Tuesday, September 12, 2006

IE versus Firefox

As a relatively novice web developer, it is hard to convey my complete and utter frustration at the differences between browser rendering engines. Minute details within CSS and HTML cause relatively dramatic differences in the overall presentation of a page.

I asked myself "how did we get here?" How can relatively intelligent and definite experts in their fields cause so much time to be wasted by web developers toward the relatively simple goal of getting people to see what they mean? I believe it is the innappropriate use of an elegant design at the very inception of web technologies.

HTML (I'll remind you that stands for Hyper Text Markup Language), I believe was intended to allow authors to take their text and make it do more things than simple text. Authors were still expected to focus on the quality of their text and add references to other related content which would further enlighten the reader. The default presentations were stark, but didn't distract a user from the main purpose of technology.

Fastfoward 10 or 15 years an now web authors (it's hard to be a plain author anymore) aren't as interested in the content as they are the presentation of the content. People aren't trying to make sure their content has good references, they are trying to make sure that they have a nice background it is eye catching enough to entice someone to read part of it. The advent of CSS really helped cement this transition.

HTML/CSS has grown from a set of markup tags to a gigantic laundry list of presentation related checkmarks. It's now possible to do the same presentation markup in many ways which is to me first indication that a language or platform is creeping over the proverbial hill. With the scope of this it is no wonder to me that browser engines have issues trying to render what is meant by the web author. Since they all do it slightly differently, it takes a long time to get them all to present a page in exactly the way a web author intends. The time is spent iteratively modifying presentation, checking it in a browser, fixing it, then going back and ensuring the change didn't break something in another browser.

The ratio of time spent on authoring content verus marking it up for presentation has shifted to a near unreasonable balance. I believe it is time to abandon the HTML/CSS standards and adopt something more along the lines of PDF. With PDF you simply render it the way you want it one time and a user will see it that way. I'm not proposing that PDF itself be the standard, but something analogous to it that allows the rich interactions of the web. While we are at it, let's get rid of HTTP (yes that is Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) and move to a protocol for the twenty-first century.

Granted there could be issues with scroll bars and different monitor dimensions, but to that I say a big "so what?!?!" If people are able to maximize a much larger portion of their time on authoring content versus wasting it on presentation, the content quality should increase and a user would be more involved in reading and less annoyed with the size of their monitor.

Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps the original contributors and founders of HTML are on the same mission I'm on and it is just taking a long time to get the tools in place to free up authors and web authors alike to maximize their creativity. Perhaps the original contributors and founders are no longer involved and we are in a free-for-all where we still may be headed in the right direction. In the mean time, it is frustrating and a huge time waste.

In any case, I've worked through most of the issues with the presentation I've been working on and will release it shortly. After that I hope to not have to return to this space for quite some time.

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