Browser Support for HTML

The HTML standards have not changed now for many years and so all browsers have had the opportunity to implement all of the processing specified in the HTML 4 standard. The latest browsers have also now fully implemented the latest CSS 2.1 standard as well. This means that there is a really good case for updating the huge number of web pages that still use HTML 3.2 to use HTML 4 and CSS 2.1 instead.

That such a huge percentage of the web still uses an old version of HTML is probably the biggest indicator of how slow most people are to adopt the latest web standards. HTML 4 became a standard way back in the twentieth century and CSS 2.1 was adopted as a standard soon afterwards. It has taken the best part of ten years or all browsers to fully adopt the CSS 2.1 standard but all browsers have supported enough of that standard for many years that it has been quite useable for some time. Why then are so many web pages still using HTML 3.2 with its presentational tags and attributes?

Well one reason for old sites still using HTML 3.2 tags is that it takes time to rewrite web pages to use the newer standard. In the case of this site my main emphasis is on adding all the new pages that are on my "to be written" list. In between doing that most of the rest of the time I spend working on the site is on correctlg content that is starting to look somewhat dated. Only occassionally do I actually get to update the HTML from the old HTML 3.2 way to the newer HTML 4 way. Those changes are happening though even though it is happening rather slowly.Each year sees far less HTML 3.2 in the web pages and eventually I will be able to replace the transitional doctype at the top of all the pages (which identifies that the pages are in the process of transitioning from HTML 3.2 to HTML 4) with the strict doctype that indicates that there is no more HTML 3.2 in the pages.

There is no excuse for any new site created since about 2005 to have been created using anything other than HTML 4 in the first place and yet so many sites being created today are still using a mix of HTML 3.2 and HTML 4. It seems that the jumbled mess of content and presentation that the HTML 3.2 way of doing things required is easier for newbies to understand than it is to understand the concept of separating content and presentation to use different languages in separate files.

As web pages move onto more and more different devices this separation of content and presentation becomes more and more important since the presentation of the page is very dependent on the device that is being used to display it. The HTML 4/CSS 2.1 standard provides for being able to set up totally different presentations for different types of media while the older HTML 3.2 way forces the same presentation on all devices whether appropriate for that device or not. Many of these new pages using antiquated coding techniques will break when displayed using devices that the author neglected to consider in creating their page.

The HTML 4 and CSS 2.1 standard has been out for so long now that in some instances support for the old HTML 3.2 tags and attributes is now being dropped, particularly with regard to those devices which are limited on memory and where dropping support for long outdated coding methods has a significant impact on processing. In some ways it would be of great benefit now if more browsers and devices were to drop that support since that would then mean that no purpose would be served in using those stone age coding techniques as they'd be ignored anyway. Unfortunately the volume of pages that rely on those codes is still far to great for the major browser to contemplate dropping support for them as whichever browser does that first will lose market share.

Perhaps what is required to resolve this is a browser option allowing the browser owner to turn off support for HTML 3.2 so that people can choose to see all web pages displayed according to the latest web standards only. That wouldn't be all that useful for the general viewing public but it would be of huge benefit to those creating web pages because by turning off HTML 3.2 support web authors would be able to see how their pages are going to look in future browsers once HTML 3.2 does finally disappear. That would provide better feedback and perhaps further encourage people to start using the current standards rather than continuing to use standards that were superseded over ten years ago.

HTML 5 and CSS 3 standards are currently being developed and at least some browsers are experimenting with adding support for the new tags, attributes, and CSS that these new standards propose. The actual completion of these standards still lies somewhere in the future - possibly a significant way into the future. Despite this some browsers are experimenting with the proposals and yet these same browsers still continue to support long superseded standards without even the option to see what the pages will look like once support for that old standard is dropped. One thing that the new proposal does do is to drop all support for almost all of those long dead tags and attributes (there are a couple that are proposed to be reinstated - probably due to te fact that those working on the new standard haven't properly studied the reasons why those were flagged for removal in the first place).

The proposed HTML 5 standard makes no provision whatever for transitioning from HTML 3.2. There are so few tags and attributes in HTML 4 that are proposed to be dropped from HTML 5 that transitioning from HTML 4 to HTML 5 will not be necessary as even for a huge web site it should be a relatively simple matter to convert the HTML from version 4 to version 5. So with not supporting HTML 3.2 being the most definite part of HTML 5, why is it that no browser has provided an option for being able to view web pages with all the HTML 3.2 tags and attributes that were removed (deprecated) in HTML 4 disabled so that we can see how our page will look in future browsers that only support HTML 4/5?


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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