Disclaimer: The following post is my personal opinion, and not necessarily those of my employers. My colleague, Chris Mills provided feedback and suggestions for this post.
Since Opera’s antitrust complaint to the EC, some people have used the complaint as a catalyst to promote their agenda against the W3C and the CSS Working Group, with arguments flying on either side. There is no doubt that there are issues there, and action is needed. Transparency is one such issue, with many CSS3 modules not having been publicly updated since 2002. This gives the impression that it is moving at an unacceptably slow pace. There are also accusations that in fighting is delaying progress to suit various parties’ own agendas. I’m not a member of the W3C CSS Working Group, so I can’t comment on how true this is, as I don’t know. I do know however that something has to be done, and the W3C has starting to make progress on remedying this issue. In this post I state where I feel the working group is right now, and propose some changes that I feel will help move things forward.
The current state of proceedings
Lets start with what they have done. They recently started a blog, in which they report on progress and issues. They’ve also created an aggregated feed of blogs and sites to report on CSS3 so that they can hear the voice of people that are discussing CSS3 outside the W3C, ie real world developers. They’ve also started working closely with css3.info. We have a CSS Soap box to let everyone get their issues off their chest, and they have written posts requesting feedback from designers saying what they want from certain properties. Is that far enough? Maybe not, but it is a beginning and I commend the work that Fantasai has done on this outreach.
Transparency of the Working Group
If this is where we are, where do we want to go? Firstly, transparency and accountability have to be greatly improved, so that if anyone is trying to hold up the process or are playing politics this is exposed, whether it is Opera, Microsoft, Mozilla or anyone else. I propose that minutes to meetings and any important documents or drafts are published on the working group blog.
Who should be represented on the Working Group?
Next, there are calls for browser vendors to be removed from the group. This is unworkable (disclaimer: I work for a browser vendor), for many reasons already exposed. I do strongly believe however that a better balance between designers, browser vendors and other parties has to be reached. Gibson or Fender don’t get guitar players to design their guitars – that would be ridiculous, as guitar players can play guitar, but the vast majority of them have very little knowledge of the processes involved in actually building a guitar. They design them themselves, with input from guitar players on what they want. Writing specifications is very difficult, especially when making sure they are implementable in not only a cross platform, device and browser independent way, but also cross culture and language. Test cases are difficult to write. Browser vendors have many of the best people in the business for writing these specs, as they are the kind of people we hire. Ian Hickson is widely regarded as one of the best specification writers of our generation, and he used to work for a browser vendor.
Keeping browser vendors out of the Working Group would also be difficult to police. For example Fantasai works for HP (I believe), but has close ties to Mozilla. Would she be counted as a representative of a browser vendor? Also, would designers be willing to give up what they are passionate about (designing web pages and other media) in order to work full time writing technical specifications? Why also should browser vendors be reduced to an advisory role, for technologies they have to do the hard work in implementing? If this were to happen, we would probably end up with a break away group similar to the WHAT-WG, of browser vendors that don’t want to be told what to do by designers.
A power struggle isn’t what is needed – instead, we need a balance between vendors and designers. The specs should be left to the people that are good at writing specs, and enjoy it, the designers should be there to comment on if the proposals are useful in the real world, and the browser vendors should be there to comment on their side of things – whether the proposals are realistic to implement in their rendering engines.
The designers included could be part of an advisory panel of respected designers (CSS11 for example), adding more invited experts that are willing to spend their time on this and/or having a place where designers can post and discuss mock ups of what they want to be able to do with CSS3. CSS3.info for example could create a wiki where screenshots of desired effects for CSS3 properties could be added by designers, and the merits debated. New proposals could also be added. The WG could then refer to that site for ideas and to solicit feedback. I personally think that the HTML5 working group has far too many invited experts, so limiting the group to a select number, but allowing anyone to leave feedback would be more ideal. It is important that feedback is gained from multiple sources however – the needs of a Japanese designer is probably very different to the needs of a British designer, for example.
Speed of CSS3 development and relevancy of proposals
Furthermore, the speed of development of CSS3 must improve. Making the process more open to inspection will help this by making it harder to use stalling tactics. Action needs to be taken here – I’ve tried to get designers to send me feedback on what standards features they’d like to see in Opera first, but this is difficult, and I received little response. What we need to do is set clear priorities of CSS3. First we need to get the ’07 snapshot finalised (it is currently in Working Draft) and get browser vendors to implement those modules. This is going fairly well at present in three out of the four major browsers. It could also be going well in IE8, but we’ll have to wait to find this out.
In parallel we need to get a list of what properties designers most want to be able to use. Gather the most talented spec writers in the group to work full time, or as much as their employers allow, to mature those specs. It can be finer grained than a whole module, if other parts of that module have issues and are not related to the core properties that are needed. At each iteration, designers should review the progress to see if is moving in the right direction, and the feedback solicited from the working group if there are questions. Properties that have reached proposed final form should be marked as such, even if the rest of the module isn’t ready. These should then be given to the vendors to implement with the dash vendor prefix. Test cases should be built in parallel. Vendors should submit all that they have, while designers should help with this process if possible. The more test cases, the more likely it will be interoperable and the standard will be finalised sooner. These properties or modules should then be added to the CSS snapshot for the current or next year.
One question will be definitely be asked –
which modules should be made a priority?Vendors will have an opinion on this, as it depends on the aim of the browser. Apple and Opera will care more about Media Queries than a vendor without a mobile browser, for example, but largely I think this should be down to the design community. If we had a public wiki to discuss this on, I’d suggest the modules or properties with the most active suggestions would be up there, while ones with no activity would be pushed to the bottom. Through the feedback I have collated, designers preferences seem to be borders & backgrounds, selectors, multi-column layout and web fonts, and there has also been interest in the grid layout (although this seems to be the furthest back in terms of both spec and implementations).
Another issue is who will work on these. That isn’t a question I can answer, but if we can somehow get the existing working group to be able to spend more time on it that will help. I’m willing to help out if desired. It should be easier for big companies such as Yahoo! to supply people to represent designers as they have the resources. The problem is that many of the most highly regarded and vocal designers are freelancers that can’t afford to give their time for free. We need to find a solution for this, be it through sponsorship or other means.
Can browser vendors work together?
The other concern that has been raised is that, in light of Opera’s complaint against Microsoft, the browser vendors wont be able to work together. I don’t believe this to be the case. Håkon has stated he has no problems with Microsoft employees, and I’ve personally heard him say he has great respect for the likes of Chris Wilson. I’ve also heard the same coming from Chris. I know or have worked with the likes of Chris, Markus Mielke and Joshua Allen for a while now, and I very much hope that continues. I’m sure they’ll also agree.
Conclusions and the way forward
What we need most of all is action and not talk. I propose the following:
- Get a priority list of CSS3 modules or properties hammered out for both the W3C and the browser vendors
- Get the modules included in the ’07 CSS snapshot to recommendation stage, and push browser vendors to implement them
- Aim to get these priority modules ready for the next CSS3 snapshot (’08)
- Put a mechanism (such as a Wiki mentioned above) in place to give feedback on the issues the WG come up with
- Promote the said mechanism to developers in multiple countries, such as those that use none-latin scripts, and right to left text
- Re-engage the Web Standards Project (WaSP) to take an active role in the activities
- Get the W3C to open up the private communications of the WG, so there is transparency for all to see. Post communication on the Working Group blog or another suitable medium
- Get an official statement from each of the browser vendors on the working group that they are willing to work together in a co-operative and unhindered manor
- To ensure a fair balance between designers and browser vendors on the working group, build a short list of respected designers or developers who should represent designers on the working group. We can get a respected designer like Molly or Zeldman to propose people, again making sure there is diversity of opinion.
- Find a way to fund these designers, either through W3C funds or corporate sponsorship
- Ensure the chosen designers can commit the required time to the project
- Ensure there is at least one designer assigned to each of the modules that are deemed a priority
Opera’s complaint against MS caused quite a bit of stir in the CSS related parts of the blogosphere. Andy called the CSS WG the CSS un-working group, H&akon updated, complaining that “we didn’t get it”. You know what? I, personally, couldn’t care less about all this nonsense.
What we need, and not just we at css3.info, but all of us, is to get working on making those specs work. That means getting test cases for CSS 2.1, and making sure that complete spec is usable, because there are still parts of it which are found, by browser vendors, not to be usable. Next to that we need to focus on getting CSS3 off the ground. Controversy and this kind of bickering amongst each other is NOT going to get us there.
So what DO we need? As Fantasai put it, we need “a way for average users to run tests and generate reports off the official CSS test suites”. Here’s where I ask you guys and girls to help. We have some input, the system might work something like this system. This system shows people a test and asks whether it failed or passed, and uses that data to generate a report based on the user agent string. Now I know we have some bright readers. Who of you would be willing to help improve this system / build a system like this?
I’m working on the CSS3 Backgrounds and Borders module with Bert Bos, and I’d like to start a new Q&A series because I think we need some help: This time I’ll ask the questions, and you give me answers. Ok? :) Since the CSS Working Group Blog currently doesn’t accept comments, CSS3.info has kindly allowed me to cross-post so you can write back. The first issue is a complicated one, so I’ll start with an easy question. The topic is drop shadows.
In the latest public working draft we have a
box-shadowproperty. The point is, obviously, to be able to draw a drop-shadow for a CSS box. It starts to get complicated once you ask “what happens when there are semi-transparent parts of the box?” At first we figured ‘box-shadow’ should just draw the shadow as if the box was opaque. Then Dave Hyatt, who had started implementing this, started questioning that logic. We’ve got proposals for a ‘border-shadow’ property to shadow just the border and a ‘background-shadow’ property to shadow just the background color (but not the image?), etc. We could also just “shadow everything drawn in this element”. This all sounds rather complicated to me so I want to step back and ask:
What do you, the web designers of the world, want to do with shadows? What’s the end result you want to get?
Show me. Post a few links to stuff from your portfolio that uses anything beyond pure text shadows, even if it’s all done with pure Photoshop(/Painter/GIMP) graphics. Draw (or explain) a picture of what you want to achieve. Then maybe we can figure out how best to make it happen in CSS.
This morning while going through my mail, I read that Opera has filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft with the European Union, to force Microsoft to:
- “unbundle Internet Explorer from Windows and/or carry alternative browsers pre-installed on the desktop”
- “require Microsoft to follow fundamental and open Web standards accepted by the Web-authoring communities”
Because both of these raised a few questions with me, even after reading the press release by Opera and Håkon Wium Lie’s open letter to the web community, I quickly emailed him with a few questions, and he was kind enough to respond:
Generated content via the
contentproperty has been available since CSS2. However this was only available using the
:afterpseudo-classes. In CSS3 this support has been expanded to be useable on any element, without needing to use these pseudo-classes. Unfortunately this only works in Opera 9 (and above) at the time of writing.
I use this capability in my iTunes interface demo that I’m currently building to show off how powerful current and future web standards are for building application interfaces. This currently isn’t finished yet, and is very buggy (no min-width, missing features, no scrolling on the source list, content jumps, and no actual music support to name but a few). but you can take a sneak peak here. Due to MyOpera hot linking restrictions, you’ll need to press enter (or return) in the URL field to reload the page. This currently only works in Opera Kestrel due to missing standards support in other browsers, so download the latest weekly before trying it out.
contentproperty is used here so that the buttons and the playing column on the song list can contain their text labels. This is important for accessibility and if the page is styled differently and the design requires text instead of icons. The text is then set to empty using
content: "";for the relevant element. I’m sure there is a more cross-browser way of doing this, but the site is a demo so advanced properties and technologies were chosen to showcase them. To complete the buttons, and other parts of the interface, a SVG background was used. I plan to add
border-radiusto make the view buttons, and the head and footer of the interface have rounded corners. The screen needs to use SVG as the border uses a gradient to add the perception of depth. I suppose a border image can be used, but I like this approach. Other CSS3 properties used include
overflow-y(The Genre, Artist and Album lists, and eventually the song list table),
text-shadow(many of the headings), and CSS3 selectors (the song list and the button buttons). Other advanced technology used include SVG and HTML5 (
For those of you that haven’t seen, Dev Opera has just published a two part article series on styling form controls, by Christopher Schmitt. The first part covers using attribute selectors (which work in IE7, Opera, Safari and Firefox) to slim down your markup by providing a way to identify certain form controls without the addition of a class value. An example of this is using
input[type="text"]in the CSS, rather than adding
class="text"to the HTML file. The second part takes this further, by taking advantage of the
:checkedpseudo-classes, and a dash of
opacity. The browser support for these pseudo-classes are not as strong however. According to Christopher, Opera is the only browser that supports all three correctly.
If you are not aware of Dev Opera (known lovingly as Devo internally at Opera), it is Opera’s new developer site. Look out for a fantastic article on CSS3 from CSS3.info’s very own Peter Gasston in the near future.
This is a sponsored post for my employer, Onetomarket, I don’t usually do sponsored posts here, but since this could ease my work life a bit :) , I’ll make an exception.
- Are a good PHP / MySQL developer.
- Can develop an application based on different API’s on your own.
- Have ideas on how to improve stuff and can explain them to us.
- Would like to work with a team of young and enthusiastic internet professionals.
Then maybe you should join us in our office in Arnhem, the Netherlands or in Barcelona, Spain. Mail me at joost ” at ” joostdevalk dot nl, and I’ll set you up for a meeting!
To create a coherent collection of blog discussion about CSS3 and the future of CSS, the CSSWG and the css3.info team have teamed up to create a W3C-hosted aggregate feed, The Future of Style, and an associated css3.info-hosted open community blog, the CSS3 Soapbox.
We’re starting off The Future of Style by pulling in the CSS Working Group Blog, css3.info, and the CSS3 Soapbox. If you have a post you want to add to this feed, post a link (or the whole thing) on the CSS3 Soapbox. If you own a blog with frequent posts about the future of CSS, and want to be added to The Future of Style, contact fantasai.
The CSS3 Soapbox is meant to give you as a developer, designer or whatever, a voice in css development. This feed will be read by all those involved in CSS development, so you can get your message across easily.
We want you to join the conversation!
With the latest weekly of Opera, Opera will support the HSL colour unit. With HSL added, there are only three units missing, HSLA, RGBA and flavor. I don’t really understand flavor, or why it would be useful and no browser currently supports it. I’d suspect now that Opera Kestrel supports RGB and HSL, that the two colour models with added alpha channel support will both be added at the same time. I can’t confirm when these will be added yet however. You can test out support for this here.
I’m working on a support chart for the colour module, that just needs testing to be finalised in IE, as I currently don’t have access to IE7. This should be added to the Module Status page shortly.