Once upon a time, only "idealists" believed in standards-based web design. You know the conventional wisdom: "Standards are great 'in theory.' But browser support is weak. If I write for IE, I only disenfranchise a 'few' visitors, and it's so much easier. Besides, standards are boring!"
In 2003, however, it's become obvious that the idealists had it right. The old ways of building sites are no longer viable. As Jeffrey Zeldman puts it: "We build only to rebuild.... Even on those rare occasions in which a new browser or device mercifully leaves our site unscathed, the so-called "backward-compatible" techniques we use to force our sites to look and behave the same way in all browsers take their toll in human and financial overhead....
Spaghetti code, deeply nested table layouts, font tags, and other redundancies double and triple the bandwidth required for our simplest sites. Our visitors [wait] endlessly for our pages to load. Or they tire of waiting and flee… We pay our hosting companies to keep up with the bandwidth our pages squander.... Our databases make more queries than they have to…. Meanwhile, the hourly rates of the programmers we pay to code our sites six different ways can drive development costs so high we simply run out of money."
Standards offer the way forward. CSS, DOM, XHTML/XML -- they really work now. If ESPN can serve 10 million viewers a day with nary a table, font tag, or line of browser detection code, so can you!
Designing with Web Standards is no airy treatise on how things ought to be. These are practical techniques by -- and for -- web professionals with real clients and payrolls. Yes, there are occasional compromises. Zeldman recognizes that standards support is a continuum, not an "all-or-nothing" proposition. Nevertheless, this book will help you get off the treadmill of web obsolescence.
Zeldman's a fan of XHTML 1.0 Transitional and offers a series of simple rules and easy guidelines for moving to it. (Lots of the "scut work" can be done automatically by the marvelous open source tool HTML Tidy.)
More important than the mechanics, Zeldman shows how to start thinking of markup in terms of sense and structure, not style. He introduces a "hybrid" approach that streamlines your table layouts without entirely abandoning them, and a "two-sheet" method for handling those awful legacy browsers.
He then covers the remaining complexities, issues, and workarounds that go with standards compliance: DOCTYPE switching, box models, IE/Windows whitespace and "float" bugs, embedding multimedia without non-compliant tags; and typography. In a chapter on the relationship of accessibility to standards, Zeldman explodes more than a few myths. Finally, he walks through a complete CSS redesign, from goal-setting through navigation.
It's time you took these ideas to heart. Bill Camarda
Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks for Dummies, Second Edition.