Some Ad-Hoc Quick Thoughts On WebKits Addition Of CSS Gradients

WebKit, the browser engine that powers Safari, now supports CSS gradients. For the unenlightened, Safari also supports drop shadows and rounded corners. If you’ve ever built a website using CSS, you’ll know how many headaches this would save you. Woo hoo, right?

Well, yeah, except Firefox and most importantly Internet Explorer doesn’t support it. Alright so the new Firefox does some mighty fine rounded corners, but the browser the public at large uses, Internet Explorer 6 (yes, some people—enough people—still use that archaic tangle of muck) doesn’t. Essentially that means advertising this great new feature is like dangling the proverbial carrot. We can’t ever reach the carrot, much less eat it.

By no means should this mean that browser vendors should stop innovating shoehorning features into CSS, make no mistake, I would wholeheartedly support a wet floor effect in CSS. So why this tirade? Well, somewhere in this enigma, lodged in between two creaking cog wheels, is a tiny wedge called What The Hell. Written in tiny print on the top of this wedge are the words:

Too little, too late.

Let’s explore the meaning of those words. To do that, we’ll need to take a grander look at the interweb as a whole. Since Al Gore invented it all, have websites really changed? Not really. Sure, some are more userfriendly, some are less userfriendly, Amazon makes a profit and generally there are more websites than back when was open for registration. It’s still all mostly text and pictures, though.

So what will CSS gradients do to ameliorate this molasses? Not a whole lot, in fact. Ever heard of the broken windows theory (( No, broken windows is not about Microsofts offering, though it’s been used avidly to describe their state of affairs. ))? In a nutshell, it means you’re more likely to throw a rock at a window in an abandoned factory building if some of the windows are already broken. Right now, the internet—although not abandoned—is full of broken windows. There’s a plethora of unfinished specs for HTML, CSS, SVG, XHTML and lots of other smart sounding acronyms. Adding gradients to CSS is akin to throwing yet another rock at a window. We’re no closer to a situation where web designers can actually use these fancy new technologies.

Some of us (not me, I never saw The Lawnmower Man) expected the web to move on to virtual reality at the end of the nineties. Well that didn’t happen and possibly that’s okay—I don’t see Wikipedia becoming that much more useful in three dee. Even so, most of us thought we’d be farther by now. There should have been an event that changed everything. There should have been one standard, and we should have been pointing and laughing at browser vendors that didn’t adhere to it. We should be clapping when that one standard moved ahead with new features and giggle as our browsers—shortly thereafter—automagically updated to adhere to it. Instead, right now in a parallel universe in which it doesn’t suck to be a web designer, CSS gradients are being tauted as the new black.

9 thoughts on “Some Ad-Hoc Quick Thoughts On WebKits Addition Of CSS Gradients”

  1. Joen says:

    Great comment.

    Essentially I think we agree on most of this. Most importantly, we both agree that adding features to WebKit, which will then drip on to all the platforms you mention, is not a problem at all, quite the opposite. I also agree that Microsoft is to blame for many of the woes we struggle with today.

    To clarify, I’m not at all against gradients, nor drop shadows, nor rounded corners. These are all visual tricks that can be used to great avail. The “wet floor” joke was just that; I thought it sounded clever. Make no mistake, I’ve created my share of gradients and drop shadows. Before I jump into an elaboration on my angry shout at the state of it all, there’s one more thing:

    Oh, and Firefox 2 has rounded, though jagged, corners.

    Yep, and Firefox 3 beta antialiases this! It looks fricken awesome. It looks so achingly good, in fact, knowing that I can’t really use the CSS due to the same reasons mentioned in this rant.

    So, the crux of it: we’re still fixing bugs for IE. By “we”, I mean the poor sods trying to make a living building these cardhouses for way too few coins. No matter if we’re activist in our spare time, no matter if we explain the virtues of upgrading browsers. The customer doesn’t care. It has to work in IE6. Still. After years of fucking waiting for people to migrate, at the very least to IE7.

    So, I’m not angry at gradients. I’m not angry at Safari. I’m loving those two model citizens. I’m angry at the situation which should have been different, so very very different.

  2. Stefan says:

    Just start using them

  3. Joen says:

    Unfortunately, my customers don’t care much what Bryan Veloso or Jeff Croft do. Especially with regards to rounded corners, shadows and gradients.

    There is a development, and that is that I can use PNGs in some regard. Using:

    .myclass {
    background: url(mynicepic.png);
    _background: url(mynotsonicepic.gif);

    I can specify that modern browsers use nice looking PNGs, and I can bake some jaggy GIF versions that are only shown to IE6 using the underscore hack. Most customers think that’s okay. So some things are improving.

    But all those other fancy features, nope. Not yet, and likely, not anytime soon.

  4. Stefan says:

    Well, if the customer pays for, they got their rounded corners. It

  5. mo says:

    Well written article, very nice Joen.

    As Michael pointed out, i believe these new CSS properties to become useful in iphone/mobile versions of websites, improving both perform and load time, not to mention design effort. Other than that, it just pains me.

    If somehow Microsoft would encourage people to upgrade their IE6 to IE7, i don’t know probably with those annoying upgrade notifications – and lower that IE6 maximum. Everybody would be happier.

    Just yesterday my client called me and said the menu didn’t work in IE7, i checked and it worked over here both in IE6/7, i asked him to check a different machine – no luck.

    I hate IE i really do.

  6. Joen says:

    Well touch

  7. Yeah, the thing about being right, is that I like it šŸ™‚

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