Microsoft, IE and the Web Standards Project

There is a long thread over at in the comments of an interview with Molly Holzschlag. I'll avoid monologueing on whether one should consider web standards a battle or not, and just weigh in on the comments threads.


Malarkey said “whether or not Microsoft chooses to adopt the standards war cry for ethical or business reasons is not a matter worth discussing.” Though this was misinterpreted by others in the comments and I applaud Malarkey's Nietzsche-esque reasoning, I actually disagree.

From ten years of experience in championing standards and web development inside Microsoft, I think it’s actually critically important that the reasons for supporting standards in our products – particularly IE – be business ones. Business reasons stand the test of time. Pure altruistic “ethical” reasons are hard to defend to shareholders. I personally believe there is a business case for implementing standards, and I consider it my job, among other things, to make that case internally.

I found the idea of Molly, Malarkey and the Web Standards Project selling out first snortingly funny, and then fairly offensive. I would guess that anyone who has met Molly in person would know better than to think that she could be bought. Of course, anyone who knew me at all would understand the same, but I don’t expect many of you to understand that (though at least one does - thanks Jon). I’ll apologize in advance for some of my tone in this post; sooner or later, the frustration is bound to get to me. Understand that this post contains my personal opinions, and is neither the voice of Microsoft nor reviewed or approved by anyone I work for. I’ll take that opportunity to be a bit snarkier than I usually would be.

Somehow, a lot of you seem to equate bitching and moaning with actually accomplishing something. Sad, really, because it’s the opposite of true.

Justin Reese says, “I applaud the efforts of the WaSP, but since this alliance with MS, it seems that diplomacy has rendered their language somewhat impotent. If that’s what finally brought IE7 up to where it is now, I apologize and yay diplomacy. But otherwise, let’s kick some ass and get MS up to speed.”

The Web Standards Project finally realized that working with Microsoft would probably be more productive if they worked with them rather than just sniping at them (which, by the way, is pretty effectively ignored). Congratulations, you too can change the world if you apply pressure in the right way. I applaud their change of tone, because it makes it a lot easier for me to apply their arguments as pressure internally; they’re obviously representing a real set of customers, and rationally thinking about the best things for those customers. I appreciate the hard work that Molly, Andy, DL and others have put in to represent web developers and work with us here at Microsoft to make the world better. Threads like this one infuriate me because they are doing the right thing for you, and you’re giving them guff.

Dallas asks: “So why is WaSP wasting its valuable time with a company that has absolutely no intention of supporting standards?”

Perhaps because your rhetoric is completely incorrect and misleading, and we DO have every intention of supporting standards, and have been proving that. I think IE7 makes a solid step in the right direction, and shows that we are investing there. We made NO proprietary additions to the platform, and spent all our time fixing standards bugs and implementing standards features in the platform, in IE7. If you are a great developer and want to help make the world better by implementing standards, fabulous - we're still hiring. Drop me a line.

Dallas also said “All WaSP do is defend IE these days, and yet where are the web communities development assurances? We still have none…” and “…unless there is a pledge from MS to support standards outright…”

What pledge are you looking for, exactly? That we won’t implement anything that isn’t a W3C Recommendation? Huh, no one else has done that. That we will implement EVERYTHING that IS a W3C Recommendation? Well, no one else has done that either. (I seem to recall a CSS 2.0 challenge I made years ago that no one has collected on. The first full implementation of CSS 2.0 with no bugs I can find gets to collect. Note the laxity in definition of full and compliant.) That we will comply with standards? Well, I’m trying to, and random “acid tests” get publicized that aren’t compliance tests at all, but that’s how the community treats them – yet I’ll still maintain that fixing the three-pixel jog and overflow problems was a lot more important than adding data URL support in IE7. Sorry, that one just slipped out.

Dallas, you also said “where are the web developers’ assurances that MS won’t continue to restrain web technologies in general to gain business advantages, like they have for the last 5 years?” - I can’t come up with any response to that asinine question that doesn’t include an obscenity. I tried a couple of times. Perhaps you should look back in your web history books into who shipped the first mass-market CSS implementation, and consider the full balance. Perhaps you should think about who invented the XMLHTTPRequest object.

I’m sorry Microsoft took an apparent vacation for a few years. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. Go watch Bill Gates’ and Dean Hachamovitch’s keynote addresses from the MIX06 conference, maybe their apologies will mean more. You can continue to stew in that if you want. I’m not asking that people forget that vacation – I don’t expect them to. I’ve moved on, and I’m trying to do the right thing now. There's a difference between stewing in the past, and figuring out where to go from here.

Dallas: “It’s becoming progressively clearer that MS’s recent efforts in the areas of standards compliance are there to mitigate the voices of angry detractors, and stymie the flow of users away from IE. Not actually to support standards.” WHAT??!?!?!?!?!?! I translate this as “Microsoft is just supporting standards because that’s what people want. They’re not actually supporting standards.” HUH?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Pete says, “Now, where is the sense in them suddenly changing tack and creating software that is the same as everyone else… Where has their potential for innovation (within their own framework) gone?”

Are Opera, Safari and Mozilla exactly the same software? Do they innovate? Does the world not change, and should Microsoft not change with it?

Pete says, “It’s [Microsoft’s] plan, their goal, to tie everything up so it can be integrated with the OS. It’s convergence.” I think the “OS” in that sentence is a red herring. Yes, I want everything to integrate together. I love mashups (I co-wrote an internal whitepaper on the topic with Scott Isaacs of Live fame last year). Doesn’t everyone want this level of integration? Your error is in not understanding that we get that not everything is Microsoft services, let alone software. Pete also says “[Microsoft] want[s] everyone to use MS software for everything they might ever want to do.” Well, duh – of course I’d PREFER you use Microsoft software (and services) rather than our competitors’ software or services. I’m a Microsoft shareholder. That doesn’t mean that I don’t understand some mashups are going to use Google Maps rather than Virtual Earth, or that I have any vested interest in making that any less easy. In fact, I think not enabling that integration would be irresponsible to our own shareholders (see “there is a business case for standards,” paragraph 2).

Dallas also says “It didn’t take WaSP to let the IE team know that web developers really want like :hover on any block element, or alpha in PNGs, because the web developer community as a whole already let them know those things.” Quite right, it didn’t – but having the Web Standards Project act (in contrast to the past, I’d mention) as a rational representative of the web developer community that we can ask for advice has actually helped quite a bit in setting priorities. You know, priorities – those things you have to deal with when you can’t bend space and time and get everything you want, today. Again - we're hiring.

Justin Reese asks, “It doesn’t matter to me if every single member of the IE team is a standards-tooting W3C member; do those people have the power and freedom within MS to enact change? … Will MS allow IE7 to stagnate like IE6 did, or will they release point releases that improve the standards compliance like, well, every other browser maker does?”

Yes, I have the power to enact change. Yes, I will continue to improve standards support and compliance in IE, and make the web better. That’s my job, my charter, my vision, and my passion. The day it isn’t, I’ll quit. The day the development of the standards-based platform in IE goes on a back burner again, I'll quit. My management up to and including Bill Gates has said we are back in the saddle with IE, so I have a job to get back to.

-Chris Wilson