W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-style@w3.org > February 2001

Re: style and browser defaults

From: Matthew Brealey <webmaster@richinstyle.com>
Date: 9 Feb 2001 10:36:35 -0000
Message-ID: <20010209103635.21699.qmail@phoenix.futurequest.net>
To: kylev@yaga.com, www-style@w3.org
--- Kyle VanderBeek <kylev@yaga.com> wrote: 
> I wanted to voice my frustration with a common problem in stylesheets (and
> site design in general) that shows up in some of the stylesheets on the W3
> site (the "Recommendation" one, for example).
> I spend a lot of time reading generated documents that are very plain,
> like HOWTOs, FAQs, and software documentation.  No stylesheets, and just a
> plain <BODY> tag.  To save my eyes, I'm using a nice "theme" in the KDE
> window environment.  This theme changes some of the default colors of the
> Konqueror web browser.  Most notably, my link color is a pale yellow (this
> shows up great on the default dark-grey background).
> The problem arises when a site designer fails to realize this fact.  It is
> a common miscoception that all user agents have the same default colors as
> the original Mozilla (grey or white background, blue/purple/red links,
> black text).  This is becoming less and less true as more platforms pop
> up, and ideas like "themes" and "skins" become popular.  Even before this, 
> users have been able to set their "default colors" in most browsers.
> In the case of W3 "Recommendations", all link text becomes completely
> unreadable to me (my yellow link color on your white background color). 
> If I have read the specifications correctly, this is the correct behaviour 
> (allow unspecified attributes to "cascade" back to the user agent 
> settings).  I don't believe there are any specifications that say what 
> these default settings must be, so a "themed" set of colors is fully 
> appropriate.
> The solution is, of course, to be explicit about colors that may interact
> (simply: "If you override one color, you should override them all").  In
> this case, the stylesheet should specify the A:link set of pseudo-classes
> since link text will be on top of the specified background.  Failing to
> do so produces unpredictable results in the user agent.

You are quite correct in this, and this is indeed a deficiency on the 
W3C site; although, by no means restricted to this site - when 
incompetent CSS is even built into the world's most popular browser 
[Internet Explorer] [*], it seems that we aren't likely to 
get 'correct' and accessible style sheets any time soon.
> First, I'd like to see the W3 stylesheets "fixed" so I can again read W3
> specifications in Konqueror. 

This would be a good idea. However, it doesn't really address the wider 
problem of bad websites, which IMHO, will only get worse as more people 
use style sheets - it's far easier to create a bad style sheet that 
assumes that the user is using Internet Explorer with the factory 
settings, than to create an accessible one. With websites now created:

(a) using tagsoup tools such as Dreamweaver and Front Page
(b) according to the final result rather than by formatting a 
structured document
(c) by incompetent programmers

the problem will only get worse (particularly as programs like 
Dreamweaver will make it even easier to integrate your bad CSS into a 

The standard complacent response to you would be to suggest that you 
create a user style sheet. 

[something like:

BODY {background: #ddd !important;
color: black !important}

A {color: #ffcc00 !important}]

However, these are much easier said than done, and don't, quite 
frankly, provide a consistent solution - it is difficult to get the 
same style sheet to work on pages made from tables with backgrounds and 
on pages with margins on the body element.

[Incidentally, I'm not sure if Konqueror allows you to use user style 
sheets; it certainly didn't last time I used it, but that was v1.93.]

This turns out to be a user agent issue, since it's not [short of 
legislative changes of the kind that have been applied in Australia, 
and that apply in the USA to governmental organisations] really 
possible to effect changes to the ever growing tide of such websites. 
As a result, you might like to investigate improving Konqueror's 
handling of this issue, or else use Opera, which has a variety of ways 
of dealing with this issue, including hotkey togglable style sheets, 
the ability to disable parts of the document's style [tables, colours, 
fonts, etc.], etc.

> Second, I think it would be good to include 
> mention of the issues I am raising in this email in a future edition of 
> relevant recommendations (HTML, XHTML, and CSS all come to mind).

Indeed. This specific issue has been mentioned before. 

However, it is neither appropriate nor possible to provide a complete 
list of recommendations; furthermore, too few people read and fully 
digest the specification for it to make any difference.

* Try Tools/Internet Options, and then Accessibility. Click ignore font 
sizes and ignore font styles. Then go to res://madeup. This brings up a 
404 page, which will be unsightly in the extreme because of the use of 
an absolute size (11pt) for line-height. This bad CSS is unfortunately 
present in every single page in Internet Explorer.
Received on Friday, 9 February 2001 05:36:20 UTC

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