Ars Technica: Mozilla, the bad guys, fighting Microsoft, the good guys?

Ars Technica has published a story on an argument over the work on the new version of ECMAScript, which Microsoft opposes. Reading the story, you almost get the impression that Microsoft is the good guy, fighting a lone battle against a group of evil adversaries (including the well known convicted monopolists Mozilla and Opera) that refuse to take criticism about the new language to heart, and who shout down anyone who dares to speak up against ES4. Indeed, poor Microsoft is being attacked by Mozilla, and "the accusations fly", according to the site.

The reality is that Microsoft is doing what it does best: Spreading FUD.

Most people probably won't follow the link to Brendan Eich's (of Mozilla) open letter to Chris Wilson (of Microsoft), so they won't see the picture he paints of the situation, which is one where several companies and organizations have gotten together to improve ECMAScript through an open process where anyone is free to voice their concerns. The problem, apparently, is that Microsoft refuses to voice specific technical concerns, and rather resorts to undermining the process, stalling and using PR campaigns to gather support against it.

Why would Microsoft do this?

They have an agenda, of course, and they are stuck in their old ways. Eich explains:

Indeed Microsoft does not desire serious change to ES3, and we heard this inside TG1 in April. The words were (from my notes) more like this: "Microsoft does not think the web needs to change much". Except, of course, via Silverlight and WPF, which if not matched by evolution of the open web standards, will spread far and wide on the Web, as Flash already has. And that change to the Web is apparently just fine and dandy according to Microsoft.

First, Microsoft does not think the Web needs to change much, but then they give us Silverlight and WPF? An amazing contradiction if I ever saw one.

It is obvious that Microsoft wants to lock the Web to their proprietary technologies again. They want Silverlight, not some new open standard which further threatens their locked-in position. They will use dirty tricks – lies and deception – to convince people that they are in the right.

But make no mistake about it, Mozilla (Eich) is fighting the good fight here. And even though Opera wasn't mentioned at all in the article (huh?), we are deeply involved as well, fighting alongside Mozilla for a continued open Web.

This article by Ars Technica is extremely poor reporting, and giving the false impression that Microsoft is somehow being victimized and shouted down when trying to raise legitimate concerns.

The truth is that they have been given ample opportunity to raise specific concerns in an open process which other browser vendors are invoved in to improve the Web. The open Web. The Web Microsoft wants to kill.

Microsoft is still Microsoft. Never forget that.

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28 thoughts on “Ars Technica: Mozilla, the bad guys, fighting Microsoft, the good guys?

  1. IMHO, people are getting more and more disenchanted with the whole collaborative-standards deal, even though it is still the best way. I know the ECMA isn't the W3C, but when it takes the W3C 7 years or more to recommend a specification, who can blame them?The internet is moving too fast for these groups to do things the way they used to do in the 90s. It is all too easy for companies to create their own "standards" to fill the vast gaps being left open wider and wider by collaborative specifications which are never agreed upon and so never implemented.The discussion and approval process needs to be improved. You think the delay in getting *any* specification released hasn't played right into the hands of MS, Adobe, and others? These companies are rubbing their hands together with glee at all the time they keep getting to work their proprietary magic while the specification authors argue amongst themselves. Especially since they have their own representatives embedded within the process to help the arguments along!

  2. What delay are you referring to? This is not W3C, but ECMA. Adobe is part of the ES4 effort, by the way, along with Opera, Mozilla, and others. The specification authors aren't some odd people with no connection to the real world. They are the people who actually implement the specification.The problem with Microsoft is that they have indeed been stalling and trying to undermine the process. But now their PR campaign along with their tactics are being exposed.

  3. Microsoft doesn't really have much of a role in the process as such. They are not participating in the development of the language. And one of Wilson's misplaced criticisms of the process is that it's too closed, and that critics are "shouted down", which is a blatant lie.Look at the way Wilson tries to pretend to be a victim by making false statements (emphasis mine):

    "Open to input" should be the way of the web, should it not? I think it's a shame that dissenting opinion has been hidden from view, and not publicized; certainly, I think the Microsoft response hasn't been very audible, but that's partly because we've been trying to figure out if it's just us – but of course, us trying to understand what other people think of the proposal in detail has also generated some apparent conspiracy-theorism. I also think it's a shame that the response to any dissent has equated to shouting the dissenters down. The string of blog posts over the last week, and the immediate and somewhat incendiary comments from ES4 proponents, has been a good example of that.

    Wilson has been caught in the act again and again. If he had anything specific, don't you think he would have shown it by now?Also see Wilson's inability to come up with specifics in his own blog.An open process is a good thing. Stalling tactics and misinformation is not. Closing the process further would only fuel the FUD fires at Microsoft.

  4. Re-read the first paragraph of my OP.These companies are simply trying to do that same thing here as they are already doing there. My point is that companies who stand to benefit if the specification is never released should have their roles in the process re-evaluated.I'm agreeing with you, I'm just saying something drastic needs to be done to fix it so it doesn't keep happening. 🙂

  5. Haavard,Please consider 2 things:1) The only supported language for Silverlight 1.0 development is JavaScript. Not an "embraced and extended proprietary MSFT JavaScript", just plain old standard web JavaScript. JavaScript support in VS 2008 is greatly improved, because JavaScript is essential to Silverlight. This is good for the web, and good for JavaScript.2) I was XML PM when we decided not to implement XML 1.1. Luckily people were reasonable then, and nobody assumed conspiracy theories. We realized that XML was already ubiquitous, and that it would be a big tax on the Internet if we created a new format that would break in all of the existing parsers. The web would be at a standstill until the new parsers reached ubiquity. So we needed to weigh the expense of bootstrapping against the benefits of a new format. As you can see, it was a good decision to stick with XML 1.0, and it is doing just great for all sorts of new development. As you can see from history, refusing to implement XML 1.1 was not MSFT "stalling XML in order to speed up <proprietary format>". In fact, I can't think of a quicker way to kill XML than introduce a new format that doesn't run in the old runtimes. We stalled XML 1.1 specifically because we did NOT want to kill XML.I won't comment specifically about ES4, but I hope you slow down and consider for a moment that maybe the garden variety conspiracy theories are not the most accurate things upon which to base a judgement.

  6. So are you saying that Wilson is simply misinformed?If Microsoft has clear and specific concerns about ES4, it seems that the ES4 group has not seen them. So far, it seems that all Microsoft has come up with is stalling tactics and vague comments about how bad ES4 will be for the Web. Now we're seeing people like Wilson come up with wild accusations against the ES4 group. Do you deny this?And finally, a trick question: Will ES4 break existing implementations? (Can the XML situation really be compared to ES4? Like XHTML2 can be compared to HTML5?)

  7. MSFT is a big company, and different teams have different priorities. Since rebuilding the browser team in 05, Wilson and co have demonstrated nothing but the deepest commitment to making standards improvements as quickly as possible. Before this strange little political episode, I have never seen *anyone* accuse the Wilson or the IE team of trying to "boost" C# or Silverlight. And despite the accusations, there is not a shred of evidence supporting such a view. All evidence points to the contrary; we don't even support C# as an add-on model for the browser, and haven't invested any money here. I don't think a single dollar has been spent on developer features for IE outside of pure conformance to CSS, etc.Sorry to belabor it, but I think it's important to be careful about "mind reading" people's intentions. Perhaps there are teams at MSFT who are hostile to web standards, but the IE team isn't one of them. It's really unfair, and a stretch of credulity to claim otherwise. Plenty of your co-workers know me and can vouch for my integrity. If this was really a case of MSFT trying to kill the web, Wilson (and I) would be the first one speaking out against it.Now, to answer the trick question — I'll first answer with two questions. First, what do you think would have happened if MSFT had stepped forward and said, "we think JS is so important, that now we want to 'help' the web by revolutionizing the language using all our world-class experts like Anders"? Seriously — think about this for a moment. And if you want to thank us for not doing that, feel free :-)Second, do you recall when we "revolutionized" VB6 and made it VB.NET? We asked people the exact same "trick question" — "Will VB.NET break existing VB6 implementations"?The VB6–>VB.NET migration was ostensibly simpler, since the runtime was owned by a single vendor and could be updated much quicker than a diverse universe of JS parsers or XML parsers. But I will let you be the judge of whether the revolutionary "enhancements" to a language that millions loved and were happy with, was a boon to VB langauge or a death knell.The real question is, IMO, how many user agents will be able to properly process pages written with the new language features? How long will it take to get that % up to where it is today for ES3? I don't know the answer, but I am pointing out that this is the sort of due-dilligence that needs to be done. We kept an open mind about this in XML 1.1, and did a lot of work to model the extent of the bootstrapping problem. With XML 1.1 it was in some ways worse than ES (so I am not claiming a direct analogy) because vendors had hardcoded XML 1.0 into a ton of shrinkwrap products, and there was also the problem of people "relaying" XML data; which is less common so far with HTML and JS.So my point is just this — in support of ES4, all I have seen so far is: a) shiny new language features (anyone who doesn't want them must be stupid) and b) unfair and inaccurate claims about other people's motives. IMO, neither is enough to make a rational decision. I think people want to see a more thoughtful and comprehensive discussion.

  8. So what you are saying is that ES4 will break existing implementations, and that Wilson's accusations about a closed process and shouting down critics are correct? You don't think any of Wilson's claims are inaccurate?

  9. allenjs takes too many paragraphs to rebut straw men and slight ES4 by comparison to Microsoft's own captive market abuse exercise, Visual Fred (VB7). Same goes for XML 1.1, which differs significantly (is not a superset of) XML 1.0. These have nothing to do with ES4, which is a superset of ES3.Likewise, Haavard didn't say anything about *just* Silverlight 1.0 and its JavaScript-only programmability. Silverlight 1.1 has CLR and DLR support, and the Chess demo written in C# blew away the JScript version at Mix07. Look where Silverlight is going, not where it started in its first version.Microsoft's vague and lame objections to ES4 beg question of corporate motive, not individual contributor motives. This is not an ad-hominem argument — that's the fallacy where you argue against a person instead of his facts or logic. Here, we have no better theory to explain why Microsoft is enthusiastic to spread C# onto the web via Silverlight, but not to give C# a run for its money in the open web standards by supporting ES4 in IE.The fact is, and we've heard this over late night truth-telling meetings between Mozilla principals and friends at Microsoft, that Microsoft does not think the web needs to change much. Or as one insider said to a Mozilla figure earlier this year: "we could improve the web standards, but what's in it for us?"So you'll see a better IE8 than 7, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the CLR and DLR hooked up directly to the script tag (although I would be surprised to see the JScript engine replaced the the "JavaScript" DLR engine from Silverlight).But tons of money and energy inside Microsoft are going into the proprietary platforms, not the open web standards. And about IE8, all I hear is that some Ajax gurus are being courted with NDAs and trips to Redmond to learn its secrets. That sucks in so many ways, I don't know where to start.BTW Haavard, Chris Pine of Opera and Lars Thomas Hansen before him have been awesome contributors to ES4 in Ecma TC39-TG1. Truly putting shared technical values and a vision for JavaScript ahead of any corporate agenda, while keeping the language small and compilable on phones. You're right that arstechnica and other rags should be crediting Opera as well as Adobe, Mozilla, and others working on ES4 in TG1./be

  10. Brendan,What are you willing to do if your speculations about IE8 fail to come true? I get the feeling that the accuracy or legitimacy of your accusations doesn't matter much to you; only their incendiary capability.Nobody is questioning the "technical values and visionary quality" of ES4. Like I said, we have plenty of world-class language designers who could have "infused" the language with all of these things. IMO, it was a lot more important to fix things that real customers cared about — interop problems, CSS, DOM, etc.Honestly, I am bemused by this whole situation. It seems like someone took the *one* part of the web that wasn't broken, and put in place a plan that will guarantee developer uncertainty for the next 5-8 years. How could this do anything but increase the odds that a deeloper will try other languages? If a developer has to switch to another, non-100% deployed runtime in order to get the "new language of the web" (and thus implicitly, accept the notion that the JS deployed on 100% of machines is somehow inferior), then he'll be more prone to use any other language. By virtue of being stable, ES3 was the one part of the web that stood to gain mindshare from all of this other uncertainty. And the things that can be done with ES3 are quite incredible — as you can expect to see in some things that we'll be announcing soon, built purely on ES3.You could argue that *if* it all plays out in 5 years, it would be a better world for web standards. But in the 5 years it takes to get UA ubiquity, it does nothing but give a clear obtacle-free sprint for Flash and Silverlight, and accelerates any movement away from CSS and HTML. You are acting as if ES4 somehow foils SL adoption, which is bizarre — *nobody* benefits more than CLR when there is diversity in languages out there (and ES4 *is* a new language).Seriously, if the plan had been brought forth without the strange anti-msft conspiracy theories, people would have "connected the dots" in the other dirction, and everyone would insist that the plan had been cooked up by the CLR team.

  11. So will ES4 break ES3 then, allenjs? And are all of Wilson's claims accurate?I notice that there are few clear answers to my question. It seems that this is a pattern the ES4 group has noticed from Microsoft as well… 😉

  12. Second, do you recall when we "revolutionized" VB6 and made it VB.NET?

    WE ? So you belong to MS… you're deverging from an open standard into proprietary stuff (Silverlight, VB.NET). That's very, very different.And you still haven't answered Haavard's questions.

  13. Haavard, I already answered your question. What you are hoping will become ES4 will not run on UA's which currently support ES3, but there is a relatively good chance that any randomly selected ES4 UA will support ES3.The XML 1.1 situation was similar, and in fact the odds of any random UA with XML 1.1 support being able to process XML 1.0 would have been higher. And even the same with VB6. "Superset" is a noble goal, but we're talking about a revolutionary set of changes to a language here. When other companies make this "superset" argument, it's called "embrace and extend". And yes, I believe that Wilson is being honest and has good intentions regarding web standards.Basically; I think people would feel more comfortable if they saw some market research showing that masses of developers really want these changes; some thoughtful analysis of the UA deployment share risk/benfit scenarios, and so on.I could well be proven wrong, but I reject the insinuation that I'm a bad person for asking these questions. Anyway, I value a good working reationship with you guys, and I've made my points clearly enough. You're an intelligent person whether you agree with me or not, and I'm happy to leave it at that.

  14. Nobody insinuated anyone was a "bad person". That's a straw man. Let's get back to technical and strategic or "political" arguments, if there are any new ones to have. :-//be

  15. Ok, now that the "bad person" straw man is down, here are a few technical and political comments for allenjs (Joshua, right?):* Silverlight is not countered by ES4 alone, or even ES4 and IronMonkey on Tamarin. The web standards do not compete in every last detail with a single-vendor gem like Silverlight. They don't need to, on the other hand — they just need to improve significantly (on about the pace of C# 1-3).* But, without ES4, JS does not scale as your own Mix07 C# vs. JScript chess demo showed. It was rigged, sure, since there are faster untyped-JS engines coming down the pike, but only rigged a little. Beyond problems with performance scaling, JS lacks the very programming-in-the-large features in ES4, which are also prominent in C# (Microsoft's "better Java") and touted for Silverlight and WPF programming.* We have plans you may have heard of to roll out ES4 support in IE (all versions including ones you no longer support) within two years, not five or eight. Nice try FUDding based on your own foot-dragging rejection of ES4. There really is no excuse for not getting ES4 implemented within two years; anyone who "can't" has other priorities.* All I can say in response to "IMO, it was a lot more important to fix things that real customers cared about — interop problems, CSS, DOM, etc." is: Get To Work. Your slacking off on fixing bugs for five, or in many cases eight, years in no way justifies stalling ES4 or other web standards.* If ES4 is good for the CLR, which was Pratap's plan of record in mid-2006 for IE8 to support ES4 based on JScript.NET, great! Go for it.* If you think my speculations (fueled entirely by your secrecy) about IE8 are wrong, put paid to them by telling the world what is coming in IE8. What have you got to lose?/be

  16. Originally posted by allenjs:

    What you are hoping will become ES4 will not run on UA's which currently support ES3, but there is a relatively good chance that any randomly selected ES4 UA will support ES3.

    So what you are saying is that sites can keep using ES3, and they will still work comfortably even in browsers that support ES4 because the ES4 group has considered backwards compatibility?But juding by your response, Microsoft would like to see the Web come to a complete halt. No new technologies are to be introduced? Your comment here echoes that which Eich pointed out, and which I quoted in my blog post, namely "'Microsoft does not think the web needs to change much.' Except, of course, via Silverlight and WPF."What is the reason for this apparent contradiction? Maybe I am missing something?

    And even the same with VB6. "Superset" is a noble goal, but we're talking about a revolutionary set of changes to a language here. When other companies make this "superset" argument, it's called "embrace and extend".

    You are trying to play the victim card again, and it is not working to your advantage. ES4 is not owned by a company. It is a collaborative effort between several companies, organizations, and individuals.Wikipedia refers to "embrace, extend and extinguish" as a "strategy for entering product categories involving widely used standards, extending those standards with proprietary capabilities, and then using those differences to disadvantage its competitors". What you are seeing with ES4 is that competitors like Opera and Mozilla are actually getting together to create an open standard.The term is simply not applicable here, and I would have thought that you would realize that.

    And yes, I believe that Wilson is being honest and has good intentions regarding web standards.

    Why, then, is he spreading falsehoods about ES4 and the ES4 process? (And why is Microsoft suddenly so touchingly concerned with an open Web?)

    I could well be proven wrong, but I reject the insinuation that I'm a bad person for asking these questions.

    Please, let's try to focus on the matter at hand. I'm sure you are a very nice guy. But that doesn't mean that you are always right or that your arguments are automatically valid.

  17. Although I agree with haavard's positions the fact is you can't blame a corporation for doing the best for its profits. That's their ultimate goal. Now if a corp plays the good, cooperative guy, it should only considered a marketing strategy. In the critical situations will always look for its own interests.And there isn't only MS who breaks the standards. Either standards themselves evolve as fast as they should, as fast the market wants to. Market's second players need the standards, not MS, and they do that for their own profit of course.

  18. deadHQ,It's true that standards are often a ploy of the underdog; while once there is traction for standards the "overdog" often tries to rev the standards quickly to keep the underdogs on a treadmill. OTOH, I don't think either case here is purely about "profits". MSFT is trying to take customer demand, large legacy base, and etc. into account; and the other players have slightly different customer bases but ae trying to consider the same issues.Brenadan,MSFT is not a monolithic company, and IE team has a great degree of autonomy. The team's commitment should be self-evident based on the past couple of years of delivered results. IE team was not involved in any aspect of the chess demo, and I think that's a red herring anyway. Since 1995 we have had ability to run C++ in the browser, and that blows away JS for perf (in fact the chess demo was running ultimately atop this C++ facility in the browser). For the past 12 years, every 6 months, some vendor shows off a proprietary plug-in that performs an order of magnitude better than plain-old web standards. There were a good couple of years where a UA with 90+% market share allowed both VB and C++. Yet none of them have overtaken the lowest common denominator web standard. So I think perf is a red herring, as is standardization for that matter (C# is an ECMAScript standard). The reason JS wins is because it is safe, stable, and "just works". And of course, there is massive room for perf improvement in existing ES3, so again I think the idea that we need to totally rev the language in order to compete with the spectre of "yet another fast vendor plugin" is somewhat a red herring.I'm not saying it's FUD, but I just don't agree that ES is at risk of being wiped out if it doesn't "revolutionize". ES is not even close to being that vulnerable, and there is no historical evidence to confirm any such fears.Anyway, you should expect continuing improvements in standards conformance, since that's where all the money is being spent. IE8 details have been scarce, not out of secrecy, but out of desire to avoid causing FUD through "vaporware". I feel confident saying "improved standards conformance", since that's solid. But in any case, more details should start coming out soon.

  19. allenjs: please, enough red herrings from you. I qualified my remarks about the C# vs. JScript benchmark enough already. Performance can improve for pure ES3 and should, but ES4 makes it even better — and performance is only one of several goals. The most important reason for the optional type system is to support integrity and safety properties at scale: programming in the large. Some of the ES4 extensions cannot be emulated at all in ES3 (immutable bindings, objects that can't be extended, methods that can't be overridden).Your faith in ES3 enduring is touching. Your colleagues elsewhere on WPF and Silverlight don't share it, and I'm not going to count on it. Of course ES3 and HTML4 will be with us for a long time in terms of web content. That does not suffice, since momentum among "lead users" and high-value content authors and sites predicts what will dominate the web's content languages in ten years.Microsoft is not a monolith — tell me about it! I keep hearing nasty inter-division remarks, including against the IE/Windows group. But this is all secondary. The fact remains that Microsoft, and you in this blog in particular, stall and pessimize web standards evolution — all the while collectively pushing web-like competing technologies pretty much totally controlled by Microsoft./be

  20. Brendan,I think we understand each other now; thanks for the dialogue. I wouldn't be upset if my pessimism proves to be unfounded.As for my "enduring faith", I am still slightly bitter that XML+CSS/XSLT never caught on as the dominant mechanism of web publishing. And also a bit bummed that the web seems to be abandoning altogether the dream of XML for web pages. I've recovered from my heartbreak at RDF never catching on, though I once placed a lot of faith (and effort) into RDF. But despite the crushed optimism, things could be a lot worse. POSH isn't all that bad. 🙂

  21. The XML utopia favored in some circles (XHTML2 + CSS + XForms + SVG) was doomed, because it requires rewriting the web. And in a markup language that is intolerant of human error and inconsistency. And in the face of IE treating XHTML served with the typical MIME type as error-correctable HTML, and therefore tolerating and promoting errors that XML processors reject.Any of these is fatal to the impossible dream of the XML web. All together guarantee the outcome we're living through: the evolution from HTML4 and JS1. Ironically, HTML5 may entail a more usable XHTML(5)./be

  22. Originally posted by deadHarlequin:

    Although I agree with haavard's positions the fact is you can't blame a corporation for doing the best for its profits. That's their ultimate goal. Now if a corp plays the good, cooperative guy, it should only considered a marketing strategy. In the critical situations will always look for its own interests.

    This is exactly what I'm pointing out. Microsoft is looking out for its own interests by stalling and using PR campaigns to undermine the process. But at the same time, they are pretending to suddenly be touchingly concerned with promoting open standards. What is happening is merely that their tactics are being exposed, in case someone happens to forget that Microsoft is and always will be Microsoft, and that people are made aware of their misinformation campaign against the ES4 process.

  23. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119754405249826367.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    The main technology companies allied against Microsoft backed Opera's complaint. The companies, including International Business Machines Corp. and Oracle Corp., banded together as the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, or ECIS, said that the complaint deals with Microsoft's "continuing abusive business practices."

    This discussion is rather a political one(=boring, already discussed somewhere else), but what I see as unfair is that an alliance of corps runs to the goverment for protection from their competitor. Run to the comittee which decided that its unfair an operating system to be shipped with a media player….

  24. It is not unfair to ally against a convicted monopolist which continues its illegal practices. Such as dishonestly undermining ES4 and spreading misinformation about it.

  25. I just hate Microsoft. They are liars. That silverlight I hate it, it does not even complies with xml.I found an article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_for_Competitive_Technologyand this

    The lobby group Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) was founded in response to the case, though some[Who?] claim that the organization is mainly a front for Microsoft.

    in this article.That is why the article mae MS look like the "good guys".

  26. ES4 News and Opinion"Old news", but still a very useful read for anyone who's interested in this. Example (emphasis mine):

    Chris Wilson: "… I don't think the other Microsoft guys ever intended to say 'everything about ES4 is bad'."Pratap Lakshman (Microsoft): "We do not support or agree to the current ES4 proposal, either in whole or in part."

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