Future Proofing Using Standards

When creating sites it is important to realise the code might not be changed for years. This article shows how Web standards can be used to ensure a Web site still looks good, and functions well, years after it's creation.

Browsers Adopting Standards

All modern browsers now have reasonable support for standards; even the infamous Internet Explorer has recieved a much needed update (version 7) due to pressure on Microsoft by the increasing usage share of Firefox[1]. Whilst it has a long way to go, some of the most annoying bugs seem to have been fixed.

Following is a list of Web standards compliant browsers, Web designers should test their sites using as many of these as possible. Using a variety of these browsers will also provide an insight into which provide the best standards support:

  • Opera—proprietary browser, but dedicated to standards support. The ACID2 test was created with the help of Opera Software.
  • Safari—another proprietary browser, based on the same rendering engine as Konqueror but supplied by Apple with the Mac. This browser was the first to pass the ACID2 test.
  • FirefoxFLOSS browser, possibly the best known FLOSS software in the world. Whilst Web standards support does not appear to be the projects number one goal, the latest builds of Firefox do pass the ACID2 test.
  • KonquerorFLOSS browser (usually to be found running under GNU/Linux), the Safari browser from Apple and Konqueror both use the same rendering engine. This means a Web page in Konqueror will look much the same as Safari, this provides a cheap way of testing how a page will look in Safari using GNU/Linux.
  • Internet Explorer—proprietary browser from Microsoft. This browser has recently recieved a much needed update, fixing some of the worst CSS bugs. Still with a long way to go to match other browser Web standards support, a track record of purposefully breaking standards to lock people into their products[2] and a long history of security flaws make Internet Explorer one to test for, but otherwise avoid where possible.

There are many more than this, but these are the most used browsers (not in that order). The good news is that a site designed to Web standards will work in any browser that supports them.

So What?

All these browsers support standards: so what? What has that to do with making sure a site looks good in years to come?!

The point is Web standards compliance. In the future these browsers may be superceded by better ones, companies may fold, new FLOSS projects may become popular and existing ones may disappear, what's important is that Web standards remain the same (or at least backwards compatible). As long as—open, freely available—Web standards are at the core of Web browser functionality a designer can work without worrying that their code will cease to function in years to come. This is a valuable part of QA and a selling point worth mentioning to customers.


  1. For an interesting opinion peice on why Microsoft took so long to update Internet Explorer, see Joel on Software. Summary: they're scared of Web based applications making their API obsolete, so stopped the development of the Web using the usage share of their browser.
  2. Some interesting articles on this subject: ‘Break the Microsoft Monopoly on the Web’; Molly Holzschlag' reply to comments made by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on ‘winning the Web’ (as if it were something to be conquered); historical perspective challenging Microsoft to pass the ACID2 test with Internet Explorer 7 and the excuses for failing to deliver. Also of interest: whilst appearing to support Web standards there is controversy over Microsoft's conduct with ODF. Rather than support the ISO approved document standard (that is gaining momentum particularly with governments and small business startups), Microsoft have created their own competing ‘standard’ and have submitted it to ISO, there are many problems with this submission. If Microsoft is prepared to behave like this with such a well respected agency as ISO, is it likely they will continue to respect Web standards?

About the Author

Liam McDermott is the technical bod at The Webmaster Forums. He also writes articles and loves dallying with Drupal. His business site is InterMedia.