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 whoopteedoo.com 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 theory1? 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.
No, broken windows is not about Microsofts offering, though it’s been used avidly to describe their state of affairs. ↩