Sunday 27 November 2005

On CSS Hacking: The Post You Must Read

IF THERE IS ONE POST ALL WEB DESIGNERS AND DEVELOPERS MUST READ this year, it’s Tantek Çelik’s eye-opening “Pandora’s Box (Model) of CSS Hacks And Other Good Intentions.”

The piece chronicles the fascinating history of CSS hacks, how they came to be, and why. And who better to cover this issue than one of the most infamous creators of CSS hacks, despite all best intention? Tantek continues beyond the historical to discuss the challenges that browser developers face when dealing with hacks, including commentary on Microsoft IE 7.0 and the very real and problematic impact that certain kinds of hacks can cause.

Wrapping up with some excellent advice about what we can all be doing now to avoid trouble in the future both near and far, Tantek’s article, originally posted to his own site and now to WaSP, proves to be as practical as it is philosophical.

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Posted by:   Molly | 04:04 | Comments (35)

Saturday 26 November 2005

Geek Dinner Thanksgiving


Jeremy Carroll, Molly E. Holzschlag, and Ian Forrester

For the first time in my entire 42 years, I spent Thanksgiving, typically my favorite US holiday, outside of the US.

So maybe it was pizza, nachos, cheesy fries and little sausages instead of a turkey feast, but I can’t imagine a better way to give thanks than to celebrate friendship, fun, and the Web at a London Geek Dinner.

I am so very honoured (note British spelling) and had a wonderful evening. There’s a Flickr photo pool and even a podcast snippet, available for play at The Angel Blog, of the event.

In a year that’s taken me around the world about four times, I have to say it’s a truly wonderful feeling to know that I have an amazing extended family. No matter my personal struggles of late, one thing is abundantly clear: I have been blessed very, very richly with a tribe of friends and colleagues of the utmost intelligence, kindness and beauty.

For that gift, I am deeply thankful. So here’s a toast (with my morning tea) to all of you, my beloved tribe.

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Posted by:   Molly | 00:02 | Comments (26)

Monday 14 November 2005

Web Standards and The New Professionalism

WITH THE AFTERMATH of the Disney UK Store redesign fiasco still ringing in our collective ears, I am coming to believe that we’re in a process of defining a new professionalism for Web developers and designers.

In an interview with Accessify’s Ian Lloyd, Accessibility: The gloves come off, my oft-colleague in the education and training of Web designers and developers, Andy Clarke, delivers a strong message that truly needs to be heard:

“Those people still delivering nested table layout, spacer gifs or ignoring accessibility can no longer call themselves web professionals.”

The heart of the issue is simple: We must know our craft! And what we don’t know, we must be willing to say we don’t know and be open to learning. As Clarke points out:

“There are now so many web sites, blogs or publications devoted to helping people learn standards and accessible techniques that there are now no excuses not to work with semantic code or CSS.”

We also have each other. Between the blogs and various sites, lists, wikis, meetups, geek dinners, and conferences there simply is no excuse to not reach out and help each other understand the difficulties, nuances, and challenges of our craft.

In another recent article AT&T: One Full Year with Web Standards, Joe D’Andrea discusses his experiences bringing that monolith into the standards age.

Joe writes:

“I’m incredibly pleased – and proud – to have helped and others at AT&T evolve from a hodgepodge of largely nutritionless mid ’90s-era markup to their current leaner, healthier state.”

Whatever we call it – Web 2.0, evangelism, religion, or simply the best way to do our jobs, I can’t agree more with the strong yet very clear message that real-world Web professionals are sharing. No doubt that getting to a highly skilled level isn’t that easy. Believe me, I understand. I’ve been at it for the majority of my career and as the old adage goes, the more I learn, the less I realize I know.

The essence of this new professionalism isn’t about being perfect at what we do. It’s being able to say: Hey, I don’t know that. Let me go find out. It isn’t about knowing it all, because we surely never will. And, there will be shifts and changes. D’Andrea, for example, expresses that he’s concerned how new senior management at AT&T will deal with the site from here forward.

We can save the discussion of consumer rights and our role in assisting consumers for another day. That, and the subtle fixes that Disney Store UK has made since the public outcry less than two weeks ago. Obviously, someone got the message, but it still isn’t good enough. Again, more for another day.

Today, I want to express that I believe that this new professionalism means taking responsibility for the education of ourselves and each other, and ensuring that reversions like Disney Store UK never happen again.

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Posted by:   Molly | 22:10 | Comments (452)

Sunday 13 November 2005

Wake Up London!

I’M HERE IN LONDON after a long flight. It’s 10:14 a.m. and I can’t get into my room until 1:30. None of my friends are awake, or if they are, they’re not online. No pubs are open. I paid a fortune for wifi and a warm corner where I could get some coffee.

You know, it’s been one shitty stretch. As happy as I am to be here, this is no warm welcome. And the coffee sucks. I shoulda ordered tea.

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Posted by:   Molly | 03:04 | Comments (45)

Wednesday 9 November 2005

Bad Day Over

THERE’S SOMETHING SO VERY WONDERFUL about the Web, and about blogging. I was so depressed, feeling like things were falling apart both due to a family crisis, a love crisis, and you know what else? Sheer burnout.

But reading everyone’s comments and emails, finding out things are okay all ’round with family and life and love, and looking very much forward to visiting my U.K. friends next week I feel better. Much, much better.

So thank you my dear friends. Whether we know each other or have never met, I love you for loving me. Thank you so much for that precious, precious gift.

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Posted by:   Molly | 12:07 | Comments (25)

A Really Bad Day

I KNOW YOU’VE HAD ONE. Where everything goes wrong.

  • You believe that God will protect you and those you love
  • You want with all your heart to do right by people and you fail, badly
  • The person you love doesn’t love you the same way

All I want to do in the face of my unhappiness is drink and please please pass out so maybe I can get some sleep this year.

This is a really bad day. I’m asking you to help, and to keep me alive.

Tell me your bad day. Tell me anything. I am listening.

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Posted by:   Molly | 00:31 | Comments (60)

Monday 7 November 2005

Flaws in the Diamond

DO FLAWS MAKE US MORE PRECIOUS? Since we’re all flawed, perhaps our flaws are merely part of our perfection.

Take Britney Spears (please). I overheard some people joking in a store the other day about how Ms. Spears would “never make it on HDTV” because her skin is so incredibly bad that she would no longer look like so many a misguided straight male’s skinny white chick fantasy.

But maybe the opposite is true? Maybe people would be more interested in a person whose flaws are apparent. We can relate better, for one, and perhaps even more importantly, we wouldn’t suffer from the additional flaw of thinking that if we’re not the so-called perfection pimped upon us by marketing freaks, there’s something horribly wrong with us.

I, for one, have always looked at people as being beautiful. At the risk of sounding New Age (rhymes with sew-age) I don’t see people’s clothing or hair color or weight at first. I really don’t – I see what some might call auras. It’s not really that I see a glowing color, but I get a sense of light and dark from people first. Then I see the other layers.

This has made life a bit of a richer experience. I’ve had two favorite all-time boyfriends in my life. One weighs close to 300 pounds and is the sexiest, funniest and also one of the most darling humans I’ve ever known. The other is a skinny twig who is almost as short as I am, also sexy and funny and darling. I am obviously not using a “my type” scenario here. I go for the quality of experience.

I suppose the concept of flaws is complicated in that there are flaws that are imposed upon us, and those that are self-defined. By today’s standards, I’m overweight. In 1925 I’d have been considered a real Sheba. I’m sure any insecurity I have around weight has far more to do with what other people think than what I think. I’m pretty comfortable in my skin if others are comfortable, too. It’s the crap I hear from others that makes me feel badly – even though I know I shouldn’t listen.

My sensitivity is a self-perceived flaw. That I let asshats get the better of me is something I often think I should learn to manage. But primarily, my self-defined flaws are personality-oriented. I’m a really nice person most of the time, but if I feel crossed or depressed or abandoned or mistreated in any way, look out. I become mean, abusive, and if the circumstances are bad enough, aggressive and frightening to small children and those with weak and passive constitutions.

What do you experience as being your flaws, and what do you feel are flaws you have to deal with that are imposed by external attitudes?

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Posted by:   Molly | 06:08 | Comments (29)

Saturday 5 November 2005

Show Your ‘Fro

IN THE MOOD for a bit of fun, so I thought I might take a moment to ask you to show your ‘fro!

Now, not every Web geek has a ‘fro. But I think some of the most cool of us do. Here are a few examples.

The Classic

paul scrivens sporting a classic afro

Scrivs often sports the Classic ‘Fro. If you look closely, you’ll even see something more classic: A pick stuck in the back of his ‘fro.

The SideFr0

ethan marcotte and the sidesh0w fro

Ethan Marcotte, aka SideSh0w, is the coolest white man to ever sport a ‘fro. I dub his ‘fro The SideFr0.

The JewFro

Molly and the jewfro

I can’t go poking fun at my friends without pointing out that I, too, have a ‘fro. I have what’s known as a JewFro. There’s actually a tag on Flickr for jewfro. Slays me, it does.

Get Going! Go!

Show your fro!

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Posted by:   Molly | 05:47 | Comments (24)

Thursday 3 November 2005

An Open Letter to Disney Store UK

Dear Disney Store UK,

I would write this to you directly via your site feedback page but it is throwing Access database errors. The email appears to be down as well. So instead, I’m going to write my letter here in a public forum in the hopes that someone from your team sees it and takes heed.

Your so-called redesign is a travesty, a tragedy, and an embarrassment. Your prior store was not only far more beautiful visually, but was a magnificent example of standards-based design. Perhaps more importantly, the site was also accessible under the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

You now have a site that regresses back to all the bad habits that have hurt the progress of Web development and design. Here’s what you can expect from what you’ve done to your site:

  • Performance will become slower. Due to the overblown markup and inclusion of massive JavaScripts within each individual document, your site will slow down considerably. Not only that, but because of the table-based layout method, each page loaded has to not only redraw each of those tables (which takes two passes of a browser rather than one) it’s carrying both the presentational and behavioral baggage from page to page. I feel really sorry for your potential customers at large, and even more so for those who are on dialup. I really do.
  • Your site will become significantly more difficult to manage. Want to change something in the visual presentation of the site? You now have to change it in every single document. So, instead of opening a style sheet, making a change in less than a minute, and having that change automatically distributed to all pages linked to that style sheet, you will have to search and replace. That adds a margin for critical errors, which can in turn make changes even more complicated. The same holds true of your scripts, which are embedded into each document. You’ve completely lost the ability to effectively manage your site, much less redesign it effectively when the time comes.
  • Your site will become more expensive to maintain. Because of the document management issue, money and time will be spent every time a change is required. Your bandwidth costs are going to skyrocket, particularly now as we approach the holiday season as your traffic is likely to increase significantly during this time.
  • The site may experience a drop in search rankings across all engines. Even if that doesn’t happen, apparently, according to Google, you are selling a product called spacer gif. What in the world are those? Oh yeah, wait! I remember! They’re an outdated, unnecessary method in today’s contemporary design and development approach. Spacer gifs, in case you don’t know what you’re pimping to the world, are a means of keeping table based layouts from collapsing in on themselves. And now, as Google so clearly tells us, they are part of your catalog. I’m not convinced you’ll get much sales on spacer gifs, but you never know.
  • The site is unusable for any blind person who might like to visit. But you know, blind people probably don’t want to buy Disney products for themselves, or their children and families anyway, right?

For taking a beautiful design developed with all of today’s modern approaches that gave you so many benefits, made us proud of you, and provided a shining example of effective use of markup, CSS and accessibility features and re-doing it using outdated and inaccessible methods I say shame on you and I repeat, this is a travesty, a tragedy, an embarrassment.

Shame on you Disney.

Molly E. Holzschlag
Group Lead, Web Standards Project (WaSP)

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Posted by:   Molly | 09:40 | Comments (180)

Wednesday 2 November 2005

WaSP Microsoft Task Force Update: Upcoming Products, XAML, Acid2, SXSW, and IE7 Revealed

The WaSP Microsoft Task Force held another face-to-face meeting with available members on Tuesday. We met in a Starbucks along the waterfront in rainy Seattle. While the setting might have been a bit predictable, the conversation was unique and at times, very encouraging.

WaSPs at the meeting were DL Byron and myself. Microsoft was represented by a number of Web platform program managers such as the ever-amiable Brian Goldfarb, Sam Spencer, Rob Mauceri, and the legendary Chris Wilson, the Group Program Manager for IE Platform and Security who has worked on IE since 1995.

We discussed a number of issues including standards support in new software, the role of XAML and the Microsoft agenda, the Acid2 test, SXSW, and last but most decidedly not least, IE progress.

Standards Support in Upcoming Microsoft Products

There are three new tools at the ready for Microsoft, each being developed with the designer and design workflow in mind. The product of most immediate interest to WaSP is code-named “Quartz.” Rob Mauceri gave Byron and I a demo of the software, which produces XHTML 1.0 Transitional out of the box and also supports other relevant DTDs. No tables for layout, all CSS, which is great news and worthy of a hearty round of applause.

Drilling down into the markup and CSS, the tool is not without common problems we’ve seen with other designer environments. The XHTML and CSS generated are not as intuitive and useful as they could be, with lots of span elements, classes up the yin and out the yang, and a tendency toward presentational naming. Fortunately, a skilled CSS designer isn’t blocked by the tool and is in fact able to use it to create leaner, meaner markup and style in much the same way that familiar competitive tools provide.

Not perfect by a long shot, but unquestionably a potential software addition for any Microsoft developer interested in improved workflow along with XHTML and CSS support.

XAML and the Microsoft Perspective

One of the most common questions I get asked when discussing the WaSP Microsoft Task force is “what about XAML!” XAML, the Extensible Application Markup Language, is a Microsoft-specific language that many fear Microsoft will use to leverage its hold on the Web at large.

XAML is at the core of the majority of Microsoft tools development, which does suggest that when in Microsoft, do as Microsoft does. There’s what might be described as a paradigm shift for Microsoft, though. Along with XAML-based applications, Microsoft is concurrently including a subset of XAML that would be more readily useful for cross-browser, cross-platform solutions. The Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere (WPFE) will enable developers to work within the XAML subset. Sam Spencer describes XAML and its subset broadly as “Two different kettles of fish.”

Chris Wilson digs a little deeper. He describes XAML as “a rich client experience,” and the Web itself as being a rich experience. In simpler terms, XAML provides a rich experience if you’re on Windows and developing for Windows. You’ve got “everything you need to build a Windows app.” According to Wilson, XAML isn’t intended to replace HTML. While it’s a Web language, it’s about platform. A developer would choose a situation and determine whether a XAML application is appropriate, or the WPFE subset, which relies on JavaScript, is more appropriate. “WPFE” he says, “gives you a migration path from a rich experience to a broader experience.”

I can’t say I’m delighted with the approach, as conceptually any Web language that is platform-specific goes against the spirit and vision of the Web. At least Microsoft is strategically providing some alternative that would be more conducive to interoperable ideologies, but only time will tell how this concern really does play out.

Want Some Acid2?

It was very interesting to be able to talk to Microsoft the day after Safari released the first distributed browser version to pass the Acid2 test. With Opera 9 only steps behind, the KHTML browsers (such as Konqueror) already sporting an updated codebase, and the upcoming iCab browser already passing the test in its pre-release beta version, the question of Acid2 compliance and Microsoft is at the ready on many a tongue.

WaSP has known for some time now that passing Acid2 wasn’t going to be a benchmark for IE’s development at this time, but Wilson, at least, has always been diplomatic about Acid2’s role. In fact, perhaps more diplomatic than the Firefox team, who have stated that Acid2 came at a bad time and wasn’t really relevant for their development process, despite their interest in and support of Web standards.

Maybe Firefox can take a lesson in diplomacy from Microsoft in this one. Wilson told me that he is well aware that Acid2 “tests a variety of features that Web developers would like to have.” He went on to say that he supports the goal, and complimented the Acid2 guide for being well written and fully laying out for developers exactly what is being tested. He finished up his comments on Acid2 by assuring me that IE will pass the Acid2 test at some time in the future, but to not expect it by IE7’s release.


We’ve not yet announced this information to the public, and more details will be forthcoming, but WaSP will be holding two important sessions during the March 2006 SXSW Interactive Media Festival. First, we’ll be holding a panel.

WTF? Another panel you say? Well yes! This time it’s the WaSP Task Force panel, in which WaSP and leaders from our Task Forces will be present to discuss what we’ve all been up to in the past months. Expected panel members include myself as moderator, Drew McLellan for WaSP strategy; Chris Wilson (Microsoft) on the WaSP / Microsoft relationship; Jennifer Taylor (Product Manager, Macromedia Dreamweaver) on standards support progress in Dreamweaver and related products; Dori Smith, co-lead for the DOM Scripting Task Force and long-time WaSP member on scripting progress; and Matt May, Accessibility Task Force lead, on WaSP activities related to accessibility.

If that doesn’t sound like an interesting panel, come watch WaSPs buzz in real-time. We’re very pleased to announce that our annual WaSP meeting will be held live and in public under the auspices of the SXSW crew. This will include every WaSP member who attends SXSW plus all task force participants, including significant representation from Microsoft and Macromedia. The first hour is our meeting, following rules of order but open for any member of the SXSW public to observe (we are also hoping to videocast it). The second hour will consist of questions we’ve collected in advance of the event from any interested individual (we’ll be setting up an email address, watch this spot for more information) and the final period will be available for open Q & A from the audience.

We look forward to your participation, whether you’re able to be present in Austin, or not. Again, more details will be forthcoming as the plans, participants, and locations are finalized.

IE Progress

Many readers here also follow the IEBlog (a good practice for contemporary Web developers and designers). Expect significant repairs to most existing bugs, implementation of long-awaited CSS features such as fixed positioning, child selectors, and attribute selectors. Alpha transparency in PNGs? Yes! The XML declaration will now be available without disturbing the DOCTYPE switch, and object handling will be improved with proper fallback.

However, some things simply won’t be there. Generated content? “Won’t make it” Wilson tells us. There’s an overflow problem that probably won’t be fixed, and object for images will most likely not be repaired in IE7.

Wilson remains optimistic and philosophical however, wrapping our conversation up by saying that “I knew when we started IE7 was going to be a challenging release for us, we weren’t going to get as far as people wanted us to get.”

It’s been my opinion all along that Wilson’s perspective is not unreasonable in the least. Anyone who expects immediate gratification for the support problems in IE is simply not realistic. Wilson sums this up himself, saying “I understand we might be the worst offenders today, but hey – I remember back when we weren’t the worst offender.”

And finally, a nod to his team and to the realities of IE’s future:

“The team has done a tremendous amount of work, but we still have a long way to go.”

Good Coffee

The meeting went well, and I’m always impressed by the way that Microsoft interacts with us. Bridges have been built, and we at the hive are confident that we can continue to be an encouraging, supportive resource for Microsoft developers, no matter where their business strategy might lead.

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Posted by:   Molly | 08:16 | Comments (44)

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