"Behind the Scenes"
|April 2011||The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd|
While the W3C is considered to be the standards body for CSS, their way of labelling the status of their various proposals never goes so far as to label anything as an actual standard. Their labelling system only includes levels such as draft, candidate and recommendation. This actually makes sense since it isn't the W3C that defines when one of their proposals becomes a standard - it is the browsers that determine that.
All of the major companies that are producing web browsers and some of the smaller ones as well all belong to the W3C and are involved in the discussions there as to what sorts of things should be included in the various proposed standards. Once the proposed standard reaches the stage where a particular section is considered to be stable, the browsers will start to implement that particular part of the proposal into the next version of their browser. Over a period of time more and more browsers will implement more and more of the proposal.
The only difficulty with this approach is where something is implemented too soon by a particular browser and the proposal is changed after that implementation so that what was implemented by that browser ends up not matching what other browsers subsequently implement. That's what happened with Internet Explorer 5 with its implementation of the CSS box model which was subsequently changed from the way that browser implemented it leading to the need for subsequent browsers to be able to identify which particular version of the box model that a web page was trying to use.
Perhaps the two most significant points in the development of the CSs standards so far are the death of Netscape 4 and the release of Internet Explorer 8. Netscape 4 was the last of the popular browsers that didn't support enough CSS to allow all of the page appearance to be defined in the CSS with all of the page layout code finally being able to be removed from the HTML. Internet Explorer 8 was the last of the major browsers to fully support the CSS 2.1 proposal which effectively converted CSS 2.1 into a defacto standard irrespective of what status the W3C give it.
Unfortunately, unlike the various other browsers where everyone upgrades to the latest version almost immediately, there are a significant number of Internet Explorer users who delay a long time before finally upgrading. This delay is in part caused due to the way that Internet Explorer is so closely tied into the operating system that newer versions of IE will not run on older operating systems.This has meant that there are still a significant number of people still using IE6 at a time when IE9 is about to be released (IE9 will make the W3C's XHTML 1.0 into a defacto standard in the same way IE8 has made CSS 2.1 a defacto standard as once that is out all the latest browsers will finally support XHTML).This means that sites need to decide at what point they will cease worrying about IE6 and IE7.
Many sites have already made the decision to drop support for IE6 since the additional CSS necessary to get the web page to look the same in IE6 as it does in more modern browsers adds significantly to the cost and with the falling number of IE6 users it is no longer worth the money for them to pay to get the site to look the same in that browser. Having a simpler page layout that is still functional but which doesn't look as nice is the appropriate alternative.
The thing is that for many sites the number of visotirs using IE7 isn't greatly higher than the number .using IE6 (although counting both together is still way to high to ignore). So at some point in the not too far distant future sites will start dropping support for IE7 as well which will then allow them to use the full features available in CSS 2.1. Just when this will happen is something yet to be determined. Some sites will look at what percentage of their visitors still use that outdated browser. Some will drop IE7 when IE9 is released as they will only be prepared to support two versions. Some will look at how much the extra code to support IE7 will cost them and so with IE7 coming much closer to supporting the standard than IE6 does will be prepared to pay the extra for IE7 support for longer than they will pay to support IE6.
This system of having a group that proposes a standard and then having the various browsers implement that proposal with it eventually becoming a standard when all the latest browsers fully support the proposal is a lot different from having an official standards body where the browsers would be forced to implement the standard. The current system provides the necessary centralised control of the main things that browsers should be adding to what they support while then leaving it to the browsers themselves to implement it. CSS 2.0 will never become a standard because there were parts of that proposal that browsers decided not to implement - and the removal of those parts was the main change in the 2.1 proposal which allowed CSS 2.1 to progress to the point where it is now an actual standard. That there were parts of CSS 2.0 that didn't work out is possible one of the reasons why they have taken a modular approach to CSS 3.0 where browsers will be able to implement modules that are stable while work is still progressing on working out exactly how best to define how other modules should work.
The following links will take you to all of the various pages that have been added to the site or undergone major changes in the last month.