Save The Open Web: A Call To Action

This article was written by Daniel Glazman, Co-Chair of the CSS Working Group and is reflective of both the group’s discussion at the February 2012 Face to Face meeting in Paris, France; and Glazman’s own call to the community for action.


The CSS Working Group, the W3C, the browser vendors and the Open Web need you, and I really mean you ALL. The following article is written by Daniel Glazman, co-chairman of the CSS Working Group; the part until “This must not happen” represents an official discussion of the CSS Working Group and was decided by consensus in the Group. Members of the Group behind that discussion include Adobe, Apple, Disruptive Innovations, Google, HP, Microsoft, Mozilla, Opera and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The second part of the article is mine.

Not so long ago, IE6 was the over-dominant browser on the Web. Technically, the Web was full of works-only-in-IE6 web sites and the other browsers, the users were crying. IE6 is dead, this time is gone, and all browsers vendors including Microsoft itself rejoice. Gone? Not entirely… IE6 is gone, the problem is back.

WebKit, the rendering engine at the heart of Safari and Chrome, living in iPhones, iPads and Android devices, is now the over-dominant browser on the mobile Web and technically, the mobile Web is full of works-only-in-WebKit web sites while other browsers and their users are crying. Many sites are sniffing the browser’s User-Agent string and filtering out non-WebKit browsers. As in the past with IE6, it’s not a question of innovation but a question of hardware market dominance and software bundled with hardware. But there is an aspect of the problem we did not have during the IE6 era: these web sites are also WebKit-specific because they use only “experimental” CSS properties prefixed with -webkit-* and not their Mozilla, Microsoft or Opera counterparts. So even if the browser sniffing goes away, web sites will remain broken for non-WebKit browsers…

In many if not most cases, the -webkit-* properties WebKit-specific web sites are using do have -moz-*, -ms-*, -o-* equivalents. Gradients, Transforms, Transitions, Animations, border-radius, all interoperable enough to be browser-agnostic. Their web authors need only a few minutes to make the site compatible with Mozilla, Microsoft or Opera. But they never did it.

Without your help, without a strong reaction, this can lead to one thing only and we’re dangerously not far from there: other browsers will start supporting/implementing themselves the -webkit-* prefix, turning one single implementation into a new world-wide standard. It will turn a market share into a de facto standard, a single implementation into a world-wide monopoly.
Again. It will kill our standardization process. That’s not a question of if,
that’s a question of when.

Let me be very clear: this is NOT hypothetical and I’m not discussing here something that could happen. All browser vendors let us officially know it WILL happen, and rather sooner than later because they have, I quote,  “no other option“. Let me also state very clearly that is NOT a lack of innovation on these browser vendors’ side, in particular when they DO support a feature but with their own prefix, following here the Working Group’s rules.

Vendor prefixes have not failed. They are a bit suboptimal but they also very clearly preserved Web Authors from chaos. We can certainly make vendor prefixes work better but we can only do that if vendor prefixes remain VENDOR prefixes.

This situation happened in the past with IE6, when browsers were desktop-only, and it took ten long years to recover. With billions of mobile browsers today, the Web may not recover at all.

THIS MUST NOT HAPPEN.

I am asking all the Web Authors community to stop designing web sites for WebKit only, in particular when adding support for other browsers is only a matter of adding a few extra prefixed CSS properties.

I am asking all the Web Authors community to remove immediately and stop implementing WebKit-based browser sniffing in web sites. You own such a web site? Show your support for the Open Web and remove that browser sniffing immediately after you finish reading this call for action.

I am asking the Web Design and Web Users community to stop recommending web sites that require one single browser while they could be open to multiple ones. Don’t link them, mention them only to let the community know they fail serving the Open Web. Don’t feed the trolls; blacklist them, whatever is the coolness of the service they provide.

I am asking the Web Authors community to update their online services to support the other browsers if these other browsers offer a level of CSS support they did not offer in the past. Do that NOW! Very little effort, big effect.

I am asking the whole Web community, all Users, to ping Web Authors and complain if their web sites work only for one rendering engine while it could work for many. Help us evangelize these Web sites to
make sure the Architecture of the Web remains safe for all, remains based on consensual and open Web Standards, because browser vendors implementing the prefix(es) of other browser vendor(s) can only lead to a chaos of the IE6 magnitude. We did it in the past for works-only-in-IE6 web sites and we did it well, now is the time to do it again for works-only-in-WebKit web sites.

I am also asking the browser vendors behind WebKit, namely Apple and Google, to submit as soon as possible to the CSS Working Group complete technical proposals for the proprietary CSS-like properties they have let the whole world use in iOS and Android devices, harming the Open Web. An example of such a property is -webkit-text-size-adjust. Please note the Apple representative to the CSS WG said it will happen, and I do thank Apple for that. If these properties are so well implemented and so useful to the mobile Web, they became de facto standards ; let’s turn them as soon as possible into de jure standards through W3C standardization. I am also calling Apple and Google to remove support for the “experimental” versions of a property when the final one is implemented and shipped. We, and that we represents the whole Web Industry, cannot let the architecture of the Web become unsafe and unreliable keeping forever vendor prefixes that should be gone. That is harmful and this is your responsibility, because you could provide mandatory software updates to your users. The Open Web does not have to suffer of such a decision.

So please all express your opinion, help the Open Web and tweet or blog that you don’t want to see this happen. Some of you already started, after reading the minutes of the CSS Working Group face-to-face meeting in Paris. Let Microsoft, Mozilla and Opera know this is the wrong way to go even if we understand perfectly both the diagnosis and their proposed solution. If browser vendors standardize the Web, it’s really owned by Users and Authors and now is the time to let browser vendors remember it better.

YOUR VOICE DOES MATTER.

I am finally asking you to relay that call for help. For that reason, comments are closed on this article. Use your blog, your twitter account, Facebook, Google+, whatever. But do it.

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Inside the CSS WG: A New Reality Series

I’m pleased to announce my new series of interviews published by the wonderful Bath, U.K. based .net Magazine, called “Inside the CSS Working Group.”

“Step with me behind the curtain into the W3C CSS Working Group. Historically filled with challenges, the group has grown into one of the most productive, powerhouse working groups in the W3C’s history. What happened to bring about this change? To provide insight, and encourage web folks to participate more in Working Groups in general, let’s turn up the house lights on some very diverse people: CSS WG individuals, who will over this series reveal their independent, as well as global, vision for CSS, and for the web.”

Enjoy the full article on .net Magazine online.

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