When good browsers go bad -- and they all do

Better browsers. Better standards. Better tools. So why are Web pages still breaking?

It did this for cross-browser compatibility, "despite breaking the JavaScript spec," Lawson explained. Opera changed it, breaking the spec in version 9.5, because, Lawson says, "Mozilla and Apple got it wrong and it was breaking many pages -- mostly airline calendar widgets.

"In some cases, we supported the IE technology that the compatibility [layer] worked around but didn't support the Mozilla properties, so we had to force the site to give us the original IE code for that functionality. This is clearly not the best way to develop cross-browser Web sites."

No browser today is 100 percent standards-compliant, says Meyer. "I don't think they ever can be. But they're certainly much, much closer than they used to be."

Tooling up for standards

Offering developers good tools that produce clean, standards-compliant code is critical to having an interoperable, standards-compliant Web. "Tools like Dreamweaver have made tremendous strides forward in standards support," says Derek Featherstone, group lead for the Web Standards Project. This advocacy group is best known for the Acid3 Browser Test, which checks browsers for standards compliance.

Meyers agrees that the improvement has been dramatic. "You really have to work to make them not produce standards-oriented markup and CSS now," he says.

But Web authoring tools are just one piece of the puzzle. Other sources of Web output -- such as Microsoft Word, with its ability to save a document as a Web page, and the default page templates used by many content management systems -- aren't always up to snuff.

"You have many automated tools -- wikis, content management systems -- that produce millions of pages every day. We need to make sure all of those tools provide valid markup," says Le Hegaret. While some tools do a good job -- and some even link to the W3C's HTML validator -- overall "we still have less support in authoring tools than we'd like," he says.

Educating the masses

You can have complete, unambiguous standards in place, fully compliant browsers and state-of-the-art authoring tools that generate compliant code, but nothing will change until Web site developers change their behavior. "There are lots of people who just slap code together until it works," says Meyer. But how do you get the world's Web developers -- and the more than 20 billion Web pages they've created -- up to speed?

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Robert L. Mitchell

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