Microsoft: Breaking Trust With Web Developers

Bill Gates has been espousing Trustworthy Computing as the new direction that Microsoft is taking within its software offerings. But the problem is that Bill is still thinking in terms of bits and bytes and not the fundamental moral issue of trust. Bill persists in pursuing zero sum games where his need of 80 to 90% market share wins mean that just about everybody else has to lose including other ISVs, IT developers and end users if need be. And thus his “trust” record in Web development is not pretty:
1)After cutting of the oxygen to Netscape & guaranteeing IE ascendancy in browsers, Redmond assured corporates with the promise to stop the browser wars and meet all the W3C and Web browser standards;
2)What that meant to Redmond was that they stopped all development on IE, cancelled major DHTML tools & initiatives and left key gaps and ommissions in CSS, DOM, JavaScript, XHTML in the newly dormant IE6;
3)Not only did they leave standards undone but also proprietary extensions and traps for unsuspecting developers. These are non-standard extensions which Redmnds development tools did not warn developers of. Nor did Microsofts tools provide a simple “rollback to W3C standards” mechanism despite the fact that major web tool developers like Macromedia Dreamweaver and Adobe GoLive did do so;
4) Redmond also thwarted new web standards because the browser was declared an integral part of the OS and that new Windows Longhorn/Vista was to be delivered in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2006 … uhhh we will deliver something by 2006 year end. So until that date users and developers were told that only security fixes would be made to IE;
5)This has meant that for all practical purposes important standard browser developments such as XFORMS, CSS2.1 and 3.0, XHTML and Namespaces, JavaScript 1.5, 2.0 and E4X and lot more have all languished under Redmonds leadership of browser standards with its 95%++ market control;
6)But this neglect extends to other areas such as Web graphics (think of such standards as PNG, JPEG2000, SVG, SMIL), mouse gestures, and voice interaction where advances have been held up by the fact that Microsoft has said no work was to be done on IE;
7)But then when IE started to lose significant chunks of market share to Mozilla and Opera; suddenly Bill at the RSA 2005 conference says it is okay to update the browser; but only my way.
And now the beta is out and we find out what Bills going to allow.

IE7 beta is a bitter disappointment.

One sort of suspected this. Microsoft has been touting Smart Clients relying on desktop Windows PCs and applications as the way to go. This position does not allow for much improvement in the developer and standards based features of the browser. The fact that IE7s Dean Hachamovitch and David Massy have been mum about meeting standards in the build up to IE7s beta release usually predicates bad news. And IE7 is very bad indeed.

Sure Redmond has provided glitz – tabbed browsing; but even here Microsoft is still very timid and not up to the rich offerings of 3rd party supercharged browsers like IRider, SlimBrowser and CrystalPort which use the IE engine but provide their own interface and other features – see here for examples. And Robert Scoble can yell his typing fingers off about the new RSS features- they currently dont work. And they are moving towards tighter security – but again miniscule moves; a sort of phishing alert system, turning off features rather than closing down the fundamental ActiveX and privileged state flaws. And I am not the only one to come to this assessment – check out the reviews at CNET, Dave Shea at MezzoBlue , Snook.ca, Faruk Ates and CNET describing the IE7 team already giving up on the Acid 2 browser test that Safari and Opera have cleared and Firefox is committed to. The lone Microsoft apologist I can find is of all things from WASP who appear to have been deftly co-opted by Redmond.

But the biggest disappointment is the lack of trust this version IE 7 represents. Microsoft promised to deliver w3C standards in IE6 7 years ago and renegged. And they are just saying that is a buried and forgotten promise. It no longer applies. We are not going to make the Acid2 tests with IE7. There are no DOM, XHTML, JavaScript, and other standards gap closures. These shortcomings means that Microsofts failure to implement adds billions of manhours creating hacks, workarounds, and extra testing for web developers that have to guarantee to their clients that web apps will work in any circumstance and browser(see here for where the billions of man-hours figure comes from).

Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have been working overtime to represent themselves to corporate clients, ISV partners, and tens of millions of developers as good IT citizens. Redmond has been trying to project the image of a company one can trust to not only to provide reliable, secure, and functional software; but that will act responsibly in the market and will do whats good for customers and computing ahead of its own gain if need be.

IE7 beta and all that lead up to it makes those promises echo hollow.

Bill continue to hold up the progress of Web development, the improvement in browser features and functionality plus development of Web browser standards simply because he still can. And since Redmonds Smart Client on the desktop and new Windows Vista requires a relatively weak browser, Bill is saying to all his constituents – this is all you get, minimum/no improvement in standards. XFORMS – forget about it. JPEG2000 – not likely. CSS 2.1 or 3.0 – maybe for IE 7.5 or IE8 or ….. And a mechanism/switch in all Microsoft development tools that allows users to select Microsoft proprietary extensions or stick strictly to W3C standards – are you kidding?

So the bottom line is that developers, Web users, Corporate IT shops, ISVs, and end-users – all are going to have to make a choice which should be dead simple to do. Allow Microsoft to continue to dictate to you what, how and at what pace Web browsers and therefore the Web interface is going to develop – or switch to a non-IE browser. It really is that simple. With Firefox, Opera, Safari having 50-80% market share, suddenly Microsoft has to pay attention to Web standards.

And the switch is really simple – the download and installs are super fast (I can testify for both Mozilla browsers, Opera, and Safari) the diskspace taken at 30-50MB is a pittance on existing machines and the learning curve is two days tops. And if you need a security blanket, just leave IE there. But as they say in the commercials: the freedom – priceless.

(c)JBSurveyer 2005

See here for more Implications of IE7 Beta.