Time To Upgrade?
You are probably here because you saw a polite message at the bottom of the page, advising you that your browser does not fully comply with web standards (special note to Netscape 4.x users here). I do appreciate you following the link to this page instead of just hitting the Back button! I have written this page to make the argument for upgrading your browser. In order to make the argument, I must first give a brief background on HTML, browsers, and web standards.
HTML is a logical presentation language. That means it is intended to provide structural information about text. All texts follow a structure and, if the document is well-designed, its style conveys information about what the various page elements represent. For example, the title of the document must be styled in such a way that readers recognize it as such. Used properly, HTML tags mark up text according to its purpose in a document, e.g. document titles, headings, paragraphs, emphasized passages, references to another pages. That is, HTML tags give the document elements styles that reflect their place in the document structure. Internet documents are nearly all written using HTML, and internet browsers render "marked up" HTML documents by displaying the document according to rules on what styles the various tags represent.
Unfortunately, browsers do not all render HTML in the same way. In the past, HTML browsers like Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer each tried to differentiate themselves by featuring support for special, proprietary tags that other browsers did not recognize. As a result, the same HTML document could look quite different using different browsers. Web designers who wanted control over the appearance of the pages they designed had to hack their way through 'cheats' and awkward work-arounds in order to accomplish cross-browser consistency. They had to use physical markup tags (tags that specify how the marked up passage should look) rather than logical tags (tags that specify what function a marked up passage performs), which resulted in pages that often could not be rendered by non-traditional browsers or special interpretors for people with disabilities. The designers sometimes had to create multiple versions of each page depending on the visitor's browser, resulting in costly and time-consuming additional work. Gradually, the lack of open standards was turning the internet into a tower of babel, fractured and fragmented.
This trend away from open standards accelerated as the internet became a more commercial medium, and culminated in the version 4.x browsers, which were the worst offenders. But by the mid 1990s, a few groups, notably the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), were campaigning to restore the internet to full and open interoperability (more on this in my essay Web Style). By the end of the 1990s, the W3C had convinced all the browser makers that a fragmented internet would benefit no one, least of all themselves, and the most recent browser versions offer more or less full support for web standards.
This is great news, because it means that web designers can finally write HTML in the manner in which it was originally intended. Using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to specify how logical tags ought to look, designers can now design pages using logical, structured markup that renders very precisely on standard browsers, translates well into non-traditional browsers (like mobile browsers, Palm pilots, etc.), and can be interpreted clearly by interpretors. It also means that web pages designed to HTML standards will be forwards-compatible; that is, they will still work on future versions of browsers.
So Why Upgrade?
- With a standards-compliant browser, you will see the internet the way it was meant to be seen. Pages will look exactly as their designers intended, and you will get more out of browsing.
- This site is polite, and degrades to non-compliant browsers, but it does not do so very elegantly. Other sites cannot be rendered on older browsers at all. If you do not upgrade, you will eventually find that much of the internet is no longer accessible.
- The major browsers are all free! You'll have to invest some time to download and install a new browser, but you will be glad you did.
For more information and links to download various browsers, visit the Web Standards Project Upgrade Page.
Note to Web Designers
For years, the goal of a web that was accessible to all looked more like an opium dream than reality. Then, in the year 2000, Microsoft, Netscape, and Opera began delivering the goods. At last we can repay their efforts by using these standards in our sites. We encourage others to do the same ... Designing in accordance with these standards does not necessarily mean ending support for old browsers. It does mean looking long and hard at what that support entails. If you are deliberately deforming your markup to accommodate an increasingly small percentage of users, and if that deformation locks out other users (such as people with disabilities, or those who use Palm Pilots, Lynx, Braille readers, and other non-traditional browsing devices), you might consider upgrading your standards compliance even if the resulting sites look fairly ho-hum in old browsers. If your site is compliant and the content is accessible to all, you have probably done the right thing.