There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle lately over the Opera complaint that Microsoft is a monopolist that doesn’t uphold Web Standards. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who believes that it’s perfectly feasible for Microsoft and Opera to continue to work with each other on CSS, regardless of their current spat.
While I share Andy Clarke’s frustration about the glacial pace of change, I think the idea of having web professionals oust the browser manufacturers from main specification process, relegating them to “a Technical Advisory Panel to look over the Project’s proposals” is unworkable and potentially more cumbersome. Imagine if you’re hired to develop a website for a large oganisation and play no part in the specification process, but merely get a spec arrived at by competing, squabbling end-users who then say “implement this”. Without the active, day-to-day involvement of the browser vendors, specs would be slower, less coherent and probably unworkable. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter when CSS3 becomes a recommendation, it won’t magically upgrade all the browsers; the spec is only useful when (and if) it is actually implemented by the vendors.
I’m also glad that Opera have raised the stakes with a complaint to the European Union. A few frustrated outbursts aside, I’ve never been anti-Microsoft—but I am most definitely anti-monopoly. A monopoly can never benefit consumers, and it must be forced to compete. That force can’t come from the market (it’s a monopoly), so must come from government or similar organisation.
When Microsoft had a competitor in Netscape, it innovated: Internet Explorer had the best CSS support and IE6 was a marvellous browser that ushered in the era of CSS-based design. But once Microsoft killed Netscape, Internet Explorer stagnated , causinng the woe that we still partly feel today. But 18 months ago there was a convincing new competitor in Firefox, Microsoft began innovating again—and look! IE8 passes Acid2!
So I’m glad that Opera are trying to break Microsoft’s monopoly. Being British, I also admire the plucky Norwegian underdog, and I’m personally convinced that Opera are concerned at the highest level with upholding standards. I’m persuaded by Molly of the sincerity of the I.E. team, but I have no faith that those at the top of Microsoft would give a shit about standards if their profits or monopoly were threatened.
But take a breath, and step back from all of this and look at the radically new landscape that surrounds us.
What we see is another browser war, but based on who can uphold standards best. Opera go to the E.U. with a complaint that I.E. doesn’t uphold standards; a day later, I.E. announces that it passes Acid2, even though they knew that a week ago. What can have caused that announcement, other than the impetus to brag about your standards support? The good news is that the browser manufacturers see standards and interoperability as useful armaments rather than troublesome impediments.
So, while the browser manufacturers are upholding standards, what are the Web Standards Project doing? Zeldman writes,
I’m disheartened by the general lack of leadership. I wish The Web Standards Project would either disband or get meaningfully busy.
Now, I’m only a newbie WaSP task force member, not a real, clever WaSP, but my take is that everyone’s been caught off guard—when the traditional enemies are doing your work for you by promoting standards, it’s somewhat disconcerting. And without a real enemy, things fragment in a loose confederation of individuals.
My personal “enemy” is inaccessibility, and James Craig, Patrick Lauke and I fought a battle wth Microformats advocates because some of their patterns are functionally inaccessible. It was a gruelling battle, involving disagreements with other WaSP members, and in the face of overwhelming apathy, we withdrew.
The other problem is with Ajax (“Accessibility Just Ain’t eXciting”). Most Ajax remains fundamentally inaccessible—and despite the valiant efforts of Derek Featherstone, Gez Lemon, Steve Faulkner, Brothercake and Jeremy Keith—few people give a toss.
In the topsy-turvy world where browser manufacturers are promoting standards, many opinion formers and web standards advocates are so transfixed with the shiny shiny Ajax and hCard baubles that they don’t see that they’re in mortal danger of becoming part of the problem.
Who wants to rail with me against the latest marketable sexy Web 2.0 bells and whistles?
I’ll just carry on evangelising semantics and accessibility in the companies that employ me, at workshops, on my blog and hope this current tizzy dies down.