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J. Morse Loyola, 24 January 2003 Note: some of the specific details mentioned in this article are now obsolete; for example, AOL Time Warner is now just Time Warner; as well, these pages now validate as XHTML 1.0, not HTML 4.01, and the GIF patent finally expired, removing that legal roadblock to using GIF images. I don't feel that these changes detract from the general idea discussed however, so with the exception of the validation link I'm presenting this article as it appeared on the old site. -- /i. There are three ways to create web pages on this here World Wide Web, and each of them has their limitations. They are, in order of popularity:
AOL Time Warner's Netscape Navigator 4:
What's the deal with that?! You'd think the damn thing could display a simple image correctly, wouldn't you. Well, guess what--Navigator 4.71 and higher can't seem to display the black pixels in a PNG graphic. Not only that, but earlier releases couldn't even get that far (which you'll notice if you use, say, Navigator 4.0). And we're not even going to talk about transparency; support for that is so far beyond fucked up it's not even worth a demonstration. Why not just use GIFs, then? Why bother with this "PNG" thing at all, when a bright, shining, and established standard already exists--GIF! That answer is simple: I can't afford to. Unisys, who own the GIF patent, have been demanding that sites that use GIF images pay them licensing fees. See what happens when you try to create standards based on non-free code? PNG is an established standard that is not based on code that could get you sued, so that's what we use. For more info on the debate, have a look at burnallgifs.org. But wait, there's more! Another WWW standard is Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS2. CSS is a way of assigning the same value to a tag--a color, for example--across an entire web site. This makes it orders of magnitude easier for a designer to change, say, the background color on all the different pages. Instead of making the change on every page, he or she just has to do it once, and the change is applied to every page on the site. Sounds great, don't it? Of course, neither AOL Time Warner's Netscape Communications Division nor Microsoft Corporation got that right. They both tried to extend control over it in an attempt to lock out the competition, and to a degree they were both successful: they just about managed to lock us out of the very same system we built for them. Microsoft Corporation may have won the browser war, but the rest of us were the real losers. With that in mind, our stance on the Usability vs. Standards debate is that we will do what we can to make things show up properly in your browser, but we have to draw the line somewhere. Mind you, we don't require any browser more powerful than telnet to read the content of the site, but some of the more flashy bloat--like images--might look a little strange in older browsers. We are left with no other reccomendation than that the time has finally come to put the generation 4 browsers to rest, bite the bullet, and upgrade.
1 I'd love to test Microsoft Corporation's Internet Explorer, but I can't. They don't make it available for any platform I have access to, nor have they made the source code available. Too bad, so sad, their loss.
2 Some may argue that Cross-Site Scripting is also a web standard, and they're probably right.
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