Zeldman: Accept Microsoft’s terms, or else?

In his blog, Jeffrey Zeldman defends version targeting. As most people probably know by now, there is a proposal out there which involves IE8 basically requiring that you opt-in to its standards compliance. Needless to say, most people think this is a really, really bad idea. Apart from Zeldman's attempt at dismissing criticism as "ingrained dislike of Microsoft", something else really caught my eye. …

He writes (emphasis mine):

By contrast, the many developers who don’t understand or care about web standards, and who only test their CSS and scripts in the latest version of IE, won’t opt in, so their stuff will render in IE8 the same way it rendered in IE7.

That sounds bad, but it’s actually good, because it means that their "IE7-tested" sites won’t "break" in IE8. Therefore their clients won’t scream. Therefore Microsoft won’t be inundated with complaints which, in the hands of the wrong director of marketing, could lead to the firing of standards-oriented browser engineers on the IE team. The wholesale firing of standards-oriented developers would jerk IE off the web standards path just when it has achieved sure footing. And if IE were to abandon standards, accessible, standards-compliant design would no longer have a chance. Standards only work when all browsers support them. That IE has the largest market share simply heightens the stakes.

What he is basically saying is that if the market doesn't accept Microsoft's terms unconditionally (it's take it or leave it, folks!), Microsoft could simply lock down IE tight and halt all standards development. It will use its larges market share to basically kill any further progress on open standards in IE8.

Is this something Microsoft has actually threatened to do if the market does not bow down to its command, or is it a scenario he finds likely even if Microsoft hasn't actually said so?

Regardless of whether this is merely an argument Zeldman invented to strengthen an otherwise weak case or an actual threat from Microsoft, I think I can say that even the possibility of such actions by the company would be of great interest to the EU during its antitrust investigation.

Engaging in blatantly anti-competitive practices during an antitrust investigation? Even Microsoft cannot be this careless, surely?


15 thoughts on “Zeldman: Accept Microsoft’s terms, or else?

  1. It's incredible how Ballmer can imprint his view and tactics to all levels of Microsoft employees…incredible…

  2. @suribeNo one like to be hit by flying chairs.Not all of Microsoft's employees are bad. See Alex Mogilevsky's blog entry on CSS.EDIT@RayGoneFishingHaavard is not overreacting, it was bad enough when Micrsoft invented the DOCTYPE element which ultimately forced browsers to have to support two rendering modes. This is substantially worse as if it is widely adopted, it will force browser vendors to spend way more time and money to reverse engineer IE quirks in various versions as IE7 would not go away. I agree with Ian Hickson's post here.Originally posted by Ian:

    Therefore I recommend not including the meta tag, or, if you are forced to include it, making sure it says "IE=7", even once IE8 ships.

  3. Turin: The problem is that Zeldman says that Microsoft could end up firing those good Microsoft employees if the community doesn't accept Microsoft's terms…I don't think I am overreacting, RayGoneFishing. Please read the bolded part in the quote. I also don't think I need to repeat all the perfectly valid arguments against the proposal. I have included several links that deal with specifics on that.As for offering suggestions, several people have done exactly that. Maybe those suggestions are as undesirable to Microsoft as their proposal is to everyone else, but what can you do? I think this comment in Zeldman's blog has a decent point (once again the emphasis was added by me):

    And why do we have to address the problem? Its clearly a Microsoft problem, its their problem, they caused it, and so they must fix it. I don’t see how and why this is thrust on us. We’ve taken a proposed solution from A List Apart and Microsoft, listened to the rationale and rejected it.

  4. Hrm. I guess either MS is doing something really stupid or then they are taking a risk, if that threat happens to be true. I agree EU would most probably approve the anti-trust complaint and crush MS out, as it would be a threat to not just "break" the web but even "close" it, since every web developer knows (X)HTML, CSS and that stuff, if MS refuses to support that, tons of sites shall break down and, what shall customers then say? It'd be a stupid thing even in that sense.

  5. Aren't you a bit overreacting, Haavard? I think what Mr. Zeldman actually alludes to is that standards-oriented browser engineers on the IE team would be in big trouble if IE8 broke too many website. Remember that backwards compatibility is a big thing for MS. So, to avoid "breaking the web" and being nailed to the wall for doing so, version targeting was invented (which is not IE specific, by the way, other browsers can use it too if they are so inclined). That way, IE can be fully standards compliant without forcing old, non-standards compliant documents into a rendering mode they were not designed for and that would break them.If you are opposed to version targeting, maybe you have another suggestion what IE should do to become standards compliant without making legacy documents on the web unusable?

  6. @Turin: Microsoft did not invent doctypes.@RayGoneFishing: Version targeting would've been fine for most people if it had been opt-out instead of opt-in. That way, IE8 would behave fine and similar to every other browser in standards mode by default, but would fall back to IE7 mode only if the author used the X-ua-compatible switch to do so (adding one http header or including one <meta> tag on your pages is trivial enough for those that need to do so).It would be a good way to help those that need the extra time to test the new version of IE and/or fix the site to work with it, and it wouldn't screw over everyone else like the current proposal does.

  7. @Daedalus: There are certainly good arguments for making version targeting opt-out, but what would happen to old websites that are not actively maintained anymore but still have useful content? How would the opt out process work for them?

  8. @RayGoneFishing: Exactly the same as what happens when those websites are viewed in Firefox, Opera, Safari or any other non-IE browser today. The browser will simply do it's best to present the content in a readable manner.To put it simply: Content is king. As long as the content is still easily readable (and today's non-IE browsers do a very good job at ensuring that), then not having a completely pixel-perfect representation of what the site looked like 6 years ago is not so bad that we need to hinder the current web and force this ridiculous IE-versioning on everything written from now on.All of the really old content (most stuff older than 6-7 years, and even a lot of stuff newer than that) on the web is in quirks mode anyway, and noone is taking that away anytime soon.If this version targeting is truly needed for a lot sites as the IE team claims, then it needs to be a strictly opt-out feature for legacy sites only. Making it opt-in is a short-term IE-only bandaid that will result in long-term nightmares for everyone (including MS themselves).

  9. @Daedalus: Have you thought about all the websites that use the strict DTD but are not really standards compliant because they cater to the bugs and peculiarities of current browser versions? If IE8 renders them in truly standards compliant mode, they will break. Badly. I'm sure you still remember the outcry when IE7 came out and supposedly standards compliant pages broke because IE7 was more standards compliant than IE6. The same will happen again with IE8 if no mechanism is put in place to prevent it.So what's wrong with opt-in? DOCTYPE is opt-in too, if anyone cares to remember. If you want your pages rendered in standards mode, you have to specify the right DOCTYPE, or you'll end up in quirks mode. Why is nobody complaining about that?

  10. I do believe that Daedalus pointed out the following, RayGoneFishing:

    Content is king. As long as the content is still easily readable (and today's non-IE browsers do a very good job at ensuring that), then not having a completely pixel-perfect representation of what the site looked like 6 years ago is not so bad that we need to hinder the current web and force this ridiculous IE-versioning on everything written from now on.

    If you still don't understand what's wrong with this proposal, I suggest that you read some of the blogs I linked to.Doctype switches aren't targeting specific browsers.

  11. @Haavard: Repeating that quote does not make it any more useful. Nobody is asking for pixel perfect rendering of ancient documents. That's just a smoke screen you're throwing up there.Of course doctype doesn't target any specific browsers. That's precisely what the problem is with doctype. Each browser's interpretation of the standards is different and you have no way to differentiate between them. To do that, you have to resort to browser sniffing and hacks. *That* is ridiculous, not creating a meta tag that does the same thing in a much cleaner way.I for one will be among the first to use the new tag if and when it is implemented, general anti-microsoftism notwithstanding. You are of course free to ignore it.

  12. @RayGoneFishing: Yes I thought about that, and I don't believe they would be as much of a problem as you think. Firefox/Opera/Safari/etc all have to deal with those sites today, and the vast majority of it works just fine. If IE8 is truly on the same level as everyone else, then they should be able to handle legacy content even with all of the new standards support.The stuff that is most likely to break are AJAX sites that depend on huge amounts of Javascript. Most of those are still fairly recent and maintained, and should have no problem opting out of the real standards mode.The web didn't fall apart because of IE7 and it isn't going to fall apart because of IE8. If they just provide a legacy opt-out switch and behave normally by default (with full standards, just like every other browser), then the transition will probably even be quite smooth.Also, doctypes are in no way the same thing. They are simply there to identify what kind of document it is, and were never designed to be a rendering switch of any kind!Documents shouldn't have to differentiate between different browsers at all. The much-improved standards support in IE8 should be a huge step on the way to accomplish that, but Microsoft's opt-in is essentially going to drive everything in the opposite direction.All of those who have been following best practices in building web sites (writing clean browser-agnostic content, with graceful degradation, progressive enhancement etc), and pushing for standards for years, are essentially being punished for doing the right thing. If you want the good rendering, you will be forced to add browserspecific code. That is what's ridiculous, and that is what's pissing everyone off.

  13. RayGoneFishing: Your claim about a smoke screen is merely a red herring :)I think you will see that the "pixel perfect" comment was just a small part of what Daedalus wrote. Like you apparently chose to dismiss the blog posts I linked to as "anti-microsoftisms", it seems that you ignored the rest of his comment and focus on a part which was perhaps the least relevant to the discussion.If you are not even going to address the issues that are raised by others, this discussion is going to be short-lived.

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