JoelonSoftware takes on IE8, browser standards, and idealism vs. realism.
I love this writeup… and I think he’s 100% correct. Weak standards actually were an advantage in the early development of the Internet. Joel neglects to mention that this problem isn’t unique to web browsers; email (for example) has been fundamentally broken since its inception, for many of the same reasons, really.
If you deploy something that is permissive, it’s going to get a lot of buy-in, because people like building stuff and a permissive environment gives them the freedom to make what they want, easily, without having to spend too much time figuring out the syntax of the environment. Berners-Lee wrote HTML to be an easy to use subset of SGML. SGML is really cool, but it’s a colossal monster. Taming a colossal monster requires a really big whip and a really big chair, and it’s much easier to just play around with the smaller cousin.
The problem is illustrated brilliantly by Joel in his article: in the IT world, simple things don’t stay simple. Because they are simple, people adopt them. Because people adopt them, they demand more from the simple thing. So the simple thing becomes increasingly complex until you’re basically stuck in an intractable position: each new change requires four billion additional changes… you’re stuck carrying the weight of decades of poorly written crud on your back.
We’re at the point now where the two most functional pieces of technology that have been developed in the last thirty years (email and web) are broken irreparably. But they haven’t *become* broken, they always were broken, and the industry has spent a great deal of time and money spit-and-bailing-wiring new functionality onto something that just wasn’t designed from the beginning to be used the way it’s currently being used. Sooner or later, something new is going to have to be built; something that makes the fundamental decision: I Will Not Support This Garbage. The really tricky part is: nobody is going to use the new thing unless one of two things happens: (a) it is so utterly awesome that it convinces everyone it is a billion times better than the old thing or (b) they don’t have any choice. You can be an idealist all you want; this is the cold reality of the world.