In my previous journal post I wrote about Microsoft's Robert Scoble who commented on the Acid2 challenge issued by the Web Standard Standards Project, and his excuses for Microsoft not following Web standards by talking about "product differentiation".
Scoble is apparently saying that Microsoft cannot differentiate itself in any other way than to ignore standards. In other industries, such as the car industry (to use a common analogy), all companies follow certain standards and build their differentiation on top of that. Cars typically have certain basic features that are the same, and one of the most important things is a basic safety requirement (think security requirement for computers, another weak point for Microsoft). That is not to say that all cars are exactly the same. Far from it. The car industry (as well as other industries) seems to follow this extremely simple rule:
Open standards are the foundation on which your differentiated product is built.
How would Microsoft differentiate itself in the car industry? By building cars twice as wide as the road, and forcing roads to adapt to their cars rather than the other way around? But I digress…
An interesting conclusion from Scoble was that WaSP must be a marketing department for Opera. Now, if that were the case, we would probably have asked for our money back by now. You see, the Acid2 test reveals that Opera is not perfect (shock, horror!). You can try it for yourself on this page:
While both Opera and Firefox do much better than IE, there are several problems in these browsers as well. But what is clear is that a marketing department which makes your product look flawed doesn't really make sense.
I do understand Scoble's frustration and the way he reacts, though. It cannot be easy to try to spin stories to Microsoft's advantage when you are attacked from all directions. The best way to deal with it is often to go on an all out attack, and discredit those who criticize you, rather than to actually address the issue. Red herrings have been used for ages by various people, and with great success. And if you are a big company like Microsoft, it can be a particularly powerful way to fend off criticism.
An interesting question is: If Opera itself had issued the challenge instead of the independent WaSP, had the excellent points made been any less relevant? Would Microsoft have been any less guilty of violating standards and refusing to address such shortcomings in Internet Explorer? Had they been any less guilty of trying to avoid the issue, rather than actually acting on it for once, and addressing it?
In other news, rendering the Acid2 test seems to have turned into a race between browsers – who can fix it first? As Tim points out in his journal, that's kind of missing the point. We will certainly continue to improve Opera in various ways, but the most important thing is that all browsers have a foundation based on open standards (see above), to make life easier for people writing Web pages. If browsers hadn't been forced to emulate bugs and flaws in Internet Explorer, browser vendors could have focused more on standards compliance too, making things even easier for webmasters. Unfortunately, the Web is a messy place today, but with alternative browsers gaining popularity it seems that the future has good things in store.
That said, we will not rest on our laurels, and Acid2 is definitely something we'll be looking into.