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That Acid Buzz

Just a few days after Chris Wilson’s post to IEblog, Håkon Wium Lie, CTO of Opera and one of the originators of CSS, published a column on news.com titled “The Acid2 Challenge to Microsoft“, outlining the intent to create “a test page… that will actively use features Web designers crave, such as fixed positioning of elements”.  As indicated in his article and confirmed via the Buzz, the Web Standards Project  is a partner with Håkon in the development of this new “test suite”, as it’s termed on the WaSP Buzz.

I don’t know about you, but as I read the article, several red flags went up and alarm bells rang in my head.

First off, the Acid2 challenge to Microsoft?  Why only Microsoft?  An acid test worthy of its name would expose bugs in every browser on the market today.  The original test did exactly that, and helped change the face of the Web.  In fact, if you’re still using IE/Mac, the first browser to actually get the Acid test correct, you can see it in action.  Type about:tasman into the address bar, and there it is, with modified text.

Second, the original Acid test (which I haven’t linked to because it seems to longer be available on the Web) was part of a larger and more constructive effort.  At the time, Acid test author Todd Fahrner was (as was I) a member of the WaSP’s CSS Action Committee.  If that name doesn’t sound familiar, you might be more familiar with the CSS Samurai.  One of the things the CSS AC did was to produce reports on the top ten failings of CSS support in various browsers.  We didn’t just say, “Browser X should be better”.  We wrote up what should be better, and why, and pointed to test cases illustrating the problems.  The Acid test was justifiably famous, but it was in the end one test among many.

And those tests were tough for all browsers, not just one browser or one campany’s browsers.  We weren’t partisan snipers, despite what many claimed.  We worked to point the way toward better behavior on the part of all browsers by focusing on the problems specific to each browser.

I am no longer a member of the WaSP.  When the first incarnation of the organization went into dormancy, the CSS AC went along with it.  Although the new WaSP has asked me to join a few times, I have resisted for various reasons—personal, professional, and perceptual.  I was also asked if I wanted to contribute to the Acid2 effort as an independent, and declined that as well.  So in many ways, this post is the epitome of something I find distasteful: a person who has had every chance to make contributions, and instead criticizes.  In my defense, I can say only that while I may have refused these invitations, it is not out of antagonism to the basic goal of the WaSP.  I have every reason to want the WaSP to succeed in its goal of advancing the cause of standards on the Web.

But this Microsoft-centric campaign has me concerned, and ever so slightly appalled.  The creation of a tough CSS test suite is a fantastic undertaking, something that is to be applauded and is probably long overdue.  But to cast it as an effort being undertaken as a challenge to Microsoft not only starts it off on the wrong foot, it has the potential to taint not just the Acid2 effort, but the entire organization.

14 Responses»

    • #1
    • Comment
    • Wed 23 Mar 2005
    • 1431
    Jim wrote in to say...

    I read somewhere (can’t remember where, sorry, not helpful, I know), that the news article was unduly focused on Internet Explorer, and that the Acid test is intended to challenge all browsers. I’ll have a look and see if I can find where I read that.

    • #2
    • Comment
    • Wed 23 Mar 2005
    • 1432
    Jim wrote in to say...

    Found it:

    While IE7 is the highest-profile target for obvious reasons, I can assure you that the test will reveal bugs in other browsers too — including Opera and Firefox.

    • #3
    • Comment
    • Wed 23 Mar 2005
    • 1448
    Damien wrote in to say...

    The concern, I see, is that the focus is perceived to be on IE, so if Microsoft were to stand up to the plate and make IE work then public perception would be to stick with IE that other browsers wouldn’t be needed.

    • #4
    • Comment
    • Wed 23 Mar 2005
    • 1511
    riccard0 wrote in to say...

    “I haven”t linked to [the original Acid test] because it seems to longer be available on the Web”
    Here is it. (via Tantek).

    • #5
    • Comment
    • Wed 23 Mar 2005
    • 1544
    Kyle wrote in to say...

    I can agree with you. I don’t see IE as being the only culprit. In all honesty, Opera causes the most serious problems for me (our company no longer supports Opera by default). At least with IE you can use the <–if[IE gt 5]–> approach at last resort. They’ve made attempts to account for their browser’s shortcomings, and will openly admit to them. On the other hand, I feel Opera changes it’s layout engine far too often, causing severe display difficulties distinguishing between different versions – then blames the spec for their rendering issues. But, that’s just my opinion.

    So, no – it’s not just IE. It’s browsers in general. If we can get the next generation of browsers to fully support CSS2 properties, and limited CSS3 support – maybe in 5 years we can really start moving forward.

    • #6
    • Comment
    • Wed 23 Mar 2005
    • 1616
    Molly E. Holzschlag wrote in to say...

    As a member of WaSP and the de facto project manager on the Acid2 test, I have to say I actually agree with Eric. The PR is off, which is definitely something that we’ve been taken to task for via Robert Scoble. Bottom line, Acid2 will be for all browsers, including Opera.

    I do think that IE has the most to fix right now, and it’s not unreasonable to want to grab the IE7 devs at this point and shake them up a bit, but I don’t think the negative angle is a good one.

    The good news is Scoble has been helping negotiate relationships between WaSP and Microsoft on all levels – not just IE but the dev tools as well. So that’s something very cool that’s come out of all this hot controversy.

    • #7
    • Comment
    • Wed 23 Mar 2005
    • 1953
    Ben Ward wrote in to say...

    It’s good to see WaSP seeing the mistake and working to rectify it (regardless of whether the mistake belongs to WaSP or those agents reporting on it). I don’t envy them, since the browser climate is very much one of ‘anti IE’, regardless of their intervention. News sites are keen to write reports baiting Microsoft; Firefox fanbois and Internet Explorer fanbois throwing so much FUD at each other as to make a dreadful mess; misunderstandings and mistakes of message that get caught up in it all (we’re all human after all)… it must be hard to have the real aims of WaSP that Eric and Molly speak of given fair representation.

    So much of the time the ‘browser wars’ get misreported as being “Internet Explorer verses Web Standards”, it just doesn’t help anyone.

    In some ways there is a calmness that comes from seeing over the media circus that surrounds ‘the state of IE’, but I can’t escape the fact that it ultimately hurts our cause and our profession to just single out IE as the pivotal villain.

    (Oh, and just to stress, I don’t mean to include any of the talented, honest and inspired web standards and browser product evangelists in my branding “fanboi”. I’m sure you know the kinds of people that I do refer to).

    • #8
    • Comment
    • Thu 24 Mar 2005
    • 0200
    Martijn ten Napel wrote in to say...

    I think Opera has got the message by now :-)

    There is however a chicken and egg problem. We know that one very popular browser lacks a bit in comparable standards support. We also know that the same browser is very much targeted by web application developers in business.

    To get developers to change their behaviour we need to educate them; this has been done by WASP and others for many years now. But when you tell developers “This is the way it should be done”, but their pet browser needs a set of CSS hacks I can understand the scepticism. (Practically we need to tell developers: your way of hacking is wrong, here is a new way of hacking).

    Microsoft tells us “we follow the demands of businesses” (and that seems to be a succesful strategy) and businesses don’t switch their way of working as long as Microsoft does not release a browser that supports at least the same set of standards as other mainstream browsers. How to break that cycle?

    I have a little hope after reading Molly’s comment.

    • #9
    • Comment
    • Thu 24 Mar 2005
    • 0838
    Chris Hester wrote in to say...

    Kyle, in comment #5, wrote: “Opera causes the most serious problems for me (our company no longer supports Opera by default).”

    To single out probably the most capable browser available right now, used by millions of users worldwide, strikes me as wrong. Opera causes you problems? The only major problems you should have are those relating to badly-written markup or out-of-date scripts. Any minor problems can easily be catered for.

    Each browser has layout differences. Firefox does not display things exactly the same as Opera, nor IE6/Win. Then there’s Safari et al. But if your code is valid, it should work in any major browser without hassle. Opera offers nothing to warrant blocking it completely.

    Opera 8 (due any time now) offers many improvements. Opera 7 already has great support for CSS2.1 and some CSS3 – media queries, generated content, lots of things no-one can use much because Firefox or IE can’t handle them.

    Kyle again: “On the other hand, I feel Opera changes it’s layout engine far too often, causing severe display difficulties distinguishing between different versions.”

    I’ve seen no evidence of “severe” changes, and I’ve been testing in Opera since version 6. You could test for the different versions with the User Agent string though. Anyway, at least they’re constantly upgrading their browser, unlike a certain Redmond-based company I could mention…

    • #10
    • Comment
    • Thu 24 Mar 2005
    • 1156
    Kelson Vibber wrote in to say...

    Opera causes you problems? The only major problems you should have are those relating to badly-written markup or out-of-date scripts. Any minor problems can easily be catered for.

    You’re kidding, right? I suppose these :first-line CSS bugs, one of which causes text to disappear, are caused by invalid markup or out-of-date scripts?

    • #11
    • Comment
    • Mon 28 Mar 2005
    • 1248
    porneL wrote in to say...

    All browsers have some obvious shortcommings. Gecko doesn’t support display: inline-block or display: run-in, ignores soft hyphens and causes all kinds of headaches for developer that adores CSS support in Opera7 :)

    I’m looking forward to that test as everyone there has something to iron-out, but Microsoft by far has weakest CSS and seems to be least interested in improving it, so I’m not surprised that Hakons challange is targetted towards MS.

    • #12
    • Comment
    • Sat 21 May 2005
    • 1348
    leif halvard silli wrote in to say...

    I have to say I found your notes about Håkon’s article unfair. Well, I agree that the acid2 should be conceived as a matter for all browsers — and as fair as I know all released web browsers (for the Mac) fail that test, as of yet.

    But Håkon’s article was spesificly about IE7 and not about acid2. So of course he had to put it like he did. I got an entirely different view of what he was saying after I read his article, than from what you were saying.

    • #13
    • Comment
    • Sun 22 May 2005
    • 0204
    Joseph Holsten wrote in to say...

    While this may not be discussed by the article, both the firefox and safari teams have gotten quite far in implementing the fixes for the acid2 test. To my knowledge, safari only has one bug left. The article only needs to be concerned with IE, everyone else doesn’t need to be prodded

    • #14
    • Pingback
    • Sun 1 Jan 2006
    • 1601
    Received from Max Design - standards based web design, development and training » Blog Archive » Some links for light reading (28/3/05)

    […] for light reading (28/3/05)

    March 28th, 2005
    Emergent Microformats That Acid Buzz Nifty Corners: rounded corners without images The Next Big Thing in […]

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