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Forward Compatibility

April 07, 2003

There was a good intro to this post at one point in time, but thanks to a Safari caching bug when using Movable Type and comment spam, it’s long gone. Hopefully the rest of this will make sense without the introduction. Oh well.

Now, about forward compatibility. The recent flap about the XHTML 2.0 draft says a lot about this. Things are deprecated to the point that no site built using valid 1.0 will work if I switch doctypes? So what am I gaining by supporting 1.0 now?

Sites from 5 years ago still work in today’s browsers (aside from those that took advantage of browser–specific quirks back in the day) so why change coding practices? What works is what matters, isn’t it? It is, and it isn’t. It is because it is what we’re used to. We know the quirks, we can code around them — the path of least resistance. It isn’t, because by now we all now how much more elegant a good CSS–based layout can be.

CSS hacks are what’s killing the argument. The fact that the default font size for each browser is different and that box models are broken for a large percentage of users is why people used to the four horsemen of the body tag, marginwidth and so forth, don’t exactly see the grass as being greener. Can you blame them?

The bottom line is that people use what works. And right now, both work, with their own quirks. Some stay in the past, others are looking to the future. We’ve started seeing the shift from the one to the other, and this will continue, that’s not in question. So the question you have to ask yourself is if you’re going to be stuck behind, a relic of the dot–com boom, or if you’re going to evolve with the rest of us.

It’s been a slow transition. But it’s a transition, and we are moving forward.

Reader Comments

Dave says:
April 09, 07h

I’d say the Bell and Star Choice comparison is a bit different. There you have two companies directly competing, holding on to their formats for dear life to win the most eyeballs. Think Microsoft and Netscape in the 90’s.

What we have now is more along the lines of screwdrivers. If you have to unscrew a Phillips screw, you’ve got the right screwdriver in your box. Anyone can sell ‘em, so it’s more or less an open standard. (watch someone correct me and tell me there’s a license fee involved…)

Anyway, point being, of course, that we have open standards that a lot of browser manufacturers support, including the big ones. No one browser can dictate the standards, they’re open for everyone. Now that we have Mozilla-spawn and Safari to make things interesting again, I would say we’re going to see more choice amongst users. Which makes it more important than ever to have standard code. Sure, implementations are going to be quirky. Font sizes are inconsistent, box models break. But they’re getting them right. I’ll be happy enough the day when IE5 is in the same position that NS4.7 is right now - the last hanger-on. At least it’s far less broken.

Interesting point about forward compatibility. It’s about audience alright. I fully agree that some sites, say Slashdot, CNet, and Apple for example, should be assuming their users have a clue and have browsers more recent than v5. Sites catering to poorer countries, lower income brackets, and schools of all stripes should think long and hard before axing backwards-compatiblity.

haze says:
April 09, 11h

coding for compliancy means more than just a simple answer for browser/platform compatibility; it places the information ahead of the visual design. we’re at a point where superfluous websites masked with flash and actionscript are no longer *wow*ing the audience. the audience is going back to the original reason why they had initial wandered onto the site, the information.

my view on XHTML, CSS, and the whole compliancy thing is mixed. although i completely agree that designers should compensate for web-related rules (as much as print designers should understand the rules and boundaries that are involved with print), whichever method used to create websites will all have problems. quirks, hacks, and workarounds still exist in xhtml just as much as there are quirks and hacks for non-compliant html.

the best example i can give is satellite TV. large companies understand that controlling the individual channels means profit. we have BELL and we have star choice. dont expect compliancy between the two because this is how they make their profit; selling specialized hardware amongst other things. browsers arent any more different in this sense because browsers each want something proprietary or unique. instead of controlling channels, they want to control website/pages. being proprietary means making profit even though it will piss off developers.

ultimately, i believe compliancy revolves around the clients’ targeted audience. if the client (the owner of the website) is willing to axe off old users and abandon backwards compatibility, this will be great for fowards-compatible sites. however, this isnt (and shouldnt) be the case with all clients. each client has unique audiences and it’s up to the developers to develop a product FOR the client/audience. developers who lean towards backwards OR forwards compatibility usually do so because they find one method to be easier; they’re just being LAZY. like the founding leaders of FORD initially said “you can have any color of car you want… so long as it’s black”. we dont work with clients in this manner anymore, nor should we strive to.

daTerminator says:
July 26, 01h

The Truth About The Standards Mafia Scam

the overwhelming majority of big time corporate lawyers agree that these ‘standards/accessibility’ mafia scammers are totally misinterpreting ‘section 508’, which is an illegal regulation that exceeds its enabling statute, which has a lot of safe havens and exceptions, and which does not say what these standards/accessibility’ mafia scammers say it says.

indeed, NO major govt agency website ‘validates’:




Library of Congress

U.S. House of Representatives

U.S. Senate

U.S. Supreme Court


In fact, Microsoft is laughing all the way to the bank:

‘The Department of Homeland Security has awarded Microsoft a five-year, $90 million contract to provide desktop and server software. The agreement, which will be managed by Dell Computer, will cover 140,000 desktops.’

it’s pretty pathetic that these ‘standards/accessibility’ mafia scammers are in reality one or more of the following:

ex-employees of anti-Microsoft companies who are now jobless because they didn’t bring $ to their employers

soon-to-be jobless ex-employees of failing anti-Microsoft companies that can’t compete and don’t bring $ to their shareholders

anti-Microsoft losers schilling out lame ‘webdesign skills’ to ‘update’ websites that they themselves ‘designed’ so badly in the first place

anti-Microsoft losers schilling out lame ‘webdesign’ books with spam banner ads on their and their lemming followers’ lame looking websites

anti-Microsoft losers schilling out lame ‘validators’ and knowingly and falsely misrepresenting bureaucratic regs

anti-Microsoft ‘the sky is falling’ chicken little losers who can’t code and are envious of those of us who can

anti-Microsoft ‘open sourcers’ who say they have more eyes to fix bugs yet who are blind to the fact that the quality of programmers not quantity is what counts, and who, after all these years still can’t give away their free buggy browsers because crappy code simply can’t compete in the marketplace

‘standards/accessibility’ mafia scammers ‘talk the talk’ but when it comes right down to it they really don’t care about free choice or free speech, much less the rights of the poor oppressed + downtrodden disabled amongst us. they’re just there to force us to waste our precious time + $ – not for the benefit of handicapped people – but for downloading/buying their buggy ‘browsers’/crappy ‘code’/boring ‘books’/vacuous ‘validators’/etc.

nhavar says:
July 27, 07h

Indeed this thread should be dead when you have people spouting ridiculous statements about “Accessibility” and pointing to validation failures.

Don’t talk about something you know absolutely nothing about.

Validating to a standard has little/nothing to do with accessibility. While being standards compliant and validating to one of those many recomendations might begin to get you on the road to accessibility you can create painfully inaccessible sites that validate perfectly. Likewise you can create painfully non-compliant sites that are excellent when it comes to accessibility.

Rules on accessibility state that you have to make every “reasonable” effort. Yes reasonable is up for interpretation. But basically you just have to show that you put effort into making a site accessible.

It doesn’t take buying books, buying software, getting certified or anything else that you might think is a scam. The guidelines are all available for free on the internet. The tools to create and validate the code are all free. Accessibility is not some tool of the devil, it’s not something that MS has a lock on, and it’s not some conspiracy. Get a life and actually read up on a subject before you go spouting all this FUD.

July 28, 05h

“because crappy code simply can’t compete in the marketplace”

So, if you think about it, I guess thatīs why Microsoft *must* be a monopoly

“they’re just there to force us to waste our precious time + $”

I can understand how you can “waste” time downloading software, documentation, etc. Just explain how something that is free wastes my money…

And I find it funny how you talk about free speech/choice when you categorize the world as Microsoft goodness and “anti-Microsoft losers” ; some choice…

Sorry for not letting this thread die… I just had to chime in.

Anthony says:
July 28, 07h

daTerminator is Steve Ballmer. hehehe