Web standards on the edge

Some aren't defined enough, and some may never be

"The W3C process seeks a balance between speed of progress and fairness in listening to all voices," says Le Hegaret, adding that the working groups face trade-offs when timelines are shortened.

But some worry that delays could tempt browser vendors to once again veer from the standards path. "Lengthy processes don't benefit this kind of innovation," says Arun Ranganathan, standards evangelist at Mozilla.

It has also made attaining a truly final version of a standard difficult -- and that has some developers frustrated. "We don't even have a perfect implementation of CSS 2.1 yet," Featherstone says. Features that he needs are still missing from the specification, such as a way to create rounded borders in style sheets.

Eric Meyer, a prominent Web developer, author and principal at Complex Spiral Consulting, says he'd like to be able to use nonrectangular shapes in layouts. "Instead of a div [tag] creating a rectangle, I'd like to have it create a hexagon. Or I'd like to define an L-shape so the top part of an article could go full width then go to one column."

"There's some frustration that we don't have the tools that we need," Featherstone says.

Meanwhile, the W3C is already well into the standards process for CSS 3, which has several modules in the Candidate Recommendation stage (it still must move forward to become a Proposed Recommendation before being approved as a final W3C Recommendation).

But there's a difference between adding new features, which are going into CSS 3, and testing and deploying the already specified features in CSS 2.1, says Le Hegaret.

One major roadblock to finishing CSS 2.1 is the test suite that still needs to be finished. That's a big job. One member submitted about 3,000 tests for CSS 2.1 in August. The group could move the deadline up, but there's a trade-off: "Should the group try to finish sooner, or have more implementation support -- and a better specification -- even if that takes longer?" The group hopes to have the CSS 2.1 specification completely finished in 2009, Le Hegaret says.

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