Microsoft, Good Standards Citizen
In response to widespread outrage at their decision to make the Internet Explorer 8 handle web pages by default in the same broken way as IE7, Microsoft has now announced that they have seen the light:
John even includes a hilarious graph to illustrate his theory of how Microsoft’s change of heart came to pass. (Hilarious to browser geeks, that is. Will Ferrell probably isn’t losing sleep.)
The key subtext from my perspective is the automatic assumption that Microsoft is incentivized to do the wrong thing as far as web standards are concerned. This has certainly been the case for many years, so it’s natural for folks to have a “fool me twice, shame on me” attitude. But the dynamics of the industry are changing fast. Microsoft’s lock on the desktop operating system market is no longer ironclad as Apple gains market share and Linux creeps towards mainstream relevance. Could it be possible that they now have more to gain by complying with standards than by flouting them?
The motivation for their famous policy of “embrace and extend” (adding proprietary extensions to standards) was to lock customers into a specific platform. If I developed my app for Windows or Internet Explorer and took advantage of some special Microsoft goodness, it would be that much more difficult for me to port to another environment. With Firefox now at 20% global market share and Safari coming on strong (thanks to growth in Mac usage), this approach is no longer viable on the web. No one in their right mind is going to deploy a web application that only runs on IE. I’m inclined to believe that Microsoft initially opted for IE7 compatibility in IE8 for exactly the reason they claimed: to avoid breaking existing web pages. Move along conspiracy theorists. Nothing to see here.
The advantage of standards compliance is two-fold. First of all, you increase the chance that developers will take maximum advantage of your platform. I’m more likely to add fancy new features to my website if they are going to work across all popular browsers than I am to use some special Microsoft goo that only works in IE. Secondly, and most importantly, people care about and understand the implications of being a good web citizen more than ever in the past, thanks to agitation by Mozilla, Opera and many others. Doing the right thing is a huge public relations win, something that even Microsoft has to be very mindful of nowadays. And that’s the real reason they changed their minds.
Absolutely. That’s why we love the web: it is open by nature and is pushing the whole software industry in the right direction.
« Firefox and the Mozilla Platform - Steve Jobs Says Flash Sucks »