Web Standards: To Use or Not to Use

web tools imageIn the beginning…

Tim Berners-Lee, considered the father of the Web, first envisioned the Internet based hypertext system in the late 1980’s. He wrote the first web browser, WorldWideWeb in 1991 to facilitate collaboration with his colleagues at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

During the early 1990’s the industry saw many browsers developed and released. Marc Andreessen released Netscape Navigator free for non-commercial use and, by 1995, began to dominant the market. However, Microsoft soon answered by releasing Internet Explorer 2 or IE 2 free to all Windows users. Microsoft started grabbing market share and began, what has since been called, the era of ‘browser wars’. With the release of IE 4 in 1997, Microsoft changed the tides of the war.

Peace imageCan there be peace?

During this time development was rapid and the introduction of new features often took priority over bug fixes, resulting in unstable browsers, frequent crashes and many security holes. Because each technology used browser specific code, pages developed for one browser would not display well, if at all, in another.

Once again, Tim Berners-Lee saw a need.  In 1994 he started the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) with the stated mission “to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the Web” [Source: W3C].  Since then, W3C has grown to include over 450 member organizations including Microsoft and America Online (parent company of Netscape).

The treaty…

The W3C forms working groups to develop open specifications and guidelines to enhance the interoperability of the Web.  These groups make recommendations that are formalized and accepted by the W3C and their member organizations.  The current W3C standards are:

  • HTML 4.0 – HyperText Markup Language
  • XML 1.0 – Extensible Markup Language
  • XHTML 1.0 & 1.1 – Reformulation of HTML as an XML application
  • CSS – Cascading Style Sheets
  • DOM 1 – Document Object Model Level 1

peace treaty imageThanks to the W3C, the browser wars are over and with them the need to develop specific code for specific browsers.  All the major browsers are now cooperating and supporting the above standards so that the same piece of code in a web site will look the same across multiple browsers.

To use or not to use?

Designing with web standards is a general term meaning not only using the standard technologies, but using them correctly by separating the content, the scripting and the styling.

There are many tangible benefits to designing with web standards. Separating the content from the styling makes websites easier to update and less costly to maintain. Also, the separation will mean a substantial savings on bandwidth leading to lower hosting costs.  Finally, separating the content from the styling will increase a site’s findability since search engines can do a better job of indexing the sites.

Web Standards image

Most importantly, standards compliance allows web pages to be understood by people using different types of browsers, like voice or Braille browsers, making it easier for people with special needs to use the web. Additionally, its easier to code for mobile and tablet browsers.

In conclusion, designing with web standards will make your code more efficient, easier to maintain, more accessible and more staple.  Standards compliance will lower development and hosting costs while expanding your audience.  Thank you Mr. Berners-Lee for the Web and web standards!