Web Standards

A number of years ago, we saw some of the most aggressive marketing tactics ever used in the computer industry. Microsoft took it upon themselves to attempt to beat into submission Netscape, a company that they perceived as a major threat in the desktop market.

Netscape at the time produced the world's dominant internet browser program, Netscape Navigator. When I originally wrote this article, the market share of Navigator was probably somewhere less than five percent. Microsoft's Internet Explorer then dominated that market, with an estimated ninety percent of world wide web accesses performed by Microsoft's software.

As demonstrated by the court case brought by the United States Department of Justice against Microsoft, the marketing tactics employed by Microsoft to gain this dominant position were actually illegal.

One of the consequences of Microsoft obtaining such market dominance was that web designers began to take the attitude that if their web sites worked in Internet Explorer, then that would be good enough as "everyone uses IE".

In my humble opinion, this is not a very good position to take. While you may think "everyone uses IE", this is patently not the case. Netscape event today still holds on to some market share, and is currently bringing case against Microsoft to attempt to recover lost revenue due to the illegal marketing of IE, and of course, recent years have seen the rise of Firefox, Opera, and Chrome.

Update: MicroSoft and AOL, the company that owns Netscape, have settled this case out of court with MicroSoft handing over 750 million dollars to AOL. As part of this, AOL has a royalty free license to use IE for the next seven years. In conjunction with the fact that MicroSoft announced no future standalone versions of Internet Explorer, this presents some interesting challenges for web standards. It's certainly interesting to watch. Now, back to the original article.

Additionally, there is more and more movement to making the Web available via non-traditional devices such as PDAs, web-enabled phones and TV systems, and so on. And we cannot forget people with a disability that mandates they use a non-traditional browser such as a braille reader.

By constructing web sites that require you to browse them with a specific client, the web designer is locking a large percentage of people out. What would a board of directors say if told that ten percent of their targeted demographic were unable to view or purchase from their new e-business site?

Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the Web as we know it, stated in Technology Review, July 1996: "Anyone who slaps a 'this page is best viewed with Browser X' label on a Web page appears to be yearning for the bad old days, before the Web, when you had very little chance of reading a document written on another computer, another word processor, or another network."

Web standards are simple, easy to follow, and allow the construction of web sites that are guaranteed to be readable in any client: past, present, or future.

For further information on this topic, there are a number of good resources on the net, such as www.anybrowser.org, and this great article that discusses the reasoning behind standards in depth. And of course there is the World Wide Web Consortium, the standards setting body for the Web.

In the navigation bar on the left hand side of every page on eight-cubed.com, you will see four links entitled "Validate everything", "Validate the Atom 1.0 feed", "Validate the RSS 2.0 feed", and "Validate the RSS 1.0 feed" (the accessibility and privacy statements are there too). You can click these to confirm that the page you are viewing meets with appropriate W3C standards. I strongly urge all web designers to adopt a policy of writing standards compliant pages.

It would surely make the Web a better place for everyone.