Why Web Standards

Updated: October 13, 2007

If you're on this page, chances are you clicked on a link at the top of another page on this site, which means that your web browser is markedly out of date, or that there's some serious problem with the code for this site (in the latter case, let me know immediately - beehive+css@onebee.com). Or, perhaps you're here because you snooped around and found this page. Well, it might be informative, but I'm really here to talk to those of you who are still surfing the web with outdated browsers that are not "standards-compliant," meaning they don't function properly with the currently accepted language of HTML (web code) among the Internet community.

The Web is an ever-changing medium, and every so often, those changes are big enough that some of the older technology gets left behind. ESPN has an excellent page about this, with a very compelling pie chart: espn.go.com/browserupgrade.html. I agree with them that you should upgrade to a standards-compliant browser. Anything version 5.0 or higher should suit you fine, although most browsers are well beyond that by now. Microsoft Internet Explorer for Windows is at 6.x, and Netscape is in the sevens. By comparison, the vast majority of people seeing this page are running Netscape 4.x.

Unfortunately, it just can't keep up.

When I set about redesigning this site and making it into onebee.com, I thought long and hard about how to address the non-compliant browsers. It made good sense for me to branch into some of the new (and not-so-new) technologies that the Web has to offer. The new layouts for onebee.com are more elegant and faster to load, because of the lighter page weight that style-based design affords. But I knew this would mean leaving Netscape 4 behind. And I don't use Netscape 4 any more (I use Safari for Mac OS X and I recommend it highly), but I fondly remember the days when it was my browser of choice - my stand against the oppressive reign of Microsoft.

At first, what I wanted to do was to create the pages in such a way that they would look like I intended in newer browsers like Safari and OmniWeb and Firefox and the latest versions of Netscape and IE, but then strive to get the site to at least look decent in older browsers. I'm not a CSS snob; I'm not an XHTML snob. I harumph at other designers who spend all their energy making sure their page validates with every iota of the W3C's idiosyncratic standards. I wanted the design of my site to state that I was proud to live in the real world, where no web browser accurately conforms to all of the standards - you have to design for what's there, not what should be there. The focus should be on making the best website, not passing some silly checklist of arcane rules. (Ironically, this rant against standards and the W3C was posted at the same time that I was completing my design - I strongly agree with it.) But, as I embarked upon the design phase, I realized that the most effective design would not be one that reached all the way back to Netscape 4. I had to let go of this dream, for two main reasons.

One is that it would lead to unavoidable compromise between what was best for the site and what was most supported in older browsers. I didn't want to hold back new developments for that reason. I had taken long enough to grudgingly accept the virtues of style-based design, and it was time to move forward before I and my skillset became as outdated as Netscape 4. And the second is that I would have looked like a sloppy designer. In the non-compliant browsers, you wouldn't see any of the hard work I had done to adapt the style to some acceptable representation of the true design. In fact, quite the opposite. What you'd notice first are the shortcomings, and you'd think they were my shortcomings, not the web browser's.

So, I came to the decision that I had to make a clean break; I had to draw a line and say "this is as far back as I will support." Anything farther back gets the very plain look that you probably already saw on the homepage. It isn't very attractive, but at least there's no confusion. By keeping the site plain in non-compliant browsers, I'm making it clear that it simply isn't intended to work with them. An extremely carefully designed and thoughtfully constructed site awaits you at onebee.com - at the simple cost of a browser upgrade. ($0, 15 minutes)

You will still be able to view this site's content in a non-compliant browser if you choose to, and I'm glad that it's available to you. But I hope that you'll consider upgrading, because the web is a faster, more effective, and altogether prettier place on this side.