Skipping CSS2 in IE7 Is Wrong

Skipping CSS2 in IE7 Is Wrong

Skipping CSS2 in IE7 Is Wrong

This opinion looks very interesting, so i decided to publish it here for records

Microsoft is about to release IE 7.0, and if you’ve been hoping that this new release would solve your development problems, prepare to be disappointed.

Besides the obvious issues with an X.0 release of anything, word has it that the new browser won’t fully support CSS2 standards.

So what else is new?

Since the beginning, those of us who make Web sites for a living have had to contend with various implementations of Web “standards.” We’ve coded and canoodled and hacked and browser-detected in order to get our pages to render correctly in the plethora of browsers our users came to us with.

When Microsoft pretty much won the Browser War and Netscape faded into relative obscurity, it seemed that at least if we didn’t have the best browser to deal with at least we had pretty much one browser to deal with.

Then along came Firefox (and Opera, to be fair), and all of a sudden we were back in the trenches again. To everyone’s surprise, it turned out that Firefox was a pretty nifty browser that adhered to the open standards and worked really, really well. Subsequently, it caught on like wildfire, and Microsoft began to see their market share get eaten away again.

And now here comes IE 7.0, and we’re again going to be faced with a dilemma. Considering Microsoft’s overwhelming share of the market (and the fact that their browser is integrated into everything that goes on inside Windows), we’re going to have to continue to deal with the limitations of a substandard browser. I use the word “substandard” advisedly because IE7.0 is coming in below the standard that the WC3 has put forth.

Microsoft claims that CSS3 is a “flawed” standard and that they’ve been working towards standards compliance all along, but, of course, the fact remains that it took until IE6 for CSS1 to be fully implemented.

So why isn’t full CSS2 support being included in 7.0? There are two theories currently kicking around the Net:

  1. Microsoft can’t support CSS2 because of either timing or rendering engine issues (a theory first proposed by Dean Edwards when he looked at the rendering code.)
  2. Microsoft doesn’t want to support CSS2 in order to maintain competitive advantage (a theory proposed by Mark Daoust.)

The first theory makes sense in the context of long-pushed-back deadlines and the complexity of creating a browser that’s also part of the OS. Browsers are complicated beasts and are only made more complicated when they’re used for everything that Windows has to use Explorer for. It may be that Microsoft made the decision that missing their release date was worse from a PR standpoint than releasing something on-time that isn’t fully formed.

The other theory is, of course, a bit more sinister. Microsoft knows that they own most of the browser market but they also know that Firefox is slowly eating their lunch. Creating a browser that is essentially a clone of Firefox (as 7.0 is rumored to be with tabbed browsing and RSS support) that supports WC3 standards would essentially provide no competitive advantage.

On the other hand, creating a browser pretty much like Firefox that forces developers to choose how they’re going to code their pages in order to maintain compatibility with the majority of the market sends a strong statement and forces everyone?developers and users alike?to keep on the Microsoft bandwagon.

After all, when you’re working on a project and have limited time and budget, aren’t you going to code for the browser that makes up 60+ percent of the market first? Of course, you are, and most of us do. Forcing the choice maintains control and Microsoft’s dominance of the marketplace. By not adhering to standards, Microsoft wins.

Unfortunately, both developers and users lose. Developers lose because they’re limited in what they can do online and are forced to spend more resources dealing with the vagaries of browsers. Users lose because they’re forced to choose what browser they want to use in order to tap into the Web and because that choice limits what they can and can’t see or do.

The real tragedy about Microsoft’s heel-dragging with standards is that, yet again, users?those folks who provide the traffic that keeps us all paid?are being denied a consistent experience online and are again facing another barrier to that experience.

While those of us in the biz are forced to think about these kinds of technical issues, the fact is that users don’t care. They don’t care about WC3 standards, they don’t care about Microsoft’s inability to deliver, and they don’t care about all the geeky stuff that so many techies get off on. They just want to be able to fire up their browsers, go online, shop, read, talk, play and communicate without having to think about the technology.

Oh, they’re doing so now and will continue to do so into the future (the Web’s just too integral to most people’s lives now to go back), but they’re still going to be stymied by the kinds of technical issues that prevent them from fully using the Web in the way that it could be used.

When the day comes that Joe Sixpack can use the Web as easily as he can his TV and doesn’t have to think about the technology, that’s the day we all?developers, businesses, and users?win. Only by adhering to open standards can that day ever come.

Wake up, Microsoft.

Sean Carton is dean of the School of Design & Media at Philadelphia University and director of research and development at Carton Donofrio Partners.