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Opera browser leads in style sheet support

A second-tier player in the browser space provides top-level support for Cascading Style Sheets, according to a new study.

Opera Software, a second-tier player in the browser space, provides top-level support for Cascading Style Sheets, according to a new study.

Opera, a privately held firm based in Oslo, Norway, came out on top of the heap in a recent report by a group called the Web Review.

"Opera's CSS support is really very impressive, especially given its relative youth," said study author Eric Meyer in a statement. Meyer, also coauthor of the W3C's CSS1 Test Suite, said Opera's CSS support "isn't yet perfect, [but] still exceeds anything else I've seen."

CSS is a World Wide Web Consortium standard that provides control over the appearance of many pages at the same time. Without CSS, Web developers have to specify things like font, link behavior, and page layout for each page individually. But with CSS they can write those specifications once and apply them to an infinite number of pages on a site.

Web Review's conclusions mirror those of another independent review organization, the Web Standards Project. Last month, the WSP released a study showing Opera's CSS support was "arguably the best implementation released today."

But neither study takes into consideration the final release of Microsoft's Internet Explorer Version 5.0. The WSP said Opera did well against the beta version of IE 5, but that the final IE 5 was expected to fix a number of bugs. Between Opera 3.5x and IE 5 final, CSS support appears to be something of a toss-up.

"It boils down to a question of quantity vs. quality," said WSP project lead George Olsen. "IE 5 attempts to implement more tags but doesn't do as good a job in implementation. Opera--and IE 4.5 for the Mac, for that matter--don't implement as many tags but do a better job at it."

Opera gets kudos for its implementation, but plenty of criticism as well. The WSP lists seven Opera bugs in its review.

Coming in at the bottom of the CSS heap for currently released browsers is America Online's Communicator browser, which it acquired this month along with Netscape Communications. Communicator's CSS support is so weak that the WSP won't even rate it.

"There are so many shortcomings [in Communicator 4.5x] that we just don't have the patience to document them all," said Olsen.

But Communicator is expected to catch up in support for standards, including CSS, with the upcoming Version 5.0, which is scheduled for a beta release this year. The browsing engine to Communicator 5.0, dubbed "Gecko," was released in a developer preview in December.

The WSP warns that browser makers' poor implementations are hurting the technology overall. "The uneven deployment of CSS1 in major Web browsers over the last two years has caused Web authors great frustration and expense, and has won CSS an undeservedly obscure and difficult reputation," the group states in its report.

But for the average user, standards support is not an everyday concern; even perfect CSS support would be unlikely to move Opera from its second-tier status and single-digit market share.

"People don't think about whether TV supports the broadcast standard, nor should consumers have to worry about that," Olsen said. "The browser makers should be competing on what bells and whistles they offer. Standard support should be assumed."

Opera's last release was Version 3.51. The 3.6 is available in beta and will be final in the next week or so.