With recent news about Internet Explorer 8’s imminent beta, Microsoft’s long and checkered history with web standards compliance has been hurled back into the harsh, unflattering spotlight. Even though IE8 will have a new “standards compliant” mode, it won’t be perfect, stirring up a new wave of grumbling about Microsoft’s attitude and position in the browser market.
Opera CTO HÃ¥kon Wium Lie has weighed in with a new editorial at The Register about “How to fix Microsoft’s browser issues.” He begins by stating that because of Microsoft’s monopolistic practices, no real browser market exists, and the company doesn’t feel the need to actually listen to its users. “A monopoly doesn’t have to consider its customers’ wants or needs. In a functioning market, vendors must consider such things in order to compete successfully. But the market isn’t functioning,” Lie wrote.
Lie has a number of suggestions for Microsoft that he believes would improve both the IE experience and the overall browser market. For one, he says that IE needs to support Acid2 and Acid3 by defaultâ€”without requiring users to select standards mode firstâ€”and that Microsoft should commit to supporting the underlying specifications of the Acid tests. He also demands a publicly-available set of documentation for exactly which standards IE uses, limitations, bugs, and extensions.
Finally, Lie calls for an end to mode switching in the future and a commitment to interoperability. “If two or more major web browsers, in official shipping versions, add standards-related functionality that’s generally considered useful to the progress of the web, and described in a publicly available specification, Microsoft must add the same functionality,” he said.
These are good suggestions for any browser, of course, although Opera has a particular bone to pick with Microsoft because it produces a competing product to IE. Opera, along with Firefox, Safari, and a smattering of smaller browsers, have been fighting tooth and nail to grab market share from the browser giant for some time now. That has proven to be somewhat difficultâ€”at least for Operaâ€”as Microsoft still ties its browser into its dominant operating system. And as long as Internet Explorer doesn’t (by default) work towards the same set of standards as the other browsers, standards don’t carry the significance they should.
That’s the crux of Opera’s recent antitrust complaint to the European Commission over Microsoft’s dominance. In addition to requesting that Microsoft be forced to unbundle its browser from Windows, Opera also asked that the company be forced into “fundamental and open” standards. If IE came close to rendering things the same way as Opera, Firefox, and Safari (none of which are perfect, of course), then web developers of the world wouldn’t have such a headache on their hands when creating new sites.
The one shortcoming with Opera’s antitrust complaint is that Firefox has made significant headway against Microsoft. From its 1.0 release in November 2004 to the present, Firefox has gained over 125 million users worldwide, and as of Just month, Firefox held over 40 percent of the market in several EU member nations. Firefox has managed a huge surge in popularity where Opera has failed over the last 10 years, demonstrating that it is possible to make inroads against IE’s dominant position. Â
Lie makes some excellent points in his editorial, and, although Microsoft’s recent actions with regards to web standards are encouraging, the company’s history in that area speaks for itself.