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W3C goes backward to move forward

While one of the strengths of XML is its ability to be presented in different formats for various devices -- from desktop PC Web browsers to cell phones -- the road to the Cascading Style Sheet standard for accomplishing this appears to be a bumpy one.

Elliotte Rusty Harold, author of the "XML Bible," notes on his XML Web site, Cafe con Leche XML News and Resources (www.ibiblio.org/xml), that there is something "unusual" about the W3C Last Call Working Draft of "Cascading Style Sheets, Level 2 Revision 1" (CSS 2.1).

The new spec, he points out, "goes backwards from the previous version. It focuses on removing properties from CSS2 rather than adding them."

The problem, as the CSS Working Group acknowledges in its explanation of the CSS 2.1 spec, is that some of the features in CSS2 were not adopted by browser vendors -- presumably Microsoft and Netscape -- and so have been removed from the latest version.

These include features for things like adjusting and stretching text, according to Harold.

The CSS Working Group takes some pains to explain that CSS 2.1 is not compatible with the earlier CSS2 standard, but it is more compatible with existing browsers.

As the W3C documentation states: "Thus, while it is not the case that a CSS2 stylesheet is necessarily forwards-compatible with CSS 2.1, it is the case that a stylesheet restricting itself to CSS 2.1 features is more likely to find a compliant user agent today and to preserve forwards-compatibility in the future. While breaking forward-compatibility is not desirable, we believe the advantages to the revisions in CSS 2.1 are worthwhile."

The plan is that CSS 2.1 will be "forwards-compatible" with CSS3 published this month as a working draft at www.w3.org/TR/2003/WD-css3-page-20030909.

The comment period for CSS 2.1 can be found at www.w3.org/TR/2003/WD-CSS21-20030915 and ends Oct. 10; after this date, it will become a candidate for recommendation as a standard.

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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