August 24, 2005 — Why Give a Rip About Web Standards?   Leave a comment

Why Give a Rip About Web Standards?
Photo of an expressive baby's face.

A photo of my nephew, included here only because he is too cute.

Well, for one thing, the Internet is built on them. Standards, that is. If we (or, more precisely, the folks who build software for use on the Internet) ignored standards, we’d have no Internet. Perhaps not a bad thing, some might say. Yet, we have an Internet and we have an Internet because of standards. All the various protocols that are used on the Internet (like HTTP, TCP/IP, UDP, SMTP, POP3, FTP, etc.) are standards.

Standards are nothing more than an agreement. A group of folks sit down and hash out, for example, how to mark up text so that it has some semantic structure. After some revisions and debate and years of time, we have a standard, HTML or its anal-retentive younger brother, XHTML. (I mean that in a good way. You know I love you, XHTML.)

A standard is, in some respects, also a compromise. The standard may leave room for variance by stating that a certain tag may be handled in such and such a way. Further, among the folks that ratify a standard there may be some who wished the standard had included more of their ideas. Not to be ignored, these folks might just go ahead and include all of their nifty features in their own software (if they are in that business) while still supporting all the elements of the agreed upon standard. As a result, a company like Microsoft will include proprietary tags and attributes in their user agent (the technical term for “browser.”) I won’t get into whether this tactic is good, fair or evil. You can make up your own mind.

Whether a vendor adds features beyond the standard to make their product standout is not really an issue as long as their product supports the standard. Since all modern user agents do and since the standards are mature, we no longer have to code “IE-friendly” or “Netscape-friendly” web pages. We only need to develop standards-friendly pages and all browsers should render our hard work. It is possible, in fact, to craft our pages so well that even ancient user agents like Internet Explorer 2 or Netscape 3 can render the content (even if some of the glitz understandable to modern browsers is missing.)

In short: Web standards, good.

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Posted Wednesday, August 24, 2005 by Grant in Random

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