The CSS Zen Garden first design

Do you remember when fighting for the Web standards was cool and the W3C HTML validator was a thing?

I do, and that’s great if you don’t. It means you’re younger than me and that long, exhaustive battle against a Web designed for Internet Explorer 6 is a thing from the past.

I became a Web standards advocate somewhere between 2002 and 2003. Back then, I was running Linux as a desktop and was furiously pissed off by Web sites that did not display properly under the Mozilla suite because 95% of the world was using Internet Explorer 6. We have to test our Web sites against Internet Explorer 5.0, 5.2 for Mac, 5.5, 6.0, various flavors of Netscape Navigator, Mozilla, Opera and Safari. And none of them rendered CSS the same way.

Imagine a world where you need rounded gifs because your browser can’t display rounded corners, a world where padding in floating elements does not behave the same way on all browsers, and where CSS adoption still has a long way to go. Why would you use CSS when designing with tables and inline style does the job?

As a Web developer, all is was required to by my management was developing for Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 6 only. Every other browser was considered worthless, and with a monopolistic market share, Microsoft did not have to worry about releasing a more modern Web browser.

In 2002, the Web standards community was still small and resources were scarce. Eric Meyer on CSS was the Web developer Bible, Molly Holzschlag our goddess and the CSS Zen Garden our lighthouse. My best memories as a Web standard advocate are meeting Molly at her hotel in Paris, eventually getting my copy of The Zen of CSS design signed, an giving a talk with David Larlet at Paris Web 2008. We were a group of idealists, fighting daily for the Web we wanted to live in, teaching and evangelising our colleagues and families about dropping that outdated IE6 for Firefox.

14 years later, Internet Explorer 6 is dead, the battle of the CSS Adoption is a thing of the past, but there’s still lot to do.

The fight has moved to the accessibility level. For many of us, accessibility was already something, but there’s a long way to go. In 2016, many people still can’t use the Web because of a disability or lack of access to a broadband connection.

The advent of unobtrusive Javascript and the rise of the frameworks were a great thing for accessibility. They allowed Web developers to write (more) accessible modern Web applications without even thinking or knowing about it. Prototype and Scriptaculous, the first widespread Javascript frameworks were all but accessible but their wow effects drove people out of their homemade Javascript stack. Their successors did better and better.

The second battle towards a more accessible Web lies at school. I remember teaching future Web developers about producing valid HTML and splitting structure and design. This is not a thing anymore, and teaching goo practices at school is now the thing. I respect people at Opquast tremendously for providing a handy referential, great tools to validate a Web site accessibility and for their continuous evangelisation job.

The next step is making the payers to understand that accessibility is not about targeting the 10% people with disabilities but making sure everyone can use their Web site. It requires Web developers time to do their job correctly, and upfront thinking everybody is not willing to invest in.

Law enforcement was a good thing too. Forcing public organisations and large corporations to provide accessible Web sites was a great step, but only when they came with real penalties for those who don’t comply.

Well, these were my (not so) nostalgic memories of the weekend. The memories of a small but awesome community, shared moments and daily struggle that’s hopefully not a thing anymore.

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