by , 30 May 2004 | revised 20 Jun 2004
Internet standards are clearly defined rules for how all web pages should be coded, and in turn how all browsers should interpret that code. Standards now exist for HTML (hypertext markup language), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and other internet languages. The benefits of standards are several-fold:
- All web pages look the same to everyone.
- Web pages will continue to be accessible in the future despite changing technology
- Pages are easier to maintain and modify
- Pages are much more accessible to those with disabilities
Standards are set by the World Wide Web Consortium to reach all of the above goals as well as to give powerful tools to web designers.
However, no one "enforces" standards and compliance is entirely voluntary. Compliance comes from two sides: web designers, who must use standard code, and web browsers, which must read that code. While most internet professionals (and nonprofessionals like myself) are now aware of the benefits of standards, many have still not caught up yet. Browsers began to support standard CSS in the late nineties, although that support was patchy. All modern browsers now support the basics of CSS 2 and (X)HTML, but there's still ground to cover.
In particular, Microsoft's Internet Explorer has notoriously bad support for standards, particularly cascading style sheets: some fundamental features of CSS are not recognized at all in IE and can cause a page to be completely unviewable, as happened when I was testing an early version of Primeval Press.
In fact, it seems readily apparent now that Microsoft never intended on adopting standards any more than was required from a marketing standpoint. This may change in the future, but it's presently clear that at least some people at MS know less than nothing about standards, and yet are still intent on kicking it up as a selling point: I recently was pointed to a statement by MS decrying other browsers for their poor standards support! Here's a short list of some of the obviously critical things that MS IE cannot do, or does incorrectly:
- Does not recognize “display:fixed”, for stationary elements
- Handles the CSS box model incorrectly, misjudging most division widths
- Mishandles margins, so divisions cannot be properly centered
- Mishandles floats, often positioning them totally willy-nilly
As always, Microsoft defines its own rules using its huge market share, to the detriment of everyone. The above are not even issues of MS choosing to adopt standards, but merely adopting them correctly. I admit that this is not a small task, in general, but from a company with MS's resources—and which considers Internet Explorer one of its flagship products—I expect more.
Web masters must constantly consider the problems with browsers that do not adhere to standards, in particular IE because some of its problems are so agregious. Special accomodations are made for browsers in order to keep the page viewable by a wide audience. Luckily, support is getting better, and in general, standards allow greater access.
Why do I care so much about standards?
You may think it odd that on a games design page I take the time to discuss internet standards. However, I'm a firm believer in the potential of the internet to either (a) be an immensely powerful method for disseminating information (including games), or (b) become a horrible quagmire of bits that is un-navigable and useless. Of course in reality it will probably always be a bit of both. HTML and CSS standards are one way to help us stear towards scenario (a) however.
I think it in the best interests of everyone if we insist on standards compliant software. If you use IE ask MS for better support. Alternately, download a browser which already has it. Mozilla is likely the most compliant browser now, with Opera coming in a close second. You can check on how compliant a broswer is at CoreCSS.com.
If you want to learn more about internet standards, check out the following sites:
The Web Standards Project
"Viewable with Any Browser" Campaign
A List Apart - An E-zine for webpage designers.
CSS Box Lessons - Tutorial on some simple but elegant CSS layouts by Owen Briggs. He also explains why CSS is necessary and gives advice on writing good code.