Netscape 6: At Long-Awaited Last - HTML with Style | 4 | WebReference

Netscape 6: At Long-Awaited Last - HTML with Style | 4


Netscape 6: At Long-Awaited Last

Taking Recommendations to Heart

Since it was founded, the World Wide Web Consortium has been publishing its recommendations: technology specifications written by consensus with the approval of its members. And ever since that time Netscape and Microsoft, both members, both directly contributing to the editorial process, have failed to implement these recomendations, or worse, implemented broken and incompatible versions of the technologies they describe.

When this was the difference between using background colors or text marquees, it was a small matter. But today, when the Web is everywhere, and the browser is the platform for so many applications, standards are critical. Standards not in the sense of techical specifications ratified by an accredited organization, but instead in the sense of well-known, understood and documented ways of using the technology that work consistently across different browsers, operating systems, computer architectures and configurations.

Microsoft has paid lip service to W3C standards, but their implementations are terrible. They are incompatible with the published specifications, incompatible between platforms (IE5 for the Mac is a completely different browser from IE5 or IE5.5 for Windows), even incompatible between browsers (IE5.5 breaks pages that work with IE5) and of course, incompatible with any platform that Microsoft doesn't support.

Netscape was mostly up to the same tricks up until three years ago, but then they launched Mozilla, and the people who were designing Mozilla vowed to support standards to perfection. It was easy to check whether they were true to their word - the initial Gecko preview release back in 1998, the milestone releases, the nightly builds of Mozilla, or even the up-to-the-minute sources could be downloaded at any time. The developer's discussions were open for all to observe and even participate. And indeed, Mozilla slowly but steadily implemented almost all of HTML, CSS, XML, ECMA-262, DOM, RDF and other acronyms even more bizarre. There were bugs in there, yes, but the important part is that they were considered bugs in the first place. Implementing all of these technologies correctly was not easy, and in some cases not even possible - some of the specifications contained errors and contradictions, but the Mozilla teamed worked around these, and even got most of them corrected. Even a year ago, Gecko, Mozilla's layout engine, could deal with documents, style sheets and scripts that were completely out of IE and NS4's league.

Some of these bugs weren't fixed before Netscape started wrapping up Netscape 6, and remain in the browser, but most of them are minor discrepancies. The general rule, with only a handful of exceptions, is that if you design to the specification, it will work as expected in Netscape 6. Designing pages for Netscape 6 is a dream. You can stick to simple, easy, readable HTML 4.01 Strict, use all of the wonderful layout features of CSS2, and achieve almost any conceivable effect using ECMA-262-compliant JavaScript 1.5 and the DOM.

Considering the fact that Netscape 6 is almost perfectly compatible with Netscape 4 and Internet Explorer's broken implementations of these technologies, this is no small feat. It is exactly what Microsoft has been claiming is impossible: A browser that conforms to published specifications and is backwards-compatible. A browser that doesn't resort to proprietary extensions to achieve what developers want to be able to do.


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Produced by Stephanos Piperoglou
Created: November 30, 2000
Revised: November 30, 2000