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The WaSP (Web Standards Project) is an organization that promotes compliancy with W3C web standard recommendations. They are now turning their attention to companies that make Web authoring tools. According to CNET:

"The shift in standards enforcement marks a significant turning point in the adoption of common rules for displaying Web pages. Though Microsoft and Netscape have both released browser versions that conform with W3C recommendations, activists say they face a new problem: Almost nobody is producing Web pages written exclusively in standards-compliant code.

Standards proponents say such compliance promises significant advantages, such as conserving bandwidth with "lighter" code and the ability to provide access to disabled Web surfers--something the federal government requires of all its agencies. Nevertheless, standards efforts continue to be a source of friction in the development community, as pragmatists and idealists clash over the best way to implement them". By Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET July 11, 2001.

pragmatists and idealists

My accountant is a pragmatist. My parish priest is an idealist. I trust my money with the former and my soul with the latter. I will never get them mixed up.

A pragmatic web designer loves CSS and all the standards. She designs a personal site that showcases what can be accomplished with modern standards-compliant browsers like MSIE6, Opera 5, and Netscape 6. She is always in control and does not come unglued when she realizes that all 3 so-called compliant browsers render her page differently enough to be annoying. She accepts the fact that IE5 on the Mac supports CSS better than IE5 on Windows, but falls short on support of the DOM and makes JavaScripting a major ordeal. When Netscape 6 crashes her system or eats her rollover images, she chalks it up to growing pains and forges ahead. She used to love the opera... but now prefers jazz. When she meets with a client, she focuses on the client's market. She plans and deploys a web site that can be viewed on the browsers used by her client's customers. All the customers. She understands that change comes slowly sometimes, so the sites she designs for clients utilize a prudent mix of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Most of all, she understands that business is still based on satisfying customers and returning an actual profit. She drives a BMW.

An idealistic web designer loves CSS and all the standards. But it's an obsessive, all-or-nothing type of affair. He has a personal site that greets Netscape 4 users with an ultimatum: "Upgrade to a standards-compliant browser or you'll see a version of my site that is not exactly ready for primetime (paraphrased)". When he meets with a client, he pontificates about the importance of standards. He tells his client that he's going to get such a fantastic site that he won't care about the 12% (based on the client's web logs) of his customers who can't see the site because they have Netscape 4. He tells his client that the site will be so NOW that his Netscape customers will undoubtedly hear about it from their neighbors and instantly upgrade browsers just to see his fantastic new site. He drives a Civic.

caveat emptor

The WaSP says that web designers should tell their clients it costs less to produce and maintain a standards-compliant web site. My silly business sense interprets that to mean that we should tell a client something like:

Mr. Client, I propose that you ignore 14% of your customers in return for a reduced billing.

Now, I may be completely wrong, but a well-seasoned businessperson might not consider that a wise move. He also might find it just a tad illogical that someone is pitching him lower pricing for higher technology. I don't believe they teach that principle at the Wharton School of business. Of course, I could be wrong.

Note: I may be taking the WaSP too literally, but my interpretation of Standards-Compliancy means no deprecated tags or attributes, and strict adherance to the W3C DOM. If I'm wrong, please have someone from the WaSP contact me and I will apologize profusely.

dumb web authoring tool users

I recently read a new book by Jeffrey Zeldman. It was outstanding... except for this little paragraph:

"What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWG) programs, such as Macromedia Dreamweaver and Adobe GoLive, attempt to give designers the sensation of retaining complete visual control over web layouts. It is an illusion. A vast majority of professional web designers still hand-code their pages. At the very least, they hand-tweak Dreamweaver- or GoLive-generated code to accomodate the reality of browser and platform differences." -Jeffrey Zeldman in Taking Your Talent To The Web (New Riders).

Actually, I wrote an Amazon review and gave it five-stars. But the above statement is gross mis-information.

it's elitism

I hate statistics. They rarely seem accurate in a real-world sense. But if you cite them, you'd better be prepared to substantiate them. Zeldman's condemnation of visual web editors refers to the vast majority of professional web designers. Where is the substantiation? Well... there is none. I believe Zeldman is referring to his circle of web design friends over at the Web Standards Project (WaSP). As with most of the alleged dogma eminating from the WaSP, we are dealing with elitism... plain and simple. I believe that web design tools like Dreamweaver serve professionals by augmenting their existing skills. I also believe that the more one understands HTML, the more useful one finds Dreamweaver (especially when you weigh in its extensibility). I know that Dreamweaver code cleanliness is in direct proportion to user proficiency levels. I also know that hand-coders can and do produce bloated and buggy code... it just takes them longer to do it manually.

raise your hand if you remember DOS

In 1991, I founded a food distribution company. I wrote the software that ran the business. I wrote it in Windows. All 8 computers in the office ran Windows for Workgroups 3.11 on an NT Network. A prominent local consultant sat in my office one day and literally laughed at me. He told me that Windows and Macs were for hobbyists and that real computing could only be done with a command line-based OS. Rather than getting defensive, I shared an opinion... one that came to me in a flash. I told this gentleman, in so many words, that it seemed like he was afraid that if graphical OSs caught on, his value might be greatly diminished. Perhaps the DOS/Unix command line was his voodoo. I wonder when he stopped laughing.

Now, for those of you not old enough to remember... ten years ago, the anti-GUI sentiment was at least as strong as the anti-WYSIWYG Web development program sentiments voiced by Zeldman and his ilk... and just as misguided.

Perhaps -just perhaps- the hand-code crowd is afraid that their stature will be diminished if the common man has access to, and embraces, visual tools that empower him to make his own web site.

i confess..

I made this page with Dreamweaver. Worse yet, I made all the images with Fireworks (we'll save that one for another story!). But my biggest sin is that I somehow managed to get this page to look halfway presentable in Netscape 4. Now my father-in-law can see my work on his ancient system running Netscape 4. Dad certainly has the resources to get a 1.xghz Pentium 4 with all the bells and whistles. Only thing is, he couldn't care less about processor speed or browser versions. If a site doesn't work, he moves on.

So I used tables. I wasted about 1K of bandwith. But then again, my code contains no indents and compared to many other sites (some that are even standards-compliant), I may actually have less code. By the way, Dreamweaver offers me total control over source formatting. So I can be wasteful or frugal. The choice is mine.

the proverbial bottom line

The web belongs to everybody. That's the magic of it all. I think Netscape 4 is a bad browser. I think Opera 5 has some serious problems. I think Netscape 6 is a bust. I think Microsoft wins for now, but it does so only because of everyone else's failure to keep up. But I categorically refuse to be so pompous as to shut someone out of my site because they don't use a standards-compliant browser. That would be rude. I also believe that both Netscape and Microsoft employ good and talented people and that one, the other, or both will continue to innovate... with or without the WaSP.

I've had my frustrated moments with cross-browser-platform issues. I've ranted and raved. But reality always reels me in before I can cause serious damage.

And what about Dreamweaver and GoLive becoming standards-compliant code generators? Neither the time nor the market is right. If I were running a company Macromedia's size, my product decisions would be based first and foremost on what my customers want. It's what successful companies do. There are very few companies involved so deeply in the Web as Macromedia that actually have the sense to make money at it. Let's cherish them (and Adobe, too) as we do a rare and endangered species. Here's a little prognostication for you all...

I predict that Dreamweaver and GoLive will generate strict standards-compliant code about the same time that the Yahoo and Amazon sites go "compliant". Keep a copy of this article and let me know if I was right!

Can we make good web sites with Dreamweaver or GoLive? I think we can make great sites with them. Do you need to learn HTML? Absolutely. But just remember this...

Two and a half years ago, this guy I knew started a company with his friend. They desparately needed a web site and the site needed to be very nice and professional looking. They couldn't afford a good enough design firm, so my friend took on the job. He knew not a single HTML tag. He did some research and picked up a copy of Dreamweaver 2. He and Dreamweaver teamed up to make a pretty darn nice site. It took a few months, but the results were right on target. As the site was being built, my friend haunted the Dreamweaver Newsgroup. The kind and wonderful folks on the forum took him by the hand and helped him at every turn. With their help, my friend learned all about HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. To repay all that kindness, he became a volunteer on the forum and helped lead a few folks down the right path. The rest, as they say... is history. Sorry, WaSP, there is a place for Dreamweaver and I'm going to see to it that it lives long and prospers. By the way, my friend has sort of a reputation for writing some pretty clean code. Of course, Dreamweaver helps quite a bit. And oh... those yummy extensions. Click-Click :-). And I know for a fact that my friend and his Dreamweaver can write a page that aces the W3C validator any time they want to... but only if it makes economic sense. You see, he loves this business so much, he wants to make sure that he makes a good enough living at it to hang around.

Oh... I almost forgot. This Dreamweaver-generated page actually validates. I promise I did nothing unusual. Looks pretty snazzy in Netscape 4, too :-)

Valid HTML 4.0!

Web standards are something to strive for... not a religious movement. I have a deep respect for the people who are striving to make the web easier to build and maintain.

The web will grow and prosper. Let's be a bit more patient (and pragmatic).