Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.

Comments for The W3C Cannot Save Us

Could this be done by going completely open source?

Produce pluggins for Mozilla. And wait for Microsoft and Opera to follow.

Boinc now supports human based projects as well grid computing. A steering committee would be needed to provide some coordination; but that could be through Boinc.

by Robb Greathouse at
"In order for the future to be better by a large amount, it must be different by a large amount.

I think that statement alone is enough to indict Opera’s anti-trust actions as stupid and ill-considered."

Seems that you are contradicting yourself.

If Opera's antitrust complaint is successful, the future will indeed be different by a large amount.

by snack at
A snippet from my blog post commenting on things written on this one:
…there are huge tracts of the HTML, CSS, and DOM spec’s that you simply can’t use. IE’s bugs combined with its market share conspire to ensure that’s true…Mozilla, Opera, and Safari all have their own warts as we get to the edges of what’s even theoretically possible w/ current specs. And that’s not even taking into account how utterly wrong, broken, and silent the specs are in several key areas. Even if the specs were great, we’d still be gated by the adoption of new renderers.

So, it is still like the 90’s but to a lesser degree, right? When it comes to building something, anything for the web, designers and developers have to take the different browsers and how they render things into consideration.

The difference between the 90’s and now is that the industry began to care about making websites that didn’t have badges that stated “Best viewed in [insert browser name.version].” Web designers and developers didn’t want to write markup and/or code specifically aimed at particular browsers or, God forbid, multiple versions of the same site/application to target all of them.

Why would anyone want to return to that?

"If Opera’s antitrust complaint is successful, the future will indeed be different by a large amount."

Indeed. If you think the web will be a better place by sprinkling more proprietary technology onto it, then that's what you have in Flex and Silverlight. That's the bright "future" you're describing, where vendors dictate where to go and how to get there. How exactly can W3C standardize proprietary technology like that?

Even if Flex and Silverlight is implemented in all the major browsers, how can backwards, forwards and cross platform compatibility be ensured when only one vendor has complete control over the technology? Sure, W3C can reverse engineer the whole platform and publish specifications based on the work, just like they are doing now with XMLHTTPRequest, but do you really think that's the best we can do with web standards and development in 2007? Is that as good as it gets?

No, the world of web development is so many orders of magnitude better today than it was 10 years ago that even suggesting that going back to the old ways is better is just complete and utter madness.

Meh. Disagree.
by Hemebond at
So what was so different about the late 90’s that it allowed a closed process to make huge gains in a short order while we can’t even get basic architectural issues addressed in a timely fashion today?

Could it be that the technology is getting mature? And mature technologies do not evolve as fast as emerging ones.

I remember being excited about getting the chance to use new features and not caring who gave them to us.

Did you care who could use the sites?

Web developers everywhere need to start burning their standards advocacy literature and start telling their browser vendors to give them the new shiny

The web us not about "shiny". The web is about sharing information - and sharing it in such a manner, that anyone can access it regardless of their choice of browser.

snack, Asbjørn:

You're entirely right that the Opera action, if successful, will yield a largely different future, but one that I'm afraid would suck. I'm all for things that improve competition, but I don't think this will really do it. If you look at Operas statements about the suit, they look to obligate Microsoft to follow the letter of web standards, not to make significant progress of the type that will be needed to stave off the likes of Flex and Silverlight. If I were a product manager for Flex, I'd be jumping for joy right about now. The strategic implications of the lawsuit are clear, and they're not pretty.

Lawsuits, like militaries, are blunt instruments and Opera's complaint may do some good but may also provide Microsoft with a convenient reason not to discuss standards conformance in an open way with the community since what they say may eventually be used as evidence in ongoing litigation. And what if Opera succeeds? I'm all for the un-bundling of IE from Windows. Microsoft's strong-arm tactics with computer manufacturers with regards to default software is painful and well-documented. Changes to that would be great. But what would a remedy that compels "standards compliance" really look like? I'm guessing it would look a lot like a delaying tactic which keeps our eyes off the larger prize: keeping the open web competitive for building ever-more sophisticated applications and visualizations.

Opera should have asked instead for detailed, public plans from Microsoft regarding upcoming browser versions and a court order compelling them to meet those plans. That at least would be a remedy that spoke to the future and not the past.


by alex at
Preach it brother!

Standards cannot drive innovation, they can only help clean up the mess innovation leaves in her wake.

by Marty McKeever at
To get a better future, not only do we need a return to “the browser wars”, we need to applaud and use the hell out of “non-standard” features until such time as there’s a standard to cover equivalent functionality.

Funny, I said the almost the same exact thing this summer.

by Jeff L at
There will be no browser wars if MS remains so dominant. Sure, its nice to think that developers will implement "new shiny" to a large extent but in the real world clients pay us to make things that work for large amounts of visitors and that means IE.
by Les at
A dose of pragmatism is always welcome in a sea of often unrealistic idealism. Thanks.

You don't say it, but I presume you expect Dojo and toolkits like it to play a key role in making it possible to release products across uneven, shifting feature sets?

by Dave at
Alex raises a few good points here and there about the problems with the W3C, but his faith that right path is letting vendors lead in standards (innovation yes, but standards no) is not only unwarranted, but disproved by history. If we do it his way, Microsoft IE will become the standard. Period. And, the way MS plays it, there be no room for any others. Don't take my word for it. Take a look at the ECMA OOXML ISO standard bid shenanigans with all it's obfuscation, secrecy, and committee packing. You think the W3C is bad--look at that one.

Let MS lead and open international standards will go the way of the Dodo bird. We might as well all just run Windows and bow before our new overlords in Redmond.

by digginestdogg at
Proprietary web development with the purpose of standardization is much better than proprietary, period. The latter is inevitable, so what do we do about it?

This is pretty much the point here.

alex: "If you look at Operas statements about the suit, they look to obligate Microsoft to follow the letter of web standards, not to make significant progress of the type that will be needed to stave off the likes of Flex and Silverlight."

I disagree completely. Everyone is free to innovate and do good stuff. Microsoft just has to follow through on its promise to implement standards correctly and be a good netizen, that's all.

"The strategic implications of the lawsuit are clear, and they’re not pretty."

On the contrary, they are extremely promising. No more having to code for separate browser. No more having to add support for standards AND be compatible with IE at the same time for other browser vendors. Everyone saves bucketloads of money, and users will have an actual choice.

"But what would a remedy that compels “standards compliance” really look like?"

It is not all that complicated. There is a set of standards that are more or less agreed upon. Heck, if Microsoft could just implement the standards it claims to support correctly, we would have come a long way.

Marty McKeever: "Standards cannot drive innovation"

On the contrary. Standards are the basis of innovation. All industries are based on standards. You build you innovation on top of those, and not by violating those standards. Why should the browser industry be any different from the food industry, the oil industry, etc.?

by snack at
Dave: I don't expect Dojo (or other toolkits) to play a big role, actually. We just don't have enough leverage, although we can improve the situation and paper over the holes to some small extent. I've heard that some browser vendors expect toolkits to be "where it's at" and I think they're fooling themselves to a large degree or at least trying to let themselves off the hook. If browser vendors really want to enable toolkits to make a difference in this fight, they need to provide a way to keep them from being perpetually re-requested off the network and deliver serious performance improvements and hooks into the parts of the page lifecycle that they expect us to manage.
by alex at
How about providing an estimate of how much money MSIE's deviations are costing companies and using that to build support for an outright boycott? Get a lot of competitors to agree to serve up a page that says "This page is not viewable in Internet Explorer, for the following reasons: ... Please try one of the following browsers instead."

Make it a movement, like that Facebook anti-Beacon petition that worked so well.

by Walter at
In the end, we, the web working class (aka web developers, HTML/CSS grunts) will be the ones to explain to the clients/designers/company owners, that the desired design will be doable in one browser and not in the other.

In the end all we will be able to do is to use the lowest common set of our tools to build web pages.

As you all know, they (clients/designesr/company owners) all want their designs to look exactly the same on all platform/browser combinations.

Maybe it's time to start learning Silverlight/Flash?

by Hrvoje at
Driving standards and innovation forward through browser competition does sound healthy and Darwinian, but as Alex rightly notes himself, cool new idea's are not implementable unless they are widely supported, or degrade gracefully.

Widely supported means MSIE, in terms of user support. And this really is decidedly un-darwinian: natural-selection of new technologies cannot take place with the supremacy Microsoft inflicts upon everyone - new ideas will not be adopted if MS choose not to implement. This is the reason why great swathes of cool features that are adopted by everyone else aren't in use today - it would be an incredible transformation of the web if TODAYS standards were fully supported!

The only body with the unified power to implement this is the W3C, so whilst I agree they should be solidifying the present set of standards, I worry that leaving innovation and new feature sets to the (flawed) competition of the browser vendors, would lead to no innovation at all.

by theTree at
Kasimir said:
The web us not about “shiny”. The web is about sharing information - and sharing it in such a manner, that anyone can access it regardless of their choice of browser.

The web may not have been intended to be shiny, but people try to make it shiny nonetheless. If an open standard like CSS doesn't provide them with the tools to make it so, many will flock to Flex and Silverlight.

What would we rather have? It seems to me that a mostly standardized web with all the content in an open, human-readable format with a relatively thin jungle of (human-readable) proprietary code on top wouldn't be as bad as the other option, a completely standardized web with all the content in a closed, binary format on top of a thin layer of open, human-readable code (think of all the Flash sites with just a single <embed> element in the body).

and what have we learned from history?

dateline: July 26, 2000

spoiler: 7+ years later and SVG is all but dead....

by Wade Harrell at
The solution is not in the alternative browsers adding shiny new features, because as long as IE is the standard and it doesn't even cover the basics, you can't use it. I had this conversation many times with my boss, when some CSS or something would make a better solution but couldn't be implemented because IE didn't support it. For example, I had to custom make a HTML/JS bar charts when I could have used SVG because the client didn't plan on using Opera or FireFox.
it sounds to me the frustrations are w/ the standards bodies -- their slow speed and lack of transparency. thats fine. but thats independent of their actual work -- spec'ing how features should work. certainly, there are new things that W3C hasnt explored as quickly as id like (eg, css expressions).

if i could use them all, id be happy w/ the palette CSS2 & 3 provide. but even today, we still cant assume the average browser is going to support them. thats sad. and thats the browser vendors fault. period.

side note: if one wants a vector-based, animation-based format, start using it. but HTML isnt flash, and it isnt supposed to be. flash is supposed to be flash.

yeah, it would be nice if, after "Browser X" comes up w/ a Super Sweet New Feature (tm), it could get on the W3C standards spec faster. but thats an issue w/ their process... and it doesnt mean we're stagnant as a field, nor that we should waive the "fuck standards!" flag (which i am reading repeated). it just means we're maturing a bit, which means going a little slower. like other industries...ISO-9000 committee work is probably pretty boring, too.

"I remember being excited about getting the chance to use new features and not caring who gave them to us." -- yes, and this prompted "Best Viewed In XXX" disclaimers. lame.

by kibbles at

All but dead? We've seen two new, high quality, high-performance implementations in the last couple of years, and really great abstractions like dojox.gfx that make it completely portable to differing back-ends. While SVG may not be the apparent winner, we got the new features regardless, and despite SVG's serious suckage as a spec, it may yet win. Long story short, we can use vector graphics to draw everywhere today.

If that's not a success story, I don't know what is.


by alex at
@alex: Inline SVG did not happen. Compare the current state to where the Adobe plugin was at in the initial release and even those few browsers that offer limited support are just scratching the surface. Granted is doing impressive work with canvas, but when I consider the work my team did for in 2000 canvas does not add up to much.

Of course inline SVG would require real across the board XHTML and even that has not yet happened (I am talking application/xhtml+xml, even though 90% of pages out there use the XHTML doctype as text/html anyways; resulting in soup)

XHTML is a perfect case of user demand being ignored by application vendors. it is a feature everyone wants, it is standardized even, but the key player has yet to support it. I generally do not bash MS, XHR and client-side XSLT since IE5 gave them big gains in my book, but the XHTML thing is a sore point. In context of their early XML dedication I have never fully grasped that choice...

MS got burned on SVG, they wanted VML, so SVG will never happen. They introduced XHR and everyone else quickly followed their lead.

I agree that the standards should mostly be a map of the common ground, a "safe list" of features that can be used with neutrality. Sometimes, as in the case of SVG, they are born from an attempt to identify that common ground when implementations have greatly diverged. Unfortunately corporate egos come into play at that point. Vendor innovation to serve their own needs have given us some of the most critical technologies used by web developers today. Vendor resistance to implementing the desires of users or standards bodies have stunted the growth of the industry (a bubble burst did not help either). It is a double edged sword. Neither direction is 100% right or wrong.

I want the innovation (from all vendors), and I want to use that innovation (from all vendors) in a standard way that will give the same minimum set of results in all environments.

by Wade Harrell at
Wade: Actually, inline SVG doesn't depend on XHTML. The SVG WG and the HTML WG are currently discussing how to get inline SVG in text/html. And with script, you can already do it today in Opera, Firefox, and Safari.
Do you seriously want to go back to the old model of:

Browser with the most market-share = Gatekeeper to the Web.

Really? I just can't wait for a proprietary system that takes a service contract to get into to even code for it. Take a look at locked and crippled phones from wireless carriers, because something similar is how I'd envision that would end up.

by Rog at
Alex, I just found your blog and I'm loving it. You have the right idea about the web, and it's great to see so many of the ideas I've had kicking around in the back of my head expressed so well.
You're definitely right that innovation doesn't come from the standards bodies, it comes from the market. I recently started blogging at the above link about what a new thin client might look like. I talk in the second post about how to keep new software platforms open while encouraging innovation. Any ideas and feedback would be appreciated.
by Mufasa at
to Marty McKeever and his relpy: Standards cannot drive innovation.. Marty, you right in first part of your sentences, but not in second one... The most of standarts exist for reinventing innovations
by Vidall at