Is there a business case for new web standards, or are they creating a worse web than we already have?

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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

For the past year or so, everyone in the web industry has been talking about new emerging web standards, including HTML5 (and its support for video, audio and canvas tags), CSS3 and much more advanced JavaScript. These features are slowly but surely being integrated into newer browsers, including even the forthcoming version 9 of Internet Explorer.

So far a lot of great demonstration sites have been built using these new technologies (often put under the broad banner of HTML5), built by web browser developers such as Apple and Google. A notable example is The Wilderness Downtown (opens in new window): a dynamic music video that integrates Google Maps for a personalised experience.

Another great set of examples is in Microsoft's own Internet Explorer 9 Test Drive suite of web applications (opens in new window). Featuring games and animations built wholly in HTML5, it is an exciting demonstration of the power of modern browsers.

However these shining examples of emerging web standards present two main problems: first, by definition they are incompatible with older browsers, and second, they are incompatible with other modern, competing browsers.

Incompatibility with older browsers is a long-standing problem. Several years ago, web developers resented having to make their websites compatible with Netscape Navigator 4. Today, many developers struggle with Internet Explorer 6, which is still almost as popular as more modern browsers, by most measures. These newer web standards will never be available to those older browsers and their users, which means that until those older browsers lose users, commercial websites will continue to need to be compatible with them, ignoring new web standards for most features.

This is especially true now, because even though final big browser vendor, Microsoft, is about to come on board with new web standards in Internet Explorer 9, it will not be available for what is still the world's most popular operating system: Windows XP. We are still some years off from a point at which most users will be using a modern browser.

A bigger problem is the incompatibilities between competing versions of web standards. Even though all new browser versions profess to be complying with web standards, the examples put forward by Apple, Microsoft and Google are high browser-specific. Either they have features that don't work in other modern browsers, or they explicitly say that they are only for users of a specific browser. Things are getting to be like the late 1990s when websites would say they were optimised for Internet Explorer 3 or Netscape Navigator 4. For commercial websites with a broad audience, this just isn't tenable.

While it's great to see new web standards emerging, it's not yet possible to see most of the great new tools brought into everyday mass-market websites where a user who is prompted to "upgrade to a modern browser" still wonders what a browser is.

3 Comments

    • Jason Grant
    • Wednesday, 29 Sep 2010
    • 06:38am
    • Reply
    Your observations are correct but we are still in fadeover phase where browser vendors are still getting things built to standards as they are. HTML5 after all is still not a formal standard and so isn't CSS3.

    I think it will take another year for it all to settle down once again.
    • Abdelrahman Osama
    • Wednesday, 29 Sep 2010
    • 04:01pm
    • Reply
    I believe those new standards as any of the standards are built to be backward compatible, so they should not make any problems with old standards based web browsers.

    I know there is alot of browsers don't fully support web standards but this should be the browsers fault not the standards fault.

    I think it was really the right time for HTML5 / CSS3 or in fact they are late, the web is becoming more complex and need to have better tools to be built with.
    • Insideodo
    • Wednesday, 27 Jul 2011
    • 02:35pm
    • Reply
    Yes, really.
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