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The WaSP Browser Upgrade Initiative


16 FEBRUARY, 2001: The Web Standards Project (WaSP), a grassroots coalition fighting for standards on the Web, today announced a Browser Upgrade initiative aimed at encouraging developers to use W3C standards even if the resulting sites fail (or look less than optimal) in old, non-standards-compliant web browsers.

"We're hurling a hammer at the glass screen and hastening the arrival of a standards-compliant Web," said WaSP co-founder and current group leader Jeffrey Zeldman. "For six years, we've been taught to be good little web designers and build sites that work in every browser, however poor (or non-existent) its support for W3C and other web standards. Every site we build this way fractures the Web, retards its progress, and alienates users of non-traditional browsers that require structural markup to function correctly."

While designers and developers have built browser-specific sites employing code hacks and workarounds, they have simultaneously agitated browser makers to offer better support for standards, Zeldman noted. And in the year 2000, the browser makers came through:

"To greater or lesser degrees, Internet Explorer 5, Netscape 6, and Opera 5 now support HTML 4, CSS-1, ECMAScript, and the DOM. Yet we continue to write incompatible Netscape-4-specific and IE-4-specific code because millions of our visitors are using those old browsers. It's time for developers to repay the browser makers for giving us standards last year. We can only do that by using standards this year, even if the resulting sites fail in some older browsers."

"The notion that you can create accessible, standards-compliant sites that are also backward-compatible assumes that older software supported older versions of the same standards. And of course that isn't so," said Todd Fahrner, a member of the WaSP steering committee.

Faced with the irreconcilable design goals of standards compliance and backward compatibility, web builders currently deliver sites that are neither standards-compliant nor fully backward-compatible: a lose-lose proposition. The WaSP hopes to change that by educating developers and hastening the typically slow rate at which users upgrade their browsers.

"If the web page is valid and you can't view it in your browser, the problem is your browser," said WaSP steering committee member Dori Smith. "Our goal is not to promote one browser maker's product over another; we are urging users to upgrade to any browser that does a better job of supporting standards than the one they're using now."

The WaSP has created a Browser Upgrades page to help web users easily upgrade to a standards-compliant browser ( The site also offers tips for developers who wish to participate in the WaSP's initiative.

"We're offering browser detection that can sniff out old browsers and direct them to the upgrades page," said WaSP steering committee member B.K. DeLong, "as well as other techniques that don't rely on JavaScript." When developers create sites using valid HTML, CSS, and other web standards, the WaSP's toolset can send users of sub-par browsers to the upgrades page.

"This is radical," said Zeldman, "and not every site can participate. Yahoo and Amazon, for instance, can't afford to risk alienating a single visitor. We recognize that many sites are in that position. Our hope is that if enough sites are willing to take the plunge, the typical 18-month user upgrade cycle will be drastically shortened, and a Web that works for all will no longer be something we just talk about: it will be every web user's experience."

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