105. Christmas Cheer

Paul Boag

On this week’s show: Paul suggests some gifts to buy the geek in your life. Marcus talks about wireframes and Matthew Paterson talks about the Email Standards Project.

Download this show.

Clear:left winner

Congratulations to Ryan Downie who is the lucky winner of the Clear:Left training competition. Ryan will have his pick of either a place on the CSS Mastery.

If you didn’t win do not despair. There are places still available on both courses for a mere £345 + VAT. I have attended Jeremy Keith’s course on AJAX and have to say it was superb. I am sure the CSS course is just as good. Go to the clear:left website for more details.

News and events

Opera goes on the offensive against Microsoft

Without a doubt the biggest story of the week and in many ways the year is the fact that Opera is filing an antitrust suit against Microsoft. This story is huge, not because one browser manufacturer is litigating against another (something that is a common occurrence) but because of the strange ripple effect this seems to be causing in the web design community.

However, before we get into the ripples lets look at the antitrust suit itself. Operas beef seems to focus on two areas. First, they object to Internet Explorer being bundled with Windows (surprise, surprise). Second, they are complaining about Microsoft’s lack of commitments to web standards.

Call me an old cynic but this whole thing stinks of a massive PR exercise. This is especially true when it comes to the complaints about standards. As Eric Meyer points out, the timing of this claim seems odd to say the last. If the suit had been filed before the release of IE7 it would make some kind of sense. It was certainly true that standards support in IE was very poor. However, IE7 is a huge step forward and Microsoft seem to be active in its development of IE8.

To me this just looks like an exercise in pandering to the gripes of the web design community. It was as if Opera knew it wouldn’t get a lot of support for the whole “unbundle IE” argument and so threw in the standards issue to drum up some support.

However, as I have already said, the Opera antitrust suit is not the most interesting part of this story. The real clincher is the spin off discussion that has emerged sparked primarily by a very provocative post by Andy Clarke. He argues that this suit makes the position of the W3C CSS working group untenable. Andy asks how Microsoft and Opera can work together to create the next generation of CSS when they are in legal action over exactly that issue. This has led to a much wider discussion about how the W3C works and highlighted a divide between how browser manufacturers and designers see the world. Without a doubt there is huge frustration at the glacier speed at which the W3C moves. This is largely due to the challenges faced by browser manufacturers in implementing the specifications.

But the story does not end there. This frustration with slow progress seems to extend beyond even the W3C to also encompass the Web Standards Project which was setup precisely to push for better standards support. Some very prominent figures are even questioning its role.

If we as web designers want to pressure browser makers to provide better standards support then we need to invest in organisations like WaSP. They need to have the kind of funding that political lobby groups have. This will enable them to employ full time staff to constantly lobby and educate browser providers on what web designers need. In my opinion we as web designers need to put our money where our mouth is and start giving financing to organisations like WaSP so they can be more effective.

Boagworld christmas appeal

Talking about putting your money where your mouth is, I would like to thank everybody who has been kind enough to give to our Christmas Appeal. We have been raising money to support an orphanage and school in an extremely poor part of India. The idea is that you pay for anything of value you have received from Boagworld. Ask yourself how much have we taught you on the show? How much have we entertained you? Then decide how much you would pay for that and give that money.

So far we have received £465 and we are still collecting. Even if you hear this show after Christmas we are still collecting! To donate something or for more information go to christmas.boagworld.com.

The best CSS designs of 2007

Not only is Christmas almost upon us, the year is about to draw to a close. This makes it the time of year when bloggers look back at the year just gone and compile “the best of 2007” lists. Normally I am lukewarm about such things however there is a great list over at web designer wall. They have compiled the best of CSS design in 2007. If you are in need of inspiration this is definitely worth a look. There is some truly stunning stuff here.

Talking of rating design you might also want to check out commandshift3.com which is basically hot or not for web design. When you visit the homepage you are shown two designs and you click on the design you prefer. Not only does it allow you to vote for designs it also lets you look at the best and worst based on votes received. This makes it a great site for inspiration and for learning what not to do!

Marcus’ bit: Quick and Dirty Wireframes

So a couple of week’s ago I wrote a post on the use of wireframes in web design. Marcus couldn’t come up with a decent topic to talk about himself this week so has decided to reuse my post and pass it off as his own! ;)

Back to top

Paul’s corner: Geek Gifts for Christmas

For my segment of the show this week I decided it might be fun to look at Christmas presents. Specifically what you should buy for the geek in your life. In order to avoid it sounding like a wish list for myself the items I have picked are items that I own myself and can personally recommend.

Back to top

Ask the expert: Introduction to the Email Standards Project

Hello world of Boag, I’m here today just to give you a really quick introduction to the Email Standards Project, a new community effort that has launched recently.

If you’re a web designer, and you’ve ever created HTML emails, you will know that getting them to look reasonably consistent across the major email clients is hair-pullingly frustrating.

At least with websites, there are only a few major browsers you have to worry about, and thanks to the Web Standards Project they are much improved from the days of the browser wars. With email you have at least 12 email clients with big shares of the audience.

Unfortunately, HTML email is still stuck back in 1998 with that Celine Dion song from ‘Titanic’ – nobody wants to be there. Over the last 10 years, web designers, and particularly web standardsy type designer, have generally taken a ‘Just Say No’ approach to HTML email. ‘Don’t send it, don’t read it, pretend it never happened’.

That approach has not been a spectacular success – millions of people still sent HTML emails, but because the designers wouldn’t touch them they were hideously ugly and just made designers hate them even more.

HTML email is here to stay. It is the default format in many clients, and sometimes it really does give a better experience for the reader than plain text. The Threadless newsletter is a great example – the send every week an email with pictures of the latest shirts. Trying to describe the shirts in text is nowhere near as useful. A picture is worth at least 1,000 words!

So here we are in 2007, and in order to get reasonable rendering, designers are having to dust off their table coding skills to get things working in Outlook, Lotus Notes, Gmail, Yahoo, Thunderbird…it goes on.

At Freshview we deal with designers every day through Campaign Monitor and MailBuild who are struggling with this problem, and we finally decided to do something about it. That is where the Email Standards Project came from.

Together with a few other people we’ve put a site up at http://www.email-standards.org (email hyphen standards dot org), and you will find a link for that in the show notes. The central idea of the Email Standards Project is that we want to work with designers and with email client developers to improve support for web standards in email clients.

It’s not one of those sites that is all talk and no practicality though – jump onto the site and you will see a bunch of tests we have done to work out exactly what does, and what does not work in all the major email clients as far as a core of normal HTML and CSS like padding, margins, floats, lists and so on.

If you’ve seen the Acid test for browsers, over at the Web Standards Project, then this is basically the same idea except for email. We’ve already had some contact with some of the big email client representatives about our results, which is really exciting. Check out the blog for updates in that area.

If you know the pain of designing HTML emails, and you want to support the project, then there is a section on the site that covers that too, and we’ve had a huge number of people offer to help, and some great feedback from people like Jeffrey Zeldman and Cameron Moll.

If you are a website owner, and you want to know why this matters to you, then check out the site for an article on why web standards are important for email, or talk to your web design firm. As is often the case, it comes down to money – better standards support means less time spent getting things to work, and more time on the actual design.

So thanks for giving me the chance to say a few words about the Email Standards Project, and I hope you all do get a chance to checkout the website, email-standards.org.

Happy Christmas!

That about wraps it up for this week’s show. We will be back with a slightly amended format as from Wednesday the 9th January. See you then.