used, organizations can protect themselves in the short term from the move to a standards-based Web. However, as market share for earlier versions of Internet Explorer drops over time, more and more Web developers will stop building customized sets of style sheets for Internet Explorer. It's simply too expensive to keep supporting a one-off case.

"If your Web site has to work with IE6, you have to add 20% to 30% in extra development time," says Koch. He predicts that developers will start dropping support for IE6's quirks within the next 12 to 18 months.

By making IE8 standards compliant by default, Microsoft is putting its corporate customers on notice that it's serious about standards. Koch was pleasantly surprised by Microsoft's change of heart. The broader community of Web developers is "suddenly more important than corporate developers. That's something I never expected to see."

Several other factors keep developers stuck in the past when it comes to coding Web sites. Many people are learning using outdated tutorials or are working with tools that aren't up to date and generate noncompliant Web pages. And the ease with which designers can borrow from one another on the Web helps propagate problematic practices.

"We're feeling the effects now of decisions that were made seven years ago. That's what frustrating to me," Featherstone says. And the challenge doesn't just involve overcoming technical problems such as the need to rework Web sites built exclusively for IE6. The attitude toward Web authoring was different then, he says: "It was, 'Let's get it out there quick and get it live,' not 'What's the best way to do this?'" In some quarters that attitude still persists.

Chrome bugged by Gmail

The first release of Google's Chrome had a problem loading Gmail.

Click to view larger image.

But Web developers who want to learn can find plenty of up-to-date educational resources online says Zeldman. These include information offered by the Web Standards Project; the W3C's W3C tutorials and validation suite for Web pages, and Opera Software's Web Standards Curriculum. Resources are also available at sites such as Zeldman's A List Apart, Digital Web Magazine, and many others.

Zeldman says if you're not on the standards bandwagon, it's time to get on board. "Your Web sites will load faster, on more browsers and devices, reaching more people at lower cost," he says. "You'll spend more time iterating new features and coming up with new designs and net content ideas, and less time just getting the damn thing to work."

Innovations

As in the bad old days of browser wars, browser vendors still develop and include new features in their browsers that aren't yet standards -- and it may not be clear to developers that what they're embedding in their Web sites could change. In some cases, features are added to browsers and then submitted as possible standards later -- a process that could force developers who implement those technologies too early to rework their Web sites as the specification evolves.

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