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Archive: December 2007

Bad Timing

Opera fired a broadside at Microsoft today.  In accompaniment, Håkon Lie posted “an open letter to the Web community” in which he says:

To those of you who build and shape the sites and services we use everyday — and who will create those in the future — I ask for your support. You will be the ones who ultimately benefit by having a Web that works seamlessly and effortlessly across devices, browsers and is equally open to everyone. That new day is just over the horizon…

Yes, it is.  Or maybe it was, until this happened.

Look, the time to file this motion and make this appeal was in 2005, when Internet Explorer had been dead in the water for years and it was genuinely holding back web design.  Then there’d have been a case to make.  When IE7 came out in late 2006, it wasn’t a great leap forward for web development, but it did bring IE more or less in line with where browsers were at the time—which was, frankly, a pretty large leap.  After all, they were doing five years of catch-up with a pretty small team.  Now we have IE8 in development, and there is a real chance that it could push standards support forward in a significant way.

But not if developing the browser becomes more of a liability than just walking away from it altogether.

They can’t do that, you say?  Oh, but they can, and at a corporate level would probably love nothing more than to do so.  With Silverlight, there’s the opportunity to create browser-like internet applications that support no open standards, answer to no external specifications.  The IE team would likely disagree strongly with such a course, but cut funding to the team and there’s little they can do to change it.  If you think web development is horrible now, how about a future where there literally are entirely different browsers to support?  Or a future where the open web is largely shriveled and dead thanks to wide-scale abandonment by the Windows community?

I am not advocating that we hold ourselves hostage to what Microsoft, or indeed any company, might try to do.  We’re already held hostage enough to the glacial pace of the W3C (and Mr. Clarke has some ideas on how to fix that).  What I’m advocating is that rather than attacking the laggard right when he’s showing promise of catching up and being part of the team again, it might be better to help him along, maybe even say a few words of encouragement.  Unless, that is, this attack springs out of some sort of perceived threat—in which case, just say so, and don’t use web standards as a fig leaf.

I wondered, upon having this instinctive reaction unfold, whether I was completely off my rocker.  But then I asked myself what I’d think if, say, Opera or Microsoft or anyone had pulled a similar move against Netscape circa 2001, when Netscape 6.0 was out and causing widespread grief while the programmers struggled to update and fix its standards support.  The answer came back the same.

It’s the wrong move at the wrong time, sending precisely the wrong signal to Microsoft about the importance of participating in development and support of open standards, and I can only hope that it comes to a quiet and unheralded end.

December 2007
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