Supporting Netscape 4.7 and Other Legacy Browsers

· Information design, Weblog Concepts

Just when I was ready to stop tinkering with the design of this site and focus once again on the writing, I was tipped off by an editor friend yesterday that at least one publishing house I’ve worked with (and hope to work with again) is still standardized on Netscape 4.7, the bane of all CSS-using web designers.
B has Netscape 4.7 for the Mac on her iBook, so I took a look at this site there that way. It looks like ass! How embarassing! It doesn’t look so hot on Internet Explorer 5.1 either.
To give my editor friend an idea of how out of date they are, there’s a meme in the blogosphere that says “Internet Explorer 5.1 is the Netscape 4.7 of a new generation.”
Still I seem to recall some cockamamie hacks that will at least make the design degrade more effectively for nonstandard browsers, so I’m going to look into that. First stop, A List Apart, next stop Meyerweb, then glish.com.
Dropping by ALA and searching for “Netscape” turns up an article called “Why Don’t You Code for Netscape?” in which Zeldman explains why backwards-compatability ain’t all that:

Q. Your website looks nice in Internet Explorer 6, but really bad in Netscape 4.7. Is this the type of web page design that you are recommending to your readers? The worst problem is that it doesn’t even look like the same page!

As a web designer, it’s important to me that my site not only look good in both browsers, but that all readers will see the same design and formatting.

Please explain the logic of designing only for one browser.

Cordially,
[Name withheld]

A. Thanks for writing. We don’t design for only one browser. We design for all browsers and devices by authoring to W3C recommendations including XHTML 1.0 Transitional and Cascading Style Sheets.

As a result, A List Apart displays properly in Opera 5, Opera 6, MSIE5, MSIE5.5, MSIE6, Netscape 6, and Mozilla, while its text is available to any browser or Internet device, from Netscape 1.0 to Palm Pilots and web phones.

The logic of authoring to W3C recommendations, instead of to the quirks of old, non–standards–compliant browsers (be they Netscape’s or Microsoft’s or anyone else’s) is explained in these places:

  1. The Style Guide of the Branch Libraries of The New York Public Library
  2. To Hell With Bad Browsers here at ALA
  3. The Web Standards Project’s Upgrade Campaign: Developer Tips

A List Apart uses The Web Standards Project’s Method 2: Invisible Object to make its text available to any browser or device, even if that browser or device does not support CSS or other web standards used in crafting the site’s simple design.

But I still want to make my editors happy….