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The power of three

June 16, 2003

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There’s something you have to understand about the Web standards community. Jeffrey Zeldman and Nick Finck pay attention to Tantek Çelik and Dave Shea, and everyone else, and I mean everyone else, pays attention to Jeffrey Zeldman.

You see, MacEdition’s Abridged Guide to CSS2 Support has been around since January. I even announced it at the time on WebGraphics, those lovely people who put me on the same blogroll as my hero Edward Tufte. But it didn’t really get everyone’s attention until I added a column for MSN for OS X to the guide. That got Tantek Çelik’s attention, which in turn got Jeffrey Zeldman’s attention.

This new browser software from Microsoft is based on an upgraded version of the Tasman rendering engine in Mac IE5, and its CSS support is simply stellar – well beyond any current browser at this time. Tantek and his crew have done very, very well, even if their colleagues who designed the billing process deserve a good spanking.

As announced on the Mac-IE-talk mailing list, the team at the Mac Business Unit didn’t stop there. They’ve also implemented support for CSS3 selectors, as you can see in our – really new this time – MacEdition Guide to Browser Support for CSS3 Selectors which I have compiled recently with help from Craig Saila.

My task was made easier by the fact that there is already a test suite for this module of the as-yet unfinished spec, but still, this is the first such support chart around, at least as far as I know. It’s bound to have a few errors: There were a few errors in the test suite when I went through it, and I might not have understood the spec. But it’s a start.

It’s interesting to note that that many selectors new in the Level 3 standard are actually quite well supported in the newer browsers, other than Windows IE, of course. Some pseudoclasses like :target, :root and :last-child are supported across Safari, MSN and the Mozilla family. (Watch out for differences in the Mozilla family, though; there have been some additions to the CSS3 support in the latest Mozilla that aren’t in Camino 0.7.)

What’s the point, you might ask, if none of these cool new things work in the behemoth of the Web, Windows IE? More to the point, what’s the point of using these cool new things if we’re stuck with Windows IE6 for years? There are reports that IE6 might be the last standalone versionor maybe not. This means that many Windows users might stick with it, rather that move to yet another new version of the operating system.

Well, there is another way. It’s what I call the “what they can’t see won’t hurt them” solution. Remember the concept of “graceful degradation”? We used to think this applied to Netscape 3 or 4, or maybe iCab. But it applies equally to the last-among-equals browser, IE6/Windows.

Let me let you into a secret: When I first designed the original layout for the site, now superseded, I hit a bug in certain versions of Netscape 4. It’s the reason MacEdition now provides a Guide to CSS that crashes Netscape 4. The only way out of it was to give Netscape 4 users a different look to the site – no black borders. Even though they were more than 30 percent of the readership at the time, nobody noticed to complain. Similarly, in the new design, I gave up trying to make the new list-based top navigation bar work in Netscape 4 – I just hid it from those readers. Has anyone complained? Not at all.

So, do you think that adding some little CSS3 enhancements for the browsers that can handle it, like :target – or the CSS2 :hover property on something other than a link – would be such a big deal? I don’t think so. They’ll never know what they are missing. Make sure your design works well in Windows IE6, but then if you want, feel free to add something special for users of other browsers. And if you find out something useful about CSS3 support in these other browsers, for heaven’s sake let me know so I can keep those support charts up to date.

— CodeBitch ( is the grumpy cow who does the HTML production for MacEdition. Read other articles by CodeBitch

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