Praise IE, Go to JailPublished 17 years, 1 month past
A week or so back, the shattered remains of a wasps’ nest appeared in our driveway. Despite the fact that it’s clearly vacant—even wasps know when it’s time to find new digs—I still tread carefully whenever I walk past, avoiding them out of some latent respect for the threat they once contained.
You’d think I’d behave in a like manner in the rest of my life, but no. For example: I recently spoke well of the IE team and their efforts. Kind of an obvious goof, really, but I’d hoped for a different outcome. It’s the incurable optimist in me. And when I say “incurable”, I mean that in the sense of “disease that can’t be purged from my body and will no doubt one day kill me”.
While the enraged buzzing took many forms, the comment that seemed to distill the bulk of people’s anger was this:
“How am I supposed to trust a smiling face of some developer at Microsoft when the company as a whole was charged with being an illegal monopoly not too long ago?”
Because one is a person, and the other is a corporation. I realize that American law moronically (and, in a certain sense, unlawfully) equates the two, but they really are distinct concepts.
You can dismiss my attitude as the biased perspective of someone who personally knows members of the IE team. That would be a major miscalculation, because it’s those personal relationships that make my observations different than what you’ll find elsewhere. Think what you will of Microsoft, but there are actual people working on IE, and they’re by and large people who care about the same things we care about. They are part of this story. If you think they’re minor nodes in a monolithic collective consciousness, then boy, do you ever have a lot to learn about how large organizations function.
Allow me to draw an analogy, if I may. While at Mix 06, I was talking with one of the senior IE team folks about improving standards and the browser market. He said to me, “So what is it the Web design community wants?”—as if there is a single such community, and it always speaks with a unified voice on all matters. Does that sound like the Web design community you know? Does that even sound like any arbitrary collection of five Web designers you know? (Aside to WaSP steering committee members: feel free to take a ten-minute laughter break.)
So why do we assume that Microsoft, a company with tens of thousands of employees working in hundreds of teams and units, would be any more unified? Sure, the PR department speaks with a single voice. To take that as representative of every Microsoft engineer is like ceding all authority for your thoughts and opinions on Web development and design to the Web Standards Project. Anyone volunteering for that?
Not me, thanks. Not even when I was a member, back towards the end of the last millennium.
This is what I said to him, by the way, except I compared the Web community to Microsoft, with all its subunits and competing voices and priorities and goals. He got what I was saying instantly, even though it let him down a bit. His job would be easier, after all, if the Web design community were a unified collective. It’s certainly less mental effort to think of “the other camp” as being a Borg-like hive, isn’t it?
A few people accused me of being lulled into missing the Great Looming Threat of Microsoft’s non-standards efforts. For example:
“…Microsoft spent those years planning and building WPF, to lure Web developers into its proprietary and patent-protected embrace. And that should have you most concerned.”
Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, wore it threadbare, and repurposed it as a cleaning rag. I was openly expressing precisely that concern back in October 2003, which as you may recall was near the middle of said years. The aggregate response of the community was a disinterested shrug. This was largely true whether I posted publicly or talked to people one on one, as I’d done in several cases in the months before October 2003. The only place I found any similar concern was with some folks at Macromedia, thank you very much. Everyone else seemed to think I was on crack. So sorry, but I pretty much wore out my concern back then. You can have it now.
Besides, over time I’ve come to see WPF (as it’s now called) as being very much like Flash, which it clearly wants to supplant. Despite all these years of Flash being very widely installed, and all the years of Flash being able to do XML data exchange with servers to cause dynamic updating of pages—you know, like Ajax does—the Web has not become an enormous Flash application.
I thought the most interesting observation was this one:
“Dave Shea pointed out… a few months ago that one reason [for IE7] may be that Microsoft, in developing things like live.com, are finally having to eat their own dogfood, struggling to get things working on their own browser, and that as such there may have been internal pressure to get things up to scratch.”
That makes a certain amount of sense, though I’m not about to accept it as the sole reason for IE7’s development path or even its existence. I think there were a whole lot of factors that drove IE7 into being, and standards support was honestly pretty far down on the list. I, for one, am deeply grateful that the IE team seized on the opportunity to build better standards support into the browser, whatever the internal rationale they used to justify it to the higher-ups.
I’m also impressed with the CSS and other advances in IE7, and with how the IE team is managing the development process to accommodate the needs of Web developers and designers. They didn’t have to do any of that. After all the crap they’ve had dumped on them the last decade or more, they have every reason not to care about what’s best for the Web. Despite this, they still do. Recognize and respect that, if nothing else.
But isn’t it just so hip so say things like “Blame Micro$oft” (don’t forget the dollar sign). To me it just seems so…childish now. Folks need to get over that and indeed remember (as you said) that real people work at Microsoft and ‘do’ care about some of the same things that we do. I am very proud of what the IE team has done with IE7 and will continue to commend them for putting a lot of effort into making it an excellent browser.
I don’t think no-one cared about your concerns in 2003. These concerns where shared by some browser developers, which is the main reason (along with W3C not being interested at that time in advancing HTML) for the existence of the WHAT WG.
Aargh. Why does IE even exist anymore?!
IE should be congratulated on catching up with the rest. Condescendingly. Let”s not kid ourselves that any of their decisions are based on anything other than money. This is why we”ve had to wait so long for a browser that finally does what it”s told…Though the legacy of IE will be around for a long time.
Wrong. If all their decisions were based on money, they’d have spent not one minute on standards support, and put that time and effort into more complex WPF-driven enhanced advertising technology or something similar. Keep telling yourself that the IE team only cares about money and not about standards if you like. You’ll continue to be wrong.
Rijk: my perception of the WHAT WG is that its existence is almost entirely due to the W3C’s disinterest in advancing HTML, and its excrutiatingly slow progress (and, some would say, wrong-headed direction) with XHTML, not concern over Microsoft’s plans. If there was really that much concern over Avalon and XAML and WPF, I would have expected a lot more progress from the WHAT WG than we’ve seen. They haven’t done nothing, certainly, but frankly their progress looks good only when compared to the W3C.
You’ve perfectly articulated many of the very concerns I’ve been focused on for the past year. You’ve taken a brave stance, and I applaud you.
In fact, I’ll even give you my get out of jail free card. I have a few extras.
It’s nice to see that there are prominent people in the standards community that actually understand that Microsoft isn’t trying to crush every non Microsoft product.
Everybody I’ve talked to a Microsoft is actually very level-headed. It’s easy to target Microsoft because everybody does, but I rarely here many valid complaints or claims and when they do come up Microsoft usually tries to fix things.
Just keep a few things in mind, it takes a lot to organize 50,000+ people so don’t expect changes over night and comments like “Aargh. Why does IE even exist anymore?!” don’t help at all.
As always, you’re a good example of someone who leads rather than follows. I’ve had my share of IE troubles over the years…and that’s WHY I’m excited about the changes they’re making. The near-ubiquity of IE, coupled with the push toward semantic markup and standards, could spell ‘new web revolution’.
It’s people like you that give me hope for the day when the last Microsoft Word website goes offline.
It’s great that there are developers on the IE team who care about web standards. But why does it surprise you that nobody wants to embrace Microsoft like a big cuddly teddy bear?
So IE7 has some significant improvement to its standards support. That’s great. So did IE5. It kicked butt all over Netscape’s browser at the time and many web developers were singing its praises. But that didn’t keep IE from stagnating for over 4 years after Microsoft achieved their objective of squashing Netscape. I’m sure there were also some IE team members at the time who were excited about the standards work they were doing. What good did that do when the powers that be decided that IE development was no longer important?
So keep praising the good things you see the IE team doing. I’m sure they could use the encouragement. Just don’t take it personally when we keep reiterating that we don’t trust Microsoft any farther than we can throw Bill Gates’ Porsche.
I agree with much of what you say, Eric. I also happen to know a bunch of really nice, smart, good Microsoft people — in my case, they’re in Microsoft Research. I try to never demonize or even disparage the people who work there.
But … you underestimate the top-down strategic direction that drives Microsoft. The individual passion of IE developers could not stop IE development being shut down after IE6. It will not stop another U-turn if upper management decides one is required.
A similar example is how MSR staff spent years developing infrastructure for Java compiler research. When Java became officially verboten at Microsoft, they were ordered to throw away their infrastructure and rebuild it from scratch around .NET. The researchers fought against it — their Java results would still be applicable to .NET, and rebuilding would take years — they were accused of disloyalty. They lost.
This is in general the flip side of the ability to “turn the company on a dime” that Microsofties are so proud of.
> If all their decisions were based on money, they”d have spent not
> one minute on standards support, and put that time and effort into
> more complex WPF-driven enhanced advertising technology or something
I credit Microsoft’s strategic leadership with more strategic thinking than you do. Microsoft saw themselves bleeding user share and developer mindshare to Firefox. Instead of betting everything on WPF and possibly losing it all, they decided to cover their bets, to try to stop the bleeding and recapture mind and market share on the Web while also pushing WPF. This is not immediately profit-maximising, perhaps, but the real game is always about protecting their monopoly and raising barriers to entry … real power and money flows from there. Microsoft has always understood this and acted accordingly.
I sincerely hope you’re right and WPF has no chance of supplanting the Web. But too many times, people discounted Microsoft’s ambitions, or Microsoft’s ability to realize their ambitions over the long term, and paid the price. It is better to err on the side of paranoia. Over Flash, WPF has Microsoft’s might, ambition, tool support, and a much richer range of abilities (including “flexible flow” documents not unlike HTML). And see the (probable) Microsoft PR message quoted here:
It doesn’t. What surprises me is that so many people still can’t tell the difference between the two. All I’ve been talking about is IE7 and the IE team working on it. Most of what I get in return is denunciations of Microsoft, not the IE team.
I suppose it would be similar if I wrote to praise some civic effort of a local Republican party office; I’d have to expect a flood of venom directed at the Bush Administration and the national party in response. That the two are only tangentially related would get lost in the general sound and fury.
No, I don’t; and no, it won’t. I know quite well that Microsoft (like most large corporations) has a very top-down direction. I also know that Microsoft (like most large corporations) is a not so unified as it appears from without. Or even from within, when you’re on the losing end of a top-level decision.
I know full well that if the top levels decide to shut down IE again, there’s not a blessed thing the team can do. That makes their efforts to bring IE7 up to speed, standards-wise, all the more laudable. They do it knowing full well it might be the last chance they get. Bill Gates has said he’s committed to IE and new releases of it, but that could change. It certainly has before.
Remember, my goal here has never been to praise Microsoft for its handling of IE, or standards, or anything else. It’s to praise the IE team for what they’re doing, and what I believe they will continue to do so long as they’re able. If I’m lucky, I’ll convince a few people to speak well of the team, and thus encourage them to work harder on what we all want—as opposed to ripping them apart, thus discouraging them. (And how some of them manage to remain un-discouraged is a miracle. They’re better people than I think I’d be.)
I don’t say that it has no chance. I just don’t think it’s as likely as do others. All of Microsoft’s might and ambition went into replacing Linux and Apache as the dominant web server software. It didn’t happen. I anticipate a similar dynamic with presentation technologies. As I said before, I anticipate about the same outcome as was seen with Flash.
Put another way, in the last 13 years I’ve twice been convinced that the standards-based Web was about to be devoured by alternative proprietary technologies. Twice now I’ve been wrong, and the open Web has kept chugging right along.
Maybe I’ll be wrong again; maybe the third time is the unlucky charm. If so, I’ll adapt accordingly. But I had the general concern you’re expressing back in 2003, and did my best to articulate that concern in the places where I thought it mattered. In additon to meyerweb, I also talked with people at browser makers, one of which I know you have a good deal of familiarity. I talked and evangelized and pleaded and was met largely with indifference. Over time, I came to see the situation in a different light. Maybe I just burned out on the subject, ran through the concern and came to weariness, and now rationalize my failure with complacency. Maybe not. Either way, it’s a banner for others to carry now.
Well spoken Mr. Meyer. I’m thinking maybe it’s time to re-think my conditional If-IE faux security warning on my site (or at least make it target only less than version 7). On a more serious note, your veteran wisdom is not unlike that of Jeremy Kieth, in his recent post on innerHTML vs. DOM methods. We start out adamant and brazen, but in the process realize that we’re hurting real people, who aren’t even responsible for the source of our angst. In short, thanks for the reminder to us “rotten standardistas” as Molly would say. I think it’s time for me to grow up (a little).
I don’t personally care why MS has decided to take the path they are currently taking with IE. It’s the right path (for the moment) and that’s what really matters to me.
That’s where you are wrong – they knew Firefox was a superior product, they knew they were losing market share, they knew even mainstream folks (as opposed to early adopters) were going to find out that Firefox had the potential to be a ‘safer’ choice being that it’s not tied directly to the OS. Whether that’s true or not, perception is reality, and MS had to do something to change the perception that was out there.
So yes, we should applaud the team for their efforts, but we should also remember the corporate machine that gave them their orders.
Jeff L.: thank you for helping make my point. IE wasn’t losing market share due to its standards support or lack thereof. It was, as you say, losing on the perception of poor security and general stagnation. So if everything were about money and market share, I say again: they’d have spent not one minute on standards support.
Perhaps the confusion is that when I say they, I mean the IE team. If your they refers to Microsoft corporate leadership, then we’re both right, but only because we’re talking about very different things.
I’m evaluating products, not producers.
If a product is ‘good’, then those behind it have probably done a good job – and I can say so. If, on the other hand, a product is ‘no good’, then it doesn’t matter who’s behind it, so there’s no need to mention them at all.
So far it looks like IE7 may turn out to be an ‘acceptable’ product, so I guess those behind it are doing an acceptable job. What more is there to say about the subject?
I don’t think it is coincidence that Opera and Mozilla (and Apple) were interested in advancing HTML, preferably at the W3C, at that time.
Although Firfox might have given the IE Team’s profile a little boost, so far the amount of people turning away from Internet Explorer has been low. I’m glad IE7 moves towards a point where we don’t have to jump hoops to get a website running on all browsers without endless exceptions and recodes in the CSS.
IE7 is far from perfect (negative margins on a element containt in a absolute positioned box makes a mess in IE7 to my surprise. Luckily I have found a work around that leaves IE5/Mac in the cold; but that’s OK. IE5/Mac is discontinued and with a little CSS hackery you get it running in IE5/Mac), but moving into the right direction.
The only thing we have to worry about is that some manager somewhere will decide ‘OK, now you’ve got an updated IE7, let’s focus on something else and take away time and money from the team’. That’s why I really dislike the company; it always seems to produce half-baked solutions and then tells us it is the sweetest bread on the market. They get away with it every time, so who can blame them for doing that? It’s us users in the end that seem to thing half-baked is the standard.
The way I see the “What browser to use” issue:
IE is mainly refered to as “the most popular browser”. It would be better to refer to IE as “the most used browser” in my eyes.
As the world consists of alot more users than designers, the designers should appreciate that IE gets their standards compatibility up from the mid 90’s.
You also have to think about WHY almost everyone uses IE. Firstly it comes pre-installed on almost every new computer. That’s Microsofts fault and not their IE-design team. Secondly there’s only a minority of users who cares what browser they’re using or even know there are more than one.
So, as long as computers comes with IE pre-installed, I’m pleased that they(the IE team) are working on it.
In the long run, once IE7 is taken up by the mass of web users (as it will be), its standards support is going to make our lives easier as web developers. I can’t see how anyone can see this as a bad thing. Sure, IE6 has caused me lots of pain before, but its just ludicrous to harbour ill-will to Microsoft because of it. As a few posters have pointed out, Microsoft-bashing is just fashionable (and has been for a long, long time).
Back in the good old days Netscape 4 used to be the most wretched browser to develop for; yet without Netscape we wouldn’t have Firefox. Where would the web be today if we all harboured grudges against software companies for one product that caused us grief?
Eric, all the flack you’ve copped over praising Microsoft’s efforts with IE7 is all nonsense. Good on you for continually speaking your mind in the face of such rubbish, and good on Microsoft for taking the steps to develop a better product. I’m not exactly a huge fan of Microsoft, but at least this is something they are doing right.
I work as a web developer and ever since I started in 2001 I have been passionate about web standards, not least inspired by you Eric. I am now coding in .net 2.0 and using Visual Studio 2005, and frankly I am sick and tired of the kneejerk reactions from the Open Source Evangelists who know very little about the ways in which Microsoft involve the developer community and how they have made enormous leaps to ensure that it is straightforward to output semantically correct standards based client User Interfaces (that’s web-pages to the rest of us) utilising the new rich programmuing environments they offer.
Irrespective of Micro’$’oft’s (sic) profit motivations, the intoduction of WPF, IE7, Visual Studio 2005 (& associated releases) all point towards a joined-up, developer focused set of production tools that enable web (and Windows) development to meet standards now and in the future from the small scale blogger up to the enterprise developer.
In all the projects that I have worked on (all in the UK) I have never encoutered any difficulties supporting standards, nor have I encountered any employer resistance to these development methodologies. Microsoft DO support standards and, in their latest batch of developer tools, show a clear commitment to them.
No I don’t work for Microsoft.
Yes I fully support Eric in his views. He has hit the nail right on the head and driven it home.
Perhaps it’s time for the Open Source crowd to stop flailing with their hammers (ok the analogy is getting a bit stretched!) and consider what Microsoft have accomplished. I have seen very little to compete in the enterprise and there is nothing that can be achieved with LAMP that .NET wont do.
IE7 is a massive step forward. Well done Eric for once again having the sense to see the situation for what it is.
Pure chuffing genius :)
“Wrong. If all their decisions were based on money, they”d have spent not one minute on standards support, and put that time and effort into more complex WPF-driven enhanced advertising technology or something similar. Keep telling yourself that the IE team only cares about money and not about standards if you like. You”ll continue to be wrong.”
Microsoft are a profit making organisation and therefore driven by money. Their ‘desire’ to implement web standards comes from the fact that this is where the future of development lies and therefore money. The fact that they have competitors delivering things that they are not and who can potentially lower their profits is a catalyst for their actions.
I have no idea what ‘WPF-driven enhanced advertising technology’ is – I suspect you are tring to blind me with your knowledge of this technology (or at least the terminology); but I’m certain that if they could be sure that custom would not be driven away to it’s competitors (on top of monetary considerations) then they would indeed be investing heavily in it over web standards.
Excellent point which is somewhat obvious to me but I still remain guilty of holding a grudge against IE (for lateness and not learning from the proof-of-concept IE 5 Mac).
Grudge aside, I was really, really glad to hear they had un-frozen the thing and were going to update it. I’m game for any improvements over no improvements at all. The IE user base is just too large to ignore after all and I can’t wait for v7 to seep into the higher percentages of user agent web statistics.
As is noted Eric exemplifies the professional attitude as a leader should. He is a virtual mentor to anyone who’s been pushing CSS for the past few years.
I’ll add that it isn’t fair to blame MS for everything because the web itself has grown faster than any standard could be ratified. It skipped HTML 2 entirely and hopped all over the place with third-party plug-ins and scripting technologies while we discovered what it could do. Now lessons have been learned and the needs are much clearer, and so we deal with the clean up while we build our latest web masterpiece. And though I agree with Eric that there is not a unified voice from the design community, there does seem to be a clear path to standards that wasn’t so clear a few years ago – and the IE team appears to know this.
Well, I must say I guess I’m a little honored to be picked out by Eric to have my quote refuted.
I guess I should say that while I like the things said by the developers at Microsoft, I still am waiting to see this mystical MSIE 7 that will fix all of our problems so we all can skip merrily through the flowers, not a care in the world.
I realize they are people too, and that they more than likely care about the same issues we do. However, once they enter the machine, it’s hard to differentiate them from the actions of their superiors unless you are staring them in the face.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter if MSIE 7 fixes the long-standing problems in 6 or introduces a whole new set. As long as the developers are not just glad-handing the community as a way of keeping their sinking product afloat, then maybe there is hope.
It doesn”t. What surprises me is that so many people still can”t tell the difference between the two.
well, I guess you shouldn’t be surprised at all. People do have a tendency to oversimplify things so that they can understand the world around them. So it’s a natural thing for a user, who discovers that MS software cannot perform exactly the way they expect it to with little or no effort on their behalf (as seen in Star trek), to think of MS as an evil, orwellian, money-grabbing entity. Next logical step is to attribute these characteristics to anyone related to MS. It’s a very superficial point of view, but, hey, is that the mainstream in webland?
Having said that I still think that IE is by far inferior to its competitors, and the IE team has its share of responsibility for that (regardless of their bosses’ agenda).
I agree with you. Well said. No foul.
Eric, well said! I couldn’t agree more. If there’s anything I really truly loath it’s blanket statements and generalizations. Hey it’s like Doc Brown was always saying in the Back to the Future movies, “Marty, You’re just not thinking fourth dimensionally!” Great Scott!
I can identify with all the angst in the web development community for Microsoft though. It has been *five* years, after all, but bashing Microsoft is a complete waste of engery. Most people who indulge along those lines are thinking two-dimensionally, they blindly hate Microsoft and put little thought into all the beuracratic red tape and political battles that surely must go on internally there and the real people fighting those battles for the betterment of the web at large. It’s easier for these people to spam the IE Blog with “Firefox rulz, down with M$” than to actually form a deep coherent thought and consider how much effort the IE team has already made toward giving us something in the way of better standards support.. . er .. wait… it’s another blanket statement! .. the circle is complete… ah, what am I saying, who knows *what* they’re thinking!
Personally, I’m just thrilled that we’re *finally* getting a new Explorer and I can’t wait till IE6 has gone the way of the dodo.
Though IE7 is getting much better, I can still remember the days browsing and developing stuff with IE was a real pain. My trials with Netscape were not happy as it was too resource hungry. IE had a lesser memory footprint though it crashed a zillion times.
I am currently using firefox though it too hogs memory (I have used some tricks to scale its memory usage). But I was impressed with firefox every other way. It was smaller install,clean and I was happy as a web developer that it respects standards much better.
I am not sure whether firefox drove IE to fix its standards compliances issues. But if it has then kudos to Firefox. It has allowed the web to have a choice and allow bad kids like IE to grow up in a decent way.
I just wanted to say I appreciate that a hero of web standards is able to recognize and applaud positive developments in the field, even when it comes from the devil himself.
In fact, IE7 is a significant improvement, although it still has a ways to go. But in this and in other areas Microsoft has, I think, shown some good-faith effort to address the concerns of web designers, open source advocates, and compatibility issues. I won’t go so far as to say that the corporation is doing so out of the ‘goodness of its heart,’ but the fact that they are paying some attention to non-enterprise users is encouraging.
As an example, they give away the Visual Studio Express editions, which, although limited somewhat, are powerful and useful tools, especially for the price. Note also that they have hosted Terra Server for a number of years, which does not restrict the use of its images (which were obtained from government agencies, but served up at Microsoft’s expense to the best of my knowledge). They have also allowed significant access to the live local (virtual earth) api, and has not (so far as I know) clamped down on creative usage of the service, in contrast to Google (which is still viewed by many as the ‘good corporation’ in contrast to the ‘evil-incarnate Microsoft’).
My point is not to say that Microsoft is a warm, fuzzy uncle who is just completely misunderstood, but that we are often guilty of overlooking positive actions by people or groups we view in a negative light. I am guilty of such hypocisy myself, but I think we can all benefit from taking a step off the bandwagon and taking an unbiased appraisal of each new development – sometimes, we can be pleasantly surprised.
I wish to thank Eric for bringing IE improvements to my attention, and for reminding us that corporations do include regular people who genuinely care about what they do. And I would also say that when people such as Eric Meyers give credit where credit is due, this is likely to encourage more positive developments in the future. So, GO MICROSOFT!!! . . . and those who can’t see the logic in this perhaps don’t WANT positive change . . .
Sorry, can’t stand my own typos – *hypocrisy* :)
I am revisting this thread, because IE 7 is a pain! I spent a lot of time doing a css-only web site, that, frankly won”t pay too much. I had it working and looking great on all browsers except IE6. But I thought, surely it will be fine in the new improved IE7. So off I went to a computer store to vist my project on IE7. And guess what. It”s broken!! So much for IE. So my partner is making it work by using tables. As my co-worker pointed out… “there all kinds of new, feature rich sites still built with tables, because of IE and its way of rendering web pages” Question: if css can work in Safari, Firefox, Opera, … why not in IE7??
Why is that browser so different?