Firefox investigation

Recently, I got to my attention that some people at my company were going to perform a "Firefox investigation". What this meant was that they had built an extranet for a customer who now had requested it to work in Firefox as well (goes without saying that it was a solution that only worked in IE in Windows). With me supressing the need to exclaim to everyone involved that if they hadn't done such a piss-poor job the first time around, it would've worked in Firefox already (as well as Opera, Safari etc together with other standards-compliant web browsers), I decided to call the Project Manager and talk about this. What I wanted to do was explain to him that it was dangerous to take on the project with the mindset that it should work in a certain web browser as opposed to following the given recommendations and standards, that by doing it with the general approach it would be a much better guarantee for future compatability, automatically targeting more web browsers and easier maintenance. Naturally, every web browser have some flaws that there might be workarounds for, but in general, if you write correct code you will get very close to a web site that will work in as many web browsers/platforms as possible. So, I called him up, and it went a bit like this:
Introduction, bla bla bla
	- But what you're saying is that you have the necessary 
	skills to make things work in Firefox?
	- Well, yes. But I think it's really important that you 
	follow web standards when you rewrite/adapt your code, 
	instead of focusing on just a single web browser.
	- Yeees, we will try to do that...
	We were talking about using a so-called HTML validator 
	in this project, have you heard of those?
	- Er.. Yes (wanting to scream: of course I fucking have, 
	that's the foundation to make sure that the client-side 
	code you use is valid!).
	That's part of following web standards 
	(bla bla bla, is he getting me here?)
	
	We spoke for a while, he seemed to understand what I, 
	as well web standards, was about, and then 
	the call finished with:
	- But if we need to talk to someone, you have 
	Firefox skills?
	- Yes.... (Sigh.)
The problem in our call, as with many Project Managers and System Developers alike, is that they really don't know about web standards and how it should be done. They never heard of the importance of semantic markup.
So, for all of you out there whose mindset is still set in the browser war era (Internet Explorer vs. Netscape): Those days are long gone. There's a myriad of web browsers and platforms out there, together with accessibility as well as other factors that need to be taken into regard. Read this line carefully, and then repeat it in every web project you go in to: Do not write your code adapted for web browsers, write it according to web standards. That's your only hope!
Posted in Developing,Web browsers |

39 Comments

  • Definitely a very common scenario, yes.

    What I suggest you (and anyone reading this, for that matter) do in future scenarios like the above, is the following:

    Don't talk to them about standards. Don't talk to them about W3C, CSS or cross-browser compatibility. Instead, talk to them about "a new way to develop websites that has become increasingly popular over the past few years. It heavily cuts down on development times, thus reducing costs, and it greatly improves flexibility and forward-compatibility, meaning easier redesigning and enhanceability. Redesigning cheaply means stronger branding and marketing for your company, and all this while reducing development costs!"

    Talk to them about that and you'll have their undivided attention. They don't think in ideals, they think in costs and profits.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Faruk,

    While you have some points, I don't agree with you a 100%.

    I think it's important to get the term web standards into their vocabulary, just as accessibility and WAI recently has gotten into it.

    Then, of course, web standards should be used together, and synonymous with, the things you mentioned, like:

    It heavily cuts down on development times, thus reducing costs, and it greatly improves flexibility and forward-compatibility, meaning easier redesigning and enhanceability.

    Another thing that has occurred to me on multiple occasions is that the web developers have said that it will take longer to build a web site by using web standards.

    Of course, this is not true if you know what you're doing, it's just a lack in their skill set and fear of being found out that they don't really know their job.

  • Of course, the terms "web standards" and "accessibility" have to be introduced to them as well, but not until they ask you to tell them more about this.

    Get their attention and interest first, then they'll listen to you babble about Web Standards.

  • Tom says:

    I've experienced that some project managers of course really like the idea of cutting down the development time and costs, but nevertheless try to sell their clients extra hours for extra browser support.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Faruk,

    Well, that's where our opinions differ! :-)

    I think it would be good to use the term with them right away, but then refrain from explaning it thoroughly until they ask for it.

    Tom,

    Interesting to hear. The problem with that is if the customers find out that it shouldn't take more time to make it wok in more web browsers (naturally, depending on what web browsers and features we talk about).

  • nortypig says:

    The important thing is to either be on the development team or have someone in there who really does know the concepts and practices involved. Otherwise you just end up with a bunch of noddies all nodding away but there isn't the direct skills base to implement it properly.

    This seems to be the hardest part – you can't force the horse to drink. If their eyes glaze over or they just don't see ROI due to prejudice or whatever then they won't do it whether we're blue in the face from talking web standards or not.

    This project manager sounds like this kind of guy. He's heard of web standards but can't see the direct ROI in further investigation. I'd probably be more likely to be talking to the coders and seeing if I could get some interest in doing things a better way and take that to the project manager – they'd probably get it before the project manager anyway. Who doesn't want to hone their coding skills?

    IMHO anyway. Or maybe I'm just tired and sad because it's winter here in Tasmania. I feel your pain on this one.

  • Martin S, says:

    That must be SO frustrating. Faruk indeed has a point here – tell them there's a new way to create web sites and what's the benefits using this "new way". Then introduce them to web standards, accessibility and so on. Try to explain and make them adapt what you're saying! Convince them! ;)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    nortypig,

    I think that was the first time the term <acronym title="Return On Investment">ROI</acronym> was mentioned in my web site! :-)

    If their eyes glaze over or they just don’t see ROI due to prejudice or whatever then they won’t do it whether we’re blue in the face from talking web standards or not.

    Absolutely. If we can't persuade them that this will save/make them money, it's just not that interesting anymore.

    But I think that even if one would turn the whole developing team around, it's still comes down to making the decision makers understand.

    I wouldn't be so hard on this specific Project Manager, to me he personifies most Project Managers here in Sweden. They either don't know about it at all, or they don't see the financial gain from it.

    Martin S,

    Yes, it can be very frustrating.

    Convincing is hard, and it usually boils down to money, in my experience.

  • Well, what if your project manager (or assigner) is using a Mac. OS9. IE. Bye, bye semantics? Or bye, bye lame old software and hi there upgrade? How to piss off people in 1 easy step? ;]

  • Kalle Wibeck says:

    An old cite from a colleague of mine:

    Do you know what sentence is the most expensive one when it comes to webdevelopment?

    "…and it has to work in Netscape too…"

    (Followed by laughts, of course…)

    Today that joke would have been about Firefox instead…

    I've noticed that Faruk's approach with "the new/modern way" is working quite well when it comes to getting attention. If I follow up that with the term "Forwards compatible" (as an opposite to backwards compatible) there will usaually come a few jokes like "Are you a psychic" or "Are you a close friend to Michael J Fox?".

    And from there on most people seems to get the point with webstandards…

    More amusing collegue cites:

    [skeptic] Soo… what you are saying is that one of the worlds largest companies in websolutions have developed a platform that doesn't woork in the most usual web browsers…!?

    (The response to my worries about MS Sharepoint as a webbpublishing tool since I didn't know how well it supported web standards)

    and…

    …actually, a few years ago I built a webpage and compiled it with the W3C html compiler!

    Do I need to say that was a non technical person?

    ;)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Krijn,

    Well, if that happens (and it rarely does, at least not often enough), it's kust regarded as a pain in the ass by the responsible.

    Kalle,

    That's both hilarious and sad. But I can easily tell that you're working in the same country as I (maybe it's even the same people we've met? ;-)).

    And regarding:

    Soo… what you are saying is that one of the worlds largest companies in websolutions have developed a platform that doesn’t woork in the most usual web browsers…!?

    Yes! Of course they would, as long as it works smoothly in <acronym title="Internet Explorer">IE</acronym>. But they don't seem to be too proud of it, and they're trying hard to fix that in ASP.NET 2.0 (which should consequentally have an impact on Sharepoint as well).

  • Jeff Louella says:

    I currently got called in late on a project for a big pharmaceutical company in Pennsylvania. The project was already underway for about a year. The project included installing, configuring, and inserting content into an SAP Enterprise Portal. I just recently started at a new company and they sent me on location to this Pharma company to help out fixing some bugs. When I arrived, the people in charge of the job were explaining to me how they used web standards to complete this. They made sure every page validated with the w3c. I guess the one thing they didn’t check was to see if it works in any other browser besides IE. Nope. So I guess the moral of the story is, you can design with web standards in mind, but sometimes it doesn’t come out as planned. In the case of this Pharma company, they didn’t care. IE is the only browser they seem to be concerned about.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jeff,

    Thanks for sharing.

    I guess, in your case, that their <acronym title="HyperText Markup Language">HTML</acronym> was probably just fine (and hopefully they had paid some respect to it being semanctic, too), but that they hadn't used <acronym title="Cascading Style Sheets">CSS</acronym> and/or JavaScript properly.

    Validating your CSS might help finding the problems.

    Following web standards is primarily about making sure that the <acronym title="HyperText Markup Language">HTML</acronym> is ok.

    But in end, of course you're right. A web site should also be tested in various web browsers to establish that every part of it works.

  • Kristin says:

    Robert, I had really fun reading your phone call:)

    Recognize it and it´s so amazing that people are out in the blue.

  • Marty says:

    Read it and weep.

    Bridging the gap between you and clients.

    http://maccaws.org/

    Even though the site is discontinued, it is still useful.

  • Robert,

    Well, that’s where our opinions differ! :-)

    My point is that you need to get them to listen first, and that's done by making this a monetary issue. Then, once they have learned that there's money to be saved on costs here, start talking about web standards.

  • *chuckles*

    IE worshippers are kind of like… oh… politcal people, in where you can't talk to them about it without having this huge meaningless arguement.

    The biggest problem I believe is that those people don't want to spend the time to learn the new code and to show they're old school and need to adapt.

    And this, "a so-called HTML validator" is just so funny… unreal… unreal…

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  • Robert Nyman says:

    Kristin,

    Yeah, I can imagine you've had one or two of those talks yourself. :-)

    Marty,

    Thanks for the tip!

    Faruk,

    Well, to be more specific: we do agree on the arguments, we do agree that it is indeed a monetary issue and we need to sell it to the people responsible by showing what financial gain there is to it.

    The only part where our opinions do differ is that I personally think it's important to bring the term web standards to the table at the same time as we talk about saving/making money; just for the sake of getting them to make the connection betweeen web standards and money as soon as possible (and then every time they hear web standards mentioned they will think money).

    Chuck,

    I'm glad I could entertain you! :-)

    I definitely agree with you, but that seem to be the problem not only with Microsoft people, it goes for all fanatics regarding their own beloved software/software company.

  • Robert,

    Thing is, I think managers sense that out and stop listening if you come with terms they don't know yet in the first bit of the conversation. That's my experience, anyway, and it's also what I've seen happen from other people's experiences (including yours, above)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Faruk,

    To me it should go in the same sentence.

    Since you were feisty enough to mention my experience above, I'll rebut with that from my experience it's important to present it together.

    If I would only sell it to them with arguments like more money earned, lower developing time/costs etc, without mentioning web standards, and then deliver just that, they would be happy.

    But next time they would run into the same situation, they would say:

    Robert can make it work in all web browsers, while keeping the developing time and costs down

    instead of

    Using web standards will make it work in all web browsers, while keeping the developing time and costs down

    Sure, good for me as a consultant, but I want to hammer it in that following web standards is the key.

    I'm not saying that any of your arguments are wrong, not saying that it's the wrong approach.

    As stated above, I suggest saying the term in conjunction with all those arguments. Hell, use them in the same sentence if you're afraid of them sensing out.

  • Jamon says:

    Robert, all of us in the web design world have to understatnd, it's not for the "higher-ups" to understand how web standards work and that it should be a part of their vocabulary and sales speak.

    We should be building these sites properly from the get-go, so that no one HAS to come back and make a comment like, "make this site cross-browser compatible" etc.

    My question to you would be … who's in charge of the skills and development of your web builders? They should be the one(s) in charge of making sure the deparment is doing the right thing, regardless of what someone who doesn't know asks for. So that when they do come with these requests (that are absurd to us in the industry, but ingnorant to those not) all we have to say is, "no worries. we already do that."

    But you're right, if there wasn't such a crappy job done the first time …

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jamon,

    Absolutely, the ones making the business decisions have no need to know the details of it. They should just know that things should always be done according to web standards, and this will in turn lead to all the pros mentioned above.

    But the one/-s in charge of the web developers should be aware of how the job is supposed to be done, and then make sure that this is followed through.

    However, I don't know if/how often this actually happens in real life…

  • Gary Turner says:

    Robert: You're right to want 'standards' to become part of their vocabularies. The problem is that unless they're vested, they don't have any reason to care.

    Faruk: You're right to talk ROI, but that might be too narrow. Maybe his hot-button is impressing the CEO with his acumen, or the cute typist with his aura of power.

    Two great sales adages are, "sell the sizzle, not the steak" and "talk benefits, not features". Nobody wants the flesh of a cow that's been dead for weeks, but they want the sound of the sizzle, mouth-watering aroma, and the wonderful taste. The same applies to features and benefits. For every mention of a feature, "this is valid html4 strict", give him ten benefits. Don't talk about a soft mattress, talk about the restful sleep. Pound on the benefits; he'll make right associations just fine.

    Folks buy in for what it'll do for them.

  • siftee says:

    if ff is such a great browser why does this code break…

    .box1{

    width:200px;

    height:200px;

    background-color:red;

    float:left;

    }

    .box2{

    width:200px;

    height:200px;

    background-color:black;

    }

    .box3{

    width:200px;

    height:200px;

    background-color:blue;

    float:left;

    }

    .box4{

    width:200px;

    height:200px;

    background-color:green;

    }

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Gary,

    Interesting way of putting it! :-)

    My hope is that it shouldn't matter if web standards are vested or not, but that the people responsible will connect the term web standards with, as you said, hearing the sizzle that makes them feel content, calm and positive.

    siftee,

    Well, that depends on the <acronym title="HyperText Markup Language">HTML</acronym>, doesn't it? :-)

    But point is, even if I do think that Firefox is a very competent web browser, it doesn't matter if you have an example of something that would break in Firefox (or in any other web browser).

    As mentioned in the post, every web browser do have flaws, but the best way to make sure things work is following web standards (which this whole thing is about, not about promoting a certain web browser).

  • wisbin says:

    <blockquote cite="http://www.robertnyman.com/2005/09/01/firefox-investigation/#comment-886">siftee said: if ff is such a great browser why does this code break…

    I guess because FF gets the standard float model right.

    Read a bit and think about it, and maybe try this approach:

    <code>

    .box1{

    width:200px;

    height:200px;

    background-color:red;

    float:left;

    }

    .box2{

    /*width:200px;*/

    height:200px;

    background-color:black;

    }

    .box3{

    width:200px;

    height:200px;

    background-color:blue;

    float:left;

    }

    .box4{

    /*width:200px;*/

    height:200px;

    background-color:green;

    }

    </code>

    But, I wouldn't tell the managing people all this. Ask them what are next years training goals in the webdesign department…

    cheers.

  • Ben Buchanan says:

    My job involves advocating web standards and accessibility. I’ve often got attention with my line Search engines are blind, deaf, mobility impaired users with scripting and plugins turned off.

    A lot of managers don’t care about humans, but they do know they want to be in Google.

    I try to avoid saying “you’ll save money with web standards” since most savings are future-based savings, about which project managers care not a bit. They only care about build cost; so if you’ve got a bunch of font-tagging, table-nesting old-schoolers on your team, you’re not going to save by retraining them into web standards methodologies.

  • Ben Buchanan says:

    …should have said, "…not going to save in the short term by retraining them…"

  • Robert Nyman says:

    wisbin,

    > But, I wouldn’t tell the managing people all this. Ask them what are next years training goals in the webdesign department…

    Thanks for pointing that out. :-)

    Ben,

    Search engine optimization is definitely important and a business aspect that might convince them. Also, nice sentence… :-)

    But I wouldn't agree that it's only about future compatibility with web standards; if it's a web site that's supposed to work in a number of web browsers on several platforms, web standards would be their most safe bet to accomplish that.

    And when it comes to using <code>font</code> tags, that would definitely have a direct impact on the project and the manageability of pages and their look (as compared to using <acronym title="Cascading Style Sheets">CSS</acronym> from the beginning).

  • Jo says:

    As a Project Manager, you'll never get me promising that adhering to web standards will ensure a site works in all browsers. That would be madness. Promise as little as possible and exceed expectations.

    I would state that adhering to *current* web standards will allow us to begin to address cross-browser functionality (always agreeing a policy of 'graceful degradation').

    A comprehensive test list would be agreed and stuck to. If that test list holds IE (v6) only, then so be it. It still has to be XHTML or HTML strict etc- we validate HTML first and CSS second (if the CSS cannot be valid in order to work on a variety of browsers, then that too is agreed with the client).

    It's a question of quality. If your PM doesn't care about the intergral quality of the product, then they don't know their arse from their elbow (as we say in the UK).

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jo,

    Thanks for your comment.

    As a Project Manager, you’ll never get me promising that adhering to web standards will ensure a site works in all browsers

    It's hard to ensure or give a 100% guarantee that it would work in all web browsers, but it's the closest you can get and the best approach available.

    In the end, of course, it depends on the customer and their needs. If there exists such a test list in the project that the client wants guaranteed, that gets highest priority.

    But they way I see it, when you start developing a new web site, there's no good reason to stay away from semantics and following web standards either.

  • Jesse says:

    thanks for the project.

  • Viktor says:

    Totally agree, great article.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jesse, Victor,

    Thanks!

  • [...] developing websites that almost no one will see in another browser than Internet Explorer. Robert Nyman describes a typical phone call to a project manager where he is trying t [...]

  • Rob Goretsky says:

    Rob Goretsky: With the emergence of the iPhone (and its requirement for using Safari), there's now another browser that needs to be catered to. While web standards can/do apply here, it seems that many developers are creating iPhone-specific sites to cater to the smaller screen. Thoughts on this? Thanks from Rob Goretsky of Hoboken, NJ

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Rob,

    Personally I have no problem with adapting web sites and their size for smaller screens. To me, web standards etc is the important part. Besides, iPhone’s market share as of now is basically nothing compared to all different web browsers available in all kinds of cell phones out there.

  • [...] Firefox investigation – Robert’s talkRecently, I got to my attention that some people at my company were going to perform a Firefox investigation. What this meant was that they had built an … He’s heard of web standards but can’t see the direct ROI in further investigation. I’d probably be more likely to be talking to the coders and seeing if I could get… [...]

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