Vendor prefixes, the CSS WG and me

The CSS Working Group is recently discussing the very serious problem that vendor prefixes have become. We have reached a point where browsers are seriously considering to implement -webkit- prefixes, just because authors won’t bother using anything else. This is just sad. :( Daniel Glazman, Christian Heilmann and others wrote about it, making very good points and hoping that authors will wake up and start behaving. If you haven’t already, visit those links and read what they are saying. I’m not very optimistic about it, but I’ll do whatever I can to support their efforts.

And that brings us to the other thing that made me sad these days. 2 days ago, the CSS WG published its Minutes (sorta like a meeting) and I was surprised to hear that I’ve been mentioned. My surprise quickly turned into this painful feeling in your stomach when you’re being unfairly accused:

tantek: Opposite is happening right now. Web standards activists are teaching
 people to use -webkit-
tantek: People like Lea Verou.
tantek: Their demos are filled with -webkit-. You will see presentations
 from all the web standards advocates advocating people to use
 -webkit- prefixes.

Try to picture being blamed of the very thing you hate, and you might understand how that felt. I’ve always been an advocate of inclusive CSS coding that doesn’t shut down other browsers. It’s good for future-proofing, it’s good for competition and it’s the right thing to do. Heck, I even made a popular script to help people adding all prefixes! I’m even one of the few people in the industry who has never expressed a definite browser preference. I love and hate every browser equally, as I can see assets and defects in all of them (ok, except Safari. Safari must die :P).

When Tantek realized he had falsely accused me of this, he corrected himself in the #css IRC room on w3.org:

[17:27] <tantek> (ASIDE: regarding using -webkit- prefix, clarification re: Lea Verou - she's advocated using *both* vendor prefixed properties (multiple vendors) and the unprefixed version after them. See her talk http://www.slideshare.net/LeaVerou/css3-a-practical-introduction-ft2010-talk from Front-Trends 2010 for example. An actual example of -webkit- *only* prefix examples (thus implied advocacy) is Google's http://slides.html5rocks.com/ , e.g.
[17:27] <tantek> http://slides.html5rocks.com/#css-columns has three -webkit- property declarations starting with -webkit-column-count )

That’s nice of him, and it does help. At least I had a link to give to people who kept asking me on twitter if I was really the prefix monster he made me out to be. :P The problem is that not many read the IRC logs, but many more read the www-style archives. Especially since, with all this buzz, many people were directed into reading this discussion by the above articles. I don’t know how many people will be misled by Tantek’s uninformed comment without reading his correction, but I know for sure that the number is non-zero. And the worst of all is that many of them are people in the CSSWG or in the W3C in general,  people who I have great respect and admiration for. And quite frankly, that sucks.

I don’t think Tantek had bad intentions. I’ve met him multiple times and I know he’s a nice guy. Maybe he was being lazy by making comments he didn’t check, but that’s about it. It could happen to many people. My main frustration is that it feels there is nothing I can do about it, besides answering people when they take the time to talk to me about it. I can do nothing with the ones that won’t, and that’s the majority. At least, if a forum was used over a mailing list, this could’ve been edited or something.

  • Dirk Bonhomme

    That’s always the downside of online examples and testcases where you provide some sample code to prove your point. No matter how many times you mention that your code or practices should not be used in production sites, there will always be people that just come by, copy your lines and use it in their site. 

    Probably the best example to this is Eric Meyer’s reset CSS. It includes comments like “remember to define focus styles!” but no one even bothers to check his code when using it. And then when things go wrong, people point at you.

    • http://leaverou.me Lea Verou

      I never showcased -webkit-only code for this very reason. I always show unprefixed code in examples and mention it should include the necessary prefixes (or -prefix-free) in reality.

      • http://dev.webonomic.nl/ Janghou

        Somehow your  http://leaverou.github.com/animatable/ doesn’t animate anything in Opera 11.61.
        Maybe that gives reasons to believe you’re wekbikt minded.

        • http://leaverou.me Lea Verou

          Opera 11.61 doesn’t support CSS animations. Maybe that gives reasons to believe you’re a troll.

  • Robert Nyman

    I do hope we live in a world where, if someone’s name and opinions are mentioned, people actually make sure to check with the persons themselves before they pass any judgement.

    You, as well as tons of other people, are being pragmatic and showing how you can use and accomplish a certain feature. Today, that includes prefixed and non-prefixed CSS properties. Simple as that.

  • Anonymous

    Just keep doing the great stuff you’re doing Lea – the important people that  pay attention will know what the actual facts are. Your continued great work and efforts in this space (not to mention your loyal friends and followers) will get you past this.

  • http://horia.me Horia Dragomir

    People who know how you work will just raise an eyebrow to that mention in the archives. People who don’t know who you are will not find our right now anyway.
    People who might influence your moving forward will probably read the IRC archives as well and the rest of the people either didn’t even read the Minutes or will forget about them by next week.

    Still sucks, though. Especially because very few people actually do what Robert hopes they would in cases like this one.

  • http://twitter.com/pepelsbey Вадим Макеев

    > I’m even one of the few people in the industry
    > who has never expressed a definite browser preference

    Well, I remember your preference to Firefox nightly builds in your first ”CSS3 Gradients“ CSSS presentation templates  ;) But anyway you’re not even close to “Webkit fanboy”.

    • http://leaverou.me Lea Verou

      Opera didn’t support both gradients at the time and WebKit only supported the proprietary syntax. So, I optimized for Firefox, as it was something I was gonna use myself. It’s different than making something for the public.

  • http://twitter.com/seutje Steve De Jonghe

    People like the person who made http://leaverou.github.com/prefixfree/ ?
    However, I do agree that too many people are showing examples that only use the WebKit prefix.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t worry, your true fans know that what you stand for.

    But, I’m curious do you have a proposal for a better system than vendor prefixes, because I don’t think the current system works. For example, I wrote a site using CSS3 3D transforms. At the time they were only available in WebKit, now they are available in Firefox 10. I only know that because I read the Firefox blogs. But, for many developers they would never have gone back to a site they wrote months ago and changed it. Many of them are designers who already delivered their code to clients, they’re done with the site and will never go back to it.

    This is becoming like the days of frames. Every browser currently identifies itself as Mozilla in its UserAgent string, because sites were checking for it to support frames. 

    Right now I think that the best solution for the problem is your prefixfree script. You are part of the solution, not the problem.

    • http://mithgol.livejournal.com/ Mithgol the Webmaster

      I believe that unprefixed properties will eventually become useful when the properties become standard. W3C is probably a part of the problem by being so slow in making its standards.

      W3C people should have released CSS 3.0 early and start CSS 3.1, or should make known alphas with «-w3c-css3-alpha1-» the only prefix, without any other proprietary prefixes.

      (I mean, if I were to make some Foobar browser tomorrow, then would Daniel Glazman expect the site authors to start adding «-foo-» to their styles? Hell no. I’d have to support «-webkit-» and «-moz-» as well.)

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  • guest

    I once hosted a conference where Tantek was a speaker and part of a discussion panel. We had food delivered for everyone. What was Tanek doing under the table while everyone else was participating in the “expert” panel? He was tweeting about how inconsiderate we were for not having vegan food options. Not knowing that I had seen his tweet, I walked up to him after the conference and apologized for not having “vegan” food. He awkwardly laughed in shame.

  • Anonymous

    Just a small thing, I had a little message about your case and a link to this post in my last post ;) #FreeLeaVerou

  • http://twitter.com/tw2113 Michael Beckwith

    I am not shy to say that I prefer Mozilla and Firefox first. In my tinkering and css coding I definitely tend to test with the -moz- prefix first because that’ll show me the results as I’m working. However, if I’m intending for it to be publicly useable/see-able, I’ll take the time to put in the other prefixes afterwards and make sure they work. I do have a little bit of bias towards IE(who doesn’t) but they get SOMETHING and nothing broken.

    Sounds like I should take a little bit of pride in that I’ve always tried to cater to a wide variety of browsers at the end of the work.

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  • Peter van der Zee

    The namedrop comment should have been left out of the minutes. This is an error on part of whoever made them. (Imo, the comment itself can be removed retroactively). (Meh, disqus wont let me post)

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  • http://mikehigginbottom.com/ Mike Higginbottom

    I’m a little curious about the data behind this. According to https://wiki.mozilla.org/Platform/Layout/CSS_Compatibility, if I’m interpreting it correctly, we’re only looking at around 1% of domains being problematic in terms of their support of Webkit-only prefixed tags. This kind of implies to me that there’s not really a very strong case for ‘legitimising’ -webkit prefixes.

    Am I missing something or should the answer here simply be to continue as we are. Decent devs will be using these prefixes correctly, whether via your prefix script or not, and for those who don’t or didn’t, they’ll either have to mend their ways and existing sites, or their clients are unfortunately going to have to pay the price if they’ve disappeared post delivery.

    The potential for future heartache is too great to pander to those who are being naughty. Again. Surely punishment should be reserved for the tiny minority who failed to do their jobs properly rather than the majority who’ve been doing it right.

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  • Anonymous

    it may have a strangely positive effect. I had not heard of you but followed Christian’s post to Glazman and through some additional googling found you. So nice to have found you.

  • Binyamin

    Yeah, it was not very smart said from @tantek about you @LeaVerou:disqus  and prefix -webkit-

  • Altrugon

    I’m still looking for an asset on the Internet Explorer family, I would take Safari on top of any of them in a split of a second.

    Thanks for your amazing work Lea, and don’t take so serious everything that is said on the Internet :P

    • http://leaverou.me Lea Verou

      IE10 is very advanced, more so than any current browser I’d argue. Agree with you about IE9 though.

      • Altrugon

        That is what I’ve heard and read about it, that finally MS has decided to follow the standards.

        Unfortunately I still have to give support to IE6 in many of the projects that I work on, what means a really long legacy of “not so good” browsers. What make me think: if browsers are free, how come companies don’t update their software? It can’t be possible that all the responsibility relies on system administrators.

        • http://leaverou.me Lea Verou

          MS decided to respect web standards way earlier than IE10, but it takes a lot of time and effort to fix the IE6 mess, you can’t expect them to recover overnight.

          As for why companies don’t update, usually the case is legacy intranet software that only works in IE6. Or pirated Windows.

  • Mike Moretti

    The 90’s called, they want their web back. 

  • http://twitter.com/KimmoKuisma Kimmo Kuisma

    Good write up Lea! I agree mostly with what you wrote. Reading through this article stirred up a thought in my mind about the role of de facto -standards in
    technological advancements (such as the continuing evolution of CSS). Even though I value the work W3C is doing a lot, bureaucracy can often become the proverbial hurdle that drastically slows down the evolution of something promising.

    Personally, I see the browser-specific experimental prefixes as a very positive thing as long as they exist on the experimental level only. They’re an assuring signal to us that browser vendors are actively and creatively pushing the limits of what’s possible. If you bury any such creative process under a ton of bureaucracy and formalities, those hurdles might end up killing a lot of ingenious ideas halfway through.

    Ofcourse, pushing proprietary prefixes to become standards is absolutely the wrong way to take. In the end it’s a question of balance. Browser vendors need to have certain leeway in creating new features, but in eventually those features need to become browser-independent and prefix-free. It wouldn’t hurt if browser vendors became less selfish in what they do, and it wouldn’t hurt if W3C lowered the entry points to the standardization process and made it faster overall.

  • Quote

    OT but on your Feb 14 blog post you’re using a
    double prime in place of a
    right double quotation mark.
    Laterz.

  • http://www.emenac.com/outsourcing/call_centre_service/order_taking/ Order Taking Service

    This is because of the old web standard and not according to the current needs of the developers.

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  • http://www.darklightdusk.nl Luuk Lamers

    I might have missed this, but how is Safari so awful? Outside of all the proprietary stuff webkit seems like a decent and stable core. Do you hate Google Chrome equally? And if not, why? Is this only css related or is it also about the javascript engine and html5 support?

    • http://leaverou.me Lea Verou

      WebKit is not a single thing, it has versions. Safari’s WebKit version is way too old and is rarely updated. Google Chrome updates its WebKit much more often.

      • http://www.darklightdusk.nl Luuk Lamers

        So it’s the same ridiculous thing as with Apple doing “its own” java distro? (which led to the flashback gap)

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