Why have standards?

Different providers of software develop their products independently - especially the big ones like Microsoft and Apple, constantly competing with each other and not really sharing what they're doing for understandable reasons. Open source developers, however, do tend to discuss progress and co-operate in development and it has been pressure from their excellent good practice in this respect that has kept standards to the fore and not led to any major commercial software fading from use as happened in the VHS | Betamax wars.

As web developers, we are constantly trying to address the problem of inconsistencies between the renderings of web pages by different browsers and browser versions. This necessitates either time-consuming double/multiple coding, or coding for a single browser which makes it harder, if not impossible, for some of the public to use the site. This situation will be made even worse with the advent of additional hardware and software which will be able to browse the Web, such as telephones, pagers, and PDAs.

Web standards are not arcane laws decreed by ivory-tower organizations. As we have described, the standards are for the most part decided by representatives of the same people who use them — browser makers, web developers, content providers, and other organizations.

Writing web pages in accordance with the standards shortens site development time and makes pages easier to maintain. Debugging and troubleshooting become easier, because the code follows a standard. No longer do you have to worry about the coding and maintenance for several versions of code that are supposed to accomplish the same presentation. One version of your site, and that is it.

The universal adoption of web standards is becoming of paramount importance. The mission of The Web Standards Project is to make the Web a better place, for developers and for end-users, by encouraging browser and web page editor makers to follow the standards in their applications. This effort will be greatly helped when web developers use the standards as a matter of course, and insist that generators and renderers of their code comply with the standards.

Operating systems

There are three main providers of operating systems for traditional home and office computers: Microsoft's Windows range, Apple's Mac OS/X and open source products from Red Hat and Ubuntu utilising Linux. In addition there is a growing number of systems designed for the mobile phones, PDAs and gadgets which must now be considered when designing web sites.

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Whilst operating systems themselves seldom have an impact on design, browsers do as they are the software programs that actually interpret the code for a web page and display it accordingly. Currently, the four main browsers are Internet Explorer 7, Mozilla Firefox 3, Safari 3.1 and Opera 9.5. Version numbers are important. There were huge problems with earlier versions of Internet Explorer which, even up to IE6 didn't show certain types of image files properly.

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