What do all these new standards and puzzling acronyms mean?
The Educational FAQ, prepared by the volunteers in our Education Committee, will help you make sense of it all.
What is The Web Standards Project, anyway?
We're an international coalition of Web designers, developers, experts and users. Our membership includes developers large and small who want to see better support for Web standards.
Why did WaSP form?
We've lost patience with browser makers' unfulfilled promises to support standards created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and other standards bodies. Both Microsoft and Netscape have repeatedly insisted they support standards, yet every day we're wasting enormous amounts of time and money working around buggy and incompatible implementations.
Neither Navigator 4.5 nor Internet Explorer 5.0 fully supports W3C standards not even those standards which Microsoft and Netscape helped W3C develop. So we're looking at continuing problems in the future unless things change. Top
What are some of the problems caused by incompatibilities?
For developers, it's frustrating to waste time working around incompatibilities when we could be spending that time and effort making better content for those sites.
For people who are paying for sites, incompatibilities mean wasteful and unnecessary expenditures on additional development costs.
And, above all, for millions of people using the Web, incompatibilities mean running into pages that won't display properly or even work on their particular browser if the developer didn't know enough or wasn't careful enough to do all the necessary workarounds.
Web developers want to use the standards but can't because of the current patchwork level of support. We have to either ignore the new features altogether, or create three or four different versions of the same site to get it to look right with different browsers. Top
What's the cost of these incompatibilities?
We estimate that they add at least 25 percent to the time and effort and budget needed to build a site. It's not just the time spent debugging. It's the time spent educating clients about why they can't do the things they want to do without building multiple versions of the same site. And it's the time spent figuring out what level of browser to support and still meet client demands for a cutting-edge site.
But there are larger costs that can't be measured in money. There's the long-term cost created by fragmentation, because different people are unable to use all of the Web on their particular browser. This problem will only grow as browsers move off the desktop and into televisions, PDAs, and things we've haven't thought of yet. Top
How did you come up with estimate that incompatibilities add 25 percent to development costs?
The people who started WaSP are for the most part high-end developers doing sophisticated sites. We looked in our own offices to see how much time we were working around bugs and incompatibilities. We used mailing lists to ask other developers how much time they were spending doing workarounds and extra testing. Top
If working around incompatibilities is no longer an issue and development time is cut by 25 percent, won't that mean we can't charge as much per job?
Most businesses decide how much a Web site is worth to them, then shop around to find out how much they can get for that amount. If much of that budget is eaten up in cross-browser testing and workarounds, then they get a less functional site. For smaller businesses, the resulting site can be so small that it's not worth the effort, and they quite wisely decide not to purchase a Web site at all.
The bottom line here is that, when we no longer have to wrestle with browser inconsistencies, we will be able to offer our clients more for their money.
Will this result in less or lower-paying work for developers? Ask any client if they'd like to increase the value of their site by 25 percent without paying more, and you'll have your answer.
And even if your client would rather pocket the savings instead, that still means you've got 25 percent more time to work on developing new projects, which is undoubtedly more interesting than testing and debugging. Top
But if it's easy to develop sites that work on all browsers, won't that reduce the value of Web developers?
If Web developers really think the only value they add to the Web site development process is being able to provide workarounds for browser incompatibilities, then they need to think again.
Any third-rate hack can look at a browser compatibility chart or copy code from another site to get around browser inconsistencies. What takes skill and talent is:
Developing a robust, extensible architecture, intuitive navigation, and an aesthetically appealing layout for a site.
Creating marketing strategies for integrating Web, print, and other traditional media to communicate most effectively.
Migrating from static HTML to dynamic, database-driven sites or personalized content, or e-commerce.
Document management (multi-lingual publishing, content negotiation, revision control and auditing, workflow management).
Using e-business applications to enhance the productivity of a company via and intranet, extranet or Web site.
These are just a few of the areas of expertise that Web developers provide. Top
Why can't developers just write to the W3C standards and simply stay away from proprietary tags?
Adhering strictly to standards that aren't supported can result in broken sites. Unfortunately, some browsers support some tags, other browsers support other tags and none of them provides full support for all tags.
While it's possible to "write down" to older W3C standards, the limitations which that imposes are unacceptable to many of the clients paying for Web site development. Top
Microsoft and Netscape say that their new proprietary tags and features are what the customer is asking for.
More likely it's what these companies think will give them a competitive edge. And certainly, each browser company has major customers they listen to. However, such customers are high-dollar companies building huge intranets and who can require their employees to only use one particular browser.
We're a voice for the people who are really building the Web and for those who seek a Web which everyone can use. Top
What's wrong with browser makers adding new features to their browsers?
There's nothing wrong with innovations, just with failing to support existing standards. WaSP is asking that browser makers support existing (and proposed) core standards developed by W3C and other standards bodies although we prefer that they do this before adding new proprietary tags and features. Top
Won't browser makers refuse to drop proprietary tags they've created?
Probably, but we're not asking them to do that. Once standards are implemented, if I design to the W3C standards, the site should work properly.
I'm still free to go ahead and use proprietary or innovative tags and features on top of that it's just up to me to recognize that these extra features might not work on some browsers. For some sites, such as an intranet, these extra features may be entirely appropriate to use. Top
If browser makers stopped supporting their proprietary tags, wouldn't that "break" the Web for lots of users?
Of course. And for precisely that reason, WaSP isn't asking browser companies to stop supporting their existing proprietary tags. However, we are asking browser makers to encourage use of standard tags over non-standard ones where there's now duplicate sets of tags. Top
What does WaSP want browser makers to do about the problem?
Our major goal is to get full support in the 5.0 browsers for Cascading Style Sheets 1 (CSS-1), the Document Object Model (DOM) and XML. For details, see our Baseline proposal. Top
What are CSS-1, DOM and XML?
CSS-1 provides control over the appearance of many pages at once from the typography to the behavior of links as well as precise control over page layout.
XML is a "super" markup language for many kinds of documents and activities that allows information to be passed from a Web page to any other program that understands XML.
See our Resources department for more about these technologies. Top
What is the WaSP doing to encourage browser makers to adhere to the standards?
We've been lobbying representatives from Microsoft, Netscape and other browser makers who are interested in working with us on the issue. But we're not just waiting for the browser makers to act.
WaSP has set up several Action Committees to test currently available browsers and development tools to find out how well they support W3C standards and to list in detail what needs improving. These committees include well-known experts in CSS-1, DOM and XML, and related areas.
WaSP also successfully encouraged developers and programmers to help with Netscape's effort to debug their NGLayout Engine, which is intended to make their browser 100 percent compliant with CSS-1 and DOM. Partly as a result of these efforts, Netscape folded NGLayout into the upcoming version of Navigator. The result should be a browser that fully complies with two key standards.
Meanwhile, we'll continue building awareness about the issue of standards and keeping up the public pressure. Several of our Action Committees are addressing the concerns of specific groups, such as academic organizations, corporate IT departments, and Internet service providers. Top
Won't standards hurt Netscape/Microsoft (or other browser maker of your choice)? Shouldn't they be able to compete?
We all lose if browser makers set themselves apart by breaking the Web. The browser makers only have a Web to browse if the pages render. If they can only differentiate on the basic standards, then the Web doesn't work.
Sony and Toshiba compete, though both make TV sets that are compliant with NTSC standards. Similarly, browser makers should be able to fully support standards, yet remain healthily competitive by building faster browsers; browsers with better bookmarks, mail clients, or newsreaders; browsers of different colors, shapes, sizes, etc. But if the browser doesn't browse the Web, then they may win the battle but they've lost the war. Top
What do you think of the Opera browser which pitches itself as a browser that adheres strictly to the standards?
While no browser currently offers full support for current W3C standards, Opera has done a good job of paying attention to the issue. In fact, Opera endorsed WaSP's efforts on the day of our launch. And Opera's current CSS implementation is considered the best we have so far.
Why should browser makers care about standards?
It's actually very much in their self-interest to have full support for Cascading Style Sheets-1, the Document Object Model (DOM) and XML. Otherwise, developers will continue to shun those new technologies. These are the features that browser makers are counting on to get more people using their latest products. But most developers can't build sites with these new features, because few clients can afford to pay for the workarounds and multiple versions
necessary to cope with incompatible implementations. Top
Will Web standards always remain a dream?
If we don't act, they will. Top
What can I do to help get better support for standards?
You can read up, by checking out the WaSP site for regular updates of The Word from the WaSP to get our point of view with no holds barred. The WaSP may sting, but the truth sometimes hurts.
And you can act up: join an Action Commitee, spread the word by telling your colleagues and clients about WaSP, put a WaSP banner on your site, and take part in WaSP's activities and actions. Top