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Great dissection of the issue. One of the unfortunate realities of browser “solutions” is that the community at large only gets to decide after they are implemented, whether as experimental, browser prefixed or fully implemented. Compare this to say, JavaScript libraries—jQuery, for example, rose in popularity from community usage and feedback (I know that comes with other drawbacks).

The problem I see with “living with it long enough” is it can result in myriad workarounds and hacks, or worse, even more proposals. “Living with it long enough” often means we could do better with hindsight, but at the pace things change do we ever really get there?

I also applaud your suggestion we start questioning how many images we really need. From a user experience perspective how often do we consider that for the information seeker images can create clutter and take up precious space? Why not offer links to images contextually? Users who click to see them indicate a desired action and others are none the worse. Another option could be offering more images on a page through user action, the way some sites offer larger font sizes or translations.