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HTML, CSS, Javascript are universal standards? No.

By

Not so Standard Standards

Here’s an issue that’s really bugged me as a web developer for so long. But not only me. You’ll find numerous instances of where developers have ranted and criticised the diversity of rendering engines that are available. IE5, IE6, IE7, Firefox, Safari, Opera and Netscape are the main ones that come to mind, and each one is uniquely different. Sure, that’s fine when it comes to functionality and UI of the program, but does it also have to extend to the way Hyper Text Markup Language is rendered in each browser?

HTML, CSS and Javascript were introduced as a simple way to get web pages to look the same wherever you looked them up and whatever computer you were using. A universal standard. So why is this barely the case today? IE6 being one of the worst instances, each browser renders code and parses JavaScript differently, causing numerous frustrations to developers and designers when they are met with the intimidating challenge of seamless cross-compatibility of their webpage on all browsers. Whether it be the complete and ugly replacement of your carefully styled form input boxes and buttons by the stubborn Safari, or the inexplicably irritating render bugs that exist in The ‘Soft’s IE6 rendering engine that adds that little 3px margin here or sticks a float-level object on a new line there, breaking the boundaries of your page.

It is surprising that large corporations still insist on introducing varying rendering engines in their own browsers to become bundled by default with operating systems. Microsoft uses an engine called “Trident”, Apple uses “WebCore” for Safari, and Opera uses “Presto”. Everyone in this business knows that if you want a decent browser, you get Firefox, or a browser that utilises an unmodified version of the Gecko rendering engine (something that I’d like to see more of). I will eat my shoe when the day comes that Microsoft and Apple announce that Firefox will come packaged as the default browser on their operating systems, whilst choking on it in glee, as this will be the best news ever to developers around the world. This would mean no more hours wasted trying to get that damn rounded corner to fit onto that button in IE, or styling that “submit” button in Safari, for example.

The point is, everything should be one simple standard like its meant to be. Browsers that are supposed to display the page the same should display it the same! Is that too much to ask? It would also save corporations lots of time and money if they just developed their particular browser around one universal rendering engine, and a good one at that, such as Gecko, since I’ve rarely had any problems getting designs to work in it. No fuss, no mess, happy developers, and happy customers.

This isn’t just a problem for insignificant developers. Google themselves don’t support Safari with their Google Talk chat system built into a clever AJAX module in the Googlemail CP, because of the differences in the way Safari parses its code. In short, it doesn’t work in Safari! Now if Google can’t get it to work, then that suggests this is quite a complication.

The situation is, admittedly starting to improve; The Soft releases IE7 which is just about good enough to pass as a browser, Safari is not too bad and is getting better, and IE6’s undeservedly massive market share is gradually getting stamped out by Microsoft’s aggressive push to upgrade it to IE7, and in doing so removing the ability to use IE6 anymore (sore spot there, Microsoft?). This can be irritating, however, because as I use Vista, I am unable to test in IE6.

Even so, there will always be enough people using terrible browsers to force you to continue writing CSS and JavaScript hacks to get your layout to work properly. Time consuming as it is, I think there’s little we can do about it for the moment. The only thing I can do is continue spreading the word about Firefox. Which reminds me:

Get Firefox now!

And no I don’t work for them 😉

Geoff

P.S. http://www.ie7.com/

Written by
Geoff is the CTO and co-founder of GoSquared. He's the master of AWS and looks after all back-end services under the hood of GoSquared.

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