The New Browser Wars

Until recently this editor has been feeling as a Cassandra-like voice in the wilderness on the new, quietly insidious attacks by Microsoft on the Web and Web standards:
1)Microsoft continues to delay on bringing IE up to a range of W3C and ECMA standards dealing with HTML, CSS, DOM, and JavaScript. IE, frozen since 2001, is now the least standards compliant browser on the market. Microsoft is not committed to update its browser until 2006/2007. Even when that update emerges, Microsoft has not committed whatsoever to bringing the Longhorn IE in compliance with any standards;
2)Microsoft quietly continues to increase the number of tools that auto-generate proprietary and/or non-standards compliant code. Microsoft has not committed any of its tools to support a “standard-only” switch which would guarantee any code generated by the app would be W3C , ECMA and other standards compliant. This type of software switch is eminently doable, as Adobe, Macromedia and other ISVs provide just such capabilities in their major web applications;
3)Microsoft is starting to back away from major XML standards such as XSLT 2, XPath 2 among others. Microsoft has not supported SMIL, SVG, and XForms. Microsoft is reserving the right to walk away from XSD and a XML_GUI standard that does not match up to its XAML interface spec. Microsoft, in contradistinction to W3C stated directions, has started to patent XML and other standard processing methods and definitions;
4)Microsoft continues to thwart programming interoperability on the Web through Java applets by securing the rights in its settlement with Sun to distribute a hopelessly obsolete JVM with Windows until at least 2007 thus effectively poisoning the Java deployment well for 3 more years;
5)Microsoft has not engaged in any discussions with other W3C members to rationalize the different CSS and DOM implementations to help simplify the contradictory syntax that adds tremendous burdens to quickly and effectively developing DHTML apps. Instead and alarmingly, Microsoft is engaged in a PR campaign of soliciting from its users suggestions as to what directions the new IE should take. Too often I have seen these “user solicitations and surveys” used as the Judas betrayal justification for bypassing some and/or all standards – “we would like to adhere to standards but our users told us that these new proprietary features are more important.”
These are quiet but serious attacks on the Web interface. Meanwhile Microsoft has been marshalling arguments for renewed investment in the “smart client”. Read this as a thick, Windows based client in the fashion of say InfoPath 2003 which is adept at formfilling but only in the latest versions of Windows and only using Microsoft databases.

Silence in the trade press

Meanwhile the trade press has virtually been silent about the increasingly hostile actions of Microsoft. Wired and CNet have picked up some stories on Microsofts refusal to make updates to its browser or improve standards compliance, but about once every 6 months. Also with the exception of Jason Brooks at eWeek, Jon Udell at Infoworld and Sam Bass at PCWorld, the trade press has largely ignored the increasingly wider features, performance and standards compliance gap between IE and the Mozilla and Opera browsers.

For example no one has analyzed why IE can for the past 2 1/2 years have serious and unique security flaws, increasingly poorer feature comparisons, the weakest standards compliance and the weakest performance benchmarks yet still retain a 94% market share. This latter counter-intuitive behavior – do corporations/organizations not care at all about IEs shortcomings because IE is “free”- even though IE inflicts large security and maintenace update costs plus large more-time-for-development costs? With this kind of irrationality being manifested by the user community, I was starting to conclude – nobody cares whether Microsoft FUBARs (Fcuks Up Beyond All Recognition) in the browser world because this issue is not only off the radar screens but confined to the hamper of history not worth recalling.

However, to my surprise I encountered Nigel MacFarlanes intriguing piece Smoke, Mirrors and Silence: The Browser Wars Reignite in which he concludes in a fairly well reasoned argument that indeed Microsoft is not attacking Mozilla or Opera but W3C Standards. In effect, Redmond is trying to recreate its old rival to the Web, MSN, by exploiting its desktop monopolies and a range of Windows only features to be vested in Longhorn. The new MSN will use the Internet transport backbone – but will dictate all the layers above that by selling unique Longhorn capabilities to major web providers like eBay, Amazon, SAP, Lexis/Nexus, Time Warner, etc.

Now I have been conjecturing the purpose behind these standards-breaking actions is to allow Microsoft to create a new, Gates of Longhorn, Palladium secured, protected and Windows primarily community whose security and it-runs-best-in-Windows will justify the price premuim that Microsoft demands for its monopoly Windows desktop , Office Suite and growing array of business applications. It seems to be a case of similar tactics and different ends.

However, even more helpful was Nigel pointing to other arguments on the same issue. Most notable , was the Design by Fire website where Andrei Herasimchuk argues very telling why users should care about Web standards. Andrei not only has hiw own eloquent arguments but also has provided an excellent set of links to various other authors who argue as to why standards are important.

So now that I know that I am not a voice in the wilderness – it will be intriguing to find out if there is any adherence or sympathy for Andrei, Nigel or others arguments in corporate and/or governement corridors of power. Or is this point of view regarded as the ravings of a fractional and marginalized group of intellectuals, radicals, and/or agents-provocateurs ?

1 thought on “The New Browser Wars”

  1. Most people switched browsers back in the netscape vs microsoft days. IE was faster to render, easier to install plugins (and now spyware) and of course some pages looked funny in netscape. SIMPLE, dont design for IE, explain to people the issues (as you have done, congrats) and lets move on with our lives. You dont go to the store with the thought in mind you have one choice when you buy your food, no one will starve if we stop using IE.

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