My Life As A Web Designer, Part 2: The Naughty Aughts
Rise of the Professional Website Tools
Yesterday I talked some about the early, wild days of the web and how a new breed of easy to use tools opened up website creation to the masses, with all that that implied. But by the late 1990s a more powerful set of tools began to emerge, still relatively easy to use but with lots of power behind the hood for hard core website designers (if there was such a thing). The most famous of these is Dreamweaver, mostly because it’s still around. And it’s still around mostly because Adobe bought and killed off anything that might have threatened it, mostly the long lamented GoLive Cyberstudio.Side note: Adobe & Corel are the two companies where good software goes to die. Aside from Cyberstudio, which was superior to Dreamweaver in many ways, there was Freehand on the Adobe side and WordPerfect for Corel.
Cyberstudio in particular was notable because for the first time there was a program that allowed you to drag and position elements anywhere on the page and it would write the html for you. That was the upside. The downside was the actual code that was written, and this was true of any of the tools that allowed you to design the page you wanted and wrote the code for you. The code was a mess.
Tables, Why Did It Have to Be Tables?
Let’s go back in time in web design history, back before there was CSS, before Internet Explorer caused countless web designers to throw their monitors out the window, before the Y2K bug destroyed all modern technology as we knew it. Oh wait, that last one didn’t happen, did it? Can you believe people actually thought that might happen?
What Made the Aughts Naughty?
Oh, ok, let’s get started on Flash, and Internet Explorer which along with tables were the other two things that really screwed up the World Wide Web and made the aughts (or 2000s if you prefer) naughty. Oh, and web pages exported from Word, oy vey, who thought that was a good idea? Sadly lots of people, some of whom I ended up working with. So what made the aughts naughty? We were doing everything wrong just trying to keep the customer satisfied. Sure CSS was released in the late 1990s, which was supposed to make it easier for us to separate design from content so we could make nice designs, but by then it was too late, wouldn’t catch on for years, and by the time it did the damage was done. No, Flash websites, Internet Explorer incompatibilities and table-based layouts would be the rule from the late 1990s through much of the aughts, and I’m embarrassed to have played even a small part in that sad era of web design.
If I had to sum up that era in one word, it would probably be incompatibilities. The professional website design tools all wrote their own html and they all had their own propriety codes which would make things look somewhere between a little and a lot different on different web browsers and platforms. Flash required a plugin that might or might not work (on the Mac especially) and led so-called designers to create those annoying opening animations that you first got to sit and watch load before desperately trying to click through, and Internet Explorer went out of its way to be incompatible with other browsers, and the list goes on. While the web’s standards bodies were desperately working on keeping HTML and later CSS up to date with the evolving web, it would be years before their work really took hold. In the meantime, the web was overrun with a variety of websites that would look pretty on one computer and not work on another.
Do I Exaggerate? Maybe I Exaggerate … A Little
Certainly there were, I’m sure, many beautiful websites to come out of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and I may have even made some of them. But looking back now it seems like even more of a wild west than the early days, everybody making their own browsers and rules, pages and sites that could be easily broken by simple changes, and the inability to get a site to look right on every browser & monitor. (That’s actually what led some to turn to Flash, the promise that your work would look the same everywhere, or everywhere you could get it to play.)
The worst of this was undoubtedly the rise of Internet Explorer as the dominant browser and Microsoft’s very open efforts to make it incompatible with web standards. Those of us who believed in obeying the rules refused to code for IE first and thus led ourselves directly into frustration, while those who went IE first were considered heretics by those of us who were “pure” but probably had higher blood pressure. We are quite frankly taking great joy in its diminution in overall web share and also a little bit in the fact that it has finally seen the light and is about as standards compliant in it current versions as other browsers. But I get ahead of myself.
Great Minds Thinking Alike