Wednesday 2 November 2005

WaSP Microsoft Task Force Update: Upcoming Products, XAML, Acid2, SXSW, and IE7 Revealed

The WaSP Microsoft Task Force held another face-to-face meeting with available members on Tuesday. We met in a Starbucks along the waterfront in rainy Seattle. While the setting might have been a bit predictable, the conversation was unique and at times, very encouraging.

WaSPs at the meeting were DL Byron and myself. Microsoft was represented by a number of Web platform program managers such as the ever-amiable Brian Goldfarb, Sam Spencer, Rob Mauceri, and the legendary Chris Wilson, the Group Program Manager for IE Platform and Security who has worked on IE since 1995.

We discussed a number of issues including standards support in new software, the role of XAML and the Microsoft agenda, the Acid2 test, SXSW, and last but most decidedly not least, IE progress.

Standards Support in Upcoming Microsoft Products

There are three new tools at the ready for Microsoft, each being developed with the designer and design workflow in mind. The product of most immediate interest to WaSP is code-named “Quartz.” Rob Mauceri gave Byron and I a demo of the software, which produces XHTML 1.0 Transitional out of the box and also supports other relevant DTDs. No tables for layout, all CSS, which is great news and worthy of a hearty round of applause.

Drilling down into the markup and CSS, the tool is not without common problems we’ve seen with other designer environments. The XHTML and CSS generated are not as intuitive and useful as they could be, with lots of span elements, classes up the yin and out the yang, and a tendency toward presentational naming. Fortunately, a skilled CSS designer isn’t blocked by the tool and is in fact able to use it to create leaner, meaner markup and style in much the same way that familiar competitive tools provide.

Not perfect by a long shot, but unquestionably a potential software addition for any Microsoft developer interested in improved workflow along with XHTML and CSS support.

XAML and the Microsoft Perspective

One of the most common questions I get asked when discussing the WaSP Microsoft Task force is “what about XAML!” XAML, the Extensible Application Markup Language, is a Microsoft-specific language that many fear Microsoft will use to leverage its hold on the Web at large.

XAML is at the core of the majority of Microsoft tools development, which does suggest that when in Microsoft, do as Microsoft does. There’s what might be described as a paradigm shift for Microsoft, though. Along with XAML-based applications, Microsoft is concurrently including a subset of XAML that would be more readily useful for cross-browser, cross-platform solutions. The Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere (WPFE) will enable developers to work within the XAML subset. Sam Spencer describes XAML and its subset broadly as “Two different kettles of fish.”

Chris Wilson digs a little deeper. He describes XAML as “a rich client experience,” and the Web itself as being a rich experience. In simpler terms, XAML provides a rich experience if you’re on Windows and developing for Windows. You’ve got “everything you need to build a Windows app.” According to Wilson, XAML isn’t intended to replace HTML. While it’s a Web language, it’s about platform. A developer would choose a situation and determine whether a XAML application is appropriate, or the WPFE subset, which relies on JavaScript, is more appropriate. “WPFE” he says, “gives you a migration path from a rich experience to a broader experience.”

I can’t say I’m delighted with the approach, as conceptually any Web language that is platform-specific goes against the spirit and vision of the Web. At least Microsoft is strategically providing some alternative that would be more conducive to interoperable ideologies, but only time will tell how this concern really does play out.

Want Some Acid2?

It was very interesting to be able to talk to Microsoft the day after Safari released the first distributed browser version to pass the Acid2 test. With Opera 9 only steps behind, the KHTML browsers (such as Konqueror) already sporting an updated codebase, and the upcoming iCab browser already passing the test in its pre-release beta version, the question of Acid2 compliance and Microsoft is at the ready on many a tongue.

WaSP has known for some time now that passing Acid2 wasn’t going to be a benchmark for IE’s development at this time, but Wilson, at least, has always been diplomatic about Acid2’s role. In fact, perhaps more diplomatic than the Firefox team, who have stated that Acid2 came at a bad time and wasn’t really relevant for their development process, despite their interest in and support of Web standards.

Maybe Firefox can take a lesson in diplomacy from Microsoft in this one. Wilson told me that he is well aware that Acid2 “tests a variety of features that Web developers would like to have.” He went on to say that he supports the goal, and complimented the Acid2 guide for being well written and fully laying out for developers exactly what is being tested. He finished up his comments on Acid2 by assuring me that IE will pass the Acid2 test at some time in the future, but to not expect it by IE7’s release.


We’ve not yet announced this information to the public, and more details will be forthcoming, but WaSP will be holding two important sessions during the March 2006 SXSW Interactive Media Festival. First, we’ll be holding a panel.

WTF? Another panel you say? Well yes! This time it’s the WaSP Task Force panel, in which WaSP and leaders from our Task Forces will be present to discuss what we’ve all been up to in the past months. Expected panel members include myself as moderator, Drew McLellan for WaSP strategy; Chris Wilson (Microsoft) on the WaSP / Microsoft relationship; Jennifer Taylor (Product Manager, Macromedia Dreamweaver) on standards support progress in Dreamweaver and related products; Dori Smith, co-lead for the DOM Scripting Task Force and long-time WaSP member on scripting progress; and Matt May, Accessibility Task Force lead, on WaSP activities related to accessibility.

If that doesn’t sound like an interesting panel, come watch WaSPs buzz in real-time. We’re very pleased to announce that our annual WaSP meeting will be held live and in public under the auspices of the SXSW crew. This will include every WaSP member who attends SXSW plus all task force participants, including significant representation from Microsoft and Macromedia. The first hour is our meeting, following rules of order but open for any member of the SXSW public to observe (we are also hoping to videocast it). The second hour will consist of questions we’ve collected in advance of the event from any interested individual (we’ll be setting up an email address, watch this spot for more information) and the final period will be available for open Q & A from the audience.

We look forward to your participation, whether you’re able to be present in Austin, or not. Again, more details will be forthcoming as the plans, participants, and locations are finalized.

IE Progress

Many readers here also follow the IEBlog (a good practice for contemporary Web developers and designers). Expect significant repairs to most existing bugs, implementation of long-awaited CSS features such as fixed positioning, child selectors, and attribute selectors. Alpha transparency in PNGs? Yes! The XML declaration will now be available without disturbing the DOCTYPE switch, and object handling will be improved with proper fallback.

However, some things simply won’t be there. Generated content? “Won’t make it” Wilson tells us. There’s an overflow problem that probably won’t be fixed, and object for images will most likely not be repaired in IE7.

Wilson remains optimistic and philosophical however, wrapping our conversation up by saying that “I knew when we started IE7 was going to be a challenging release for us, we weren’t going to get as far as people wanted us to get.”

It’s been my opinion all along that Wilson’s perspective is not unreasonable in the least. Anyone who expects immediate gratification for the support problems in IE is simply not realistic. Wilson sums this up himself, saying “I understand we might be the worst offenders today, but hey – I remember back when we weren’t the worst offender.”

And finally, a nod to his team and to the realities of IE’s future:

“The team has done a tremendous amount of work, but we still have a long way to go.”

Good Coffee

The meeting went well, and I’m always impressed by the way that Microsoft interacts with us. Bridges have been built, and we at the hive are confident that we can continue to be an encouraging, supportive resource for Microsoft developers, no matter where their business strategy might lead.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 08:16 | Comments (44)

Comments (44)

  1. Too many things to comment on; I’d be up all night then. But what I do want to say is that SXSW sounds like the place to be next year, and I’m so happy I’m going! 🙂

  2. Thanks for the update.

    Will see you at SXSW, Molly 🙂

  3. Thanks for taking an adult attitude to IE’s progress, particularly in pointing out that Mozilla aren’t perfect either. A lesser person would have taken the easier MS-bashing approach that would be less beneficial to standards-aware people in the long term.

  4. MS – “We like Acid2 but it’s not applicable at this time.”
    MoFo – “We like Acid2 but it’s not applicable at this time.”

    “Maybe Firefox can take a lesson in diplomacy from Microsoft in this one.”


  5. Are you sure iCab is based on KHTML? I was under the impression it still used its own proprietary rendering engine.

    And I’ve got to agree with Robin on the Mozilla/IE responses to Acid2. I honestly don’t see a difference, except that I can download a trunk build of Firefox and see improvements already implemented that haven’t made it into 1.5.

  6. Thanks Molly,

    Standards Support in MS Products:
    As far as Microsoft development tools are concerned; I am glad to hear of progress here, as I know Visual Studio’s current output is nothing short of astonishingly bad from a web standards point of view. I don’t use .NET personally, but I have read that the latest revision is a lot better at letting you ‘mould’ the code for output. Good news.

    To be honest, I don’t have a clue what this is and as such I will ignore it. If I can’t use it to ease the development of standards-based web applications and/or web sites, it doesn’t concern me.

    I’m by no means surprised by Chris Wilson’s comments on the Acid2 test. IE 6 has so many problems that I imagine it would take a very long time to fix them all as well as adding support for all the missing features.

    IE Progress:
    I’m disappointed that IE won’t be fully up-to-date by the release of version 7, but I feel as long as they have removed/fixed most of the browser’s shortcomings, we’ll be ok. I have been keeping a keen eye on the IE blog and I have to say that I’m impressed by what the IE team have fixed so far. I would like to thank Mr. Wilson and his team for doing the responsible thing and finally updating IE/Win.

    The first point in my remaining list of concerns is related to user updates. How long will it take for IE7 to take over as the dominant version in the IE family? I would certainly like to think Microsoft would do everything in it’s power to distribute it in every way possible.

    Well, you can’t beat a good coffee now can you?

    Thanks again for the update Molly.

  7. I’ve visited a Starbucks perhaps 6 times in my life. And I’ll leave it at that. Why, because they don’t understand one single thing about coffee.

    Why then is Starbucks so succesful? Because in a given enviroment, the US, where coffee used to suck big time, they came up with a better user experience. And thereby they set the standards for what coffee should be like.

    Starbucks in the Netherlands set up a plant and an office some 4 years ago. Yet we haven’t seen one single shop open here yet.
    I speculate: the can’t meet the standards here. And the can’t meet the user-experience. Any sidewalk cafe will always provide a friendlier atmosphere and better coffee. Which is a better user-experience.

    This largely translates into that user experience will set the standards. More and more I get the feeling that MS understands this very well. If the user experience is good enough, then who gives a hoot whether an elephant is two pixels off.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think web-standards are the best thing on earth, but in the end it does not matter so much if the user experience is more or less similar and working. And as said before, I do get the impression that MS has started to understand that part very well.

  8. It’s good to see open communication, but the continual discussion, and posts of discussion, with no real physical delivery still doesn’t ease my fears. I look forward to seeing a product in action; and from how it sounds, it will be years behind other browsers by then.

  9. Kelson – yep, iCab has it’s own rendering engine. I think Molly means Omniweb.

  10. One typo correction – I said that WPF/E gives you a migration PATH from a richer client platform (WPF) to a broader platform base. (Not “pack”.)

    Ron, I (mostly) agree with you about Starbucks; they’ve taken the human element out of their coffee production, and though that improves consistency it takes away artistry. Mostly I’m just pissed that they bought and then shut down one of my favorite coffee companies – Torrefazione Italia; luckily the Bizzari family has at least two other local coffee concerns, Caffe Appassionato and Caffe Umbria, which are both excellent.

  11. Oh yeah, and two other corrections – my title changed to “Group Program Manager” for IE platform and security a while ago, and though the IE Blog is a great blog, my personal one is

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  13. I need to go to SXSW for sure. Interesting read, as always. You rule, Molly.

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  15. I never expected IE7 to pass Acid2, nor have *real* support for XHTML; for long I thought IE8 was going to be the interesting release to wait for. So all the improvements mentioned on the IEBlog, has made me quite happy several times, quite happy indeed! And even made me defend IE7 and the team behind, feeling many of the critics were completely unfair, demanding way too much, despite the fact that I almost consider IE6 evil. I was looking very much forward to IE7 to be released.

    But no generated content? That’s simply _horribly_ sad news to me. 🙁 I’d rather wait an entire month extra for the mountain to move, if just that feature could be implemented…
    Enough to make me one of those ‘unfair critics’ of IE7, I suppose, and advice anybody to never use it unless they *really* have no choice.
    So now I’m back at waiting for IE8 to be released…

    I guess I can agree with IE fans on this, though for ‘inverse’ reasons: *sigh*.

  16. Hi All,

    Thanks for your interesting commentary. It’s nice to get feedback without the flames, even if there’s disagreement about things 🙂

    I did make corrections to the article due to Chris’s feedback as well as the corrections regarding KHTML and iCab (Thomas from iCab emailed me a nice personal letter clarifying that as well). I chose not to delete and insert in the post but just make the changes, and am posting here just to clarify what those changes are.

  17. Immediate relief is not what I want. What I want is for an IE7 to not be released until it’s has reasonable standards support. I’ve heard (non-Microsoft) people say that it’s not coming out until Windows Vista late next year (assuming that’s when Vista ships), and I’ve heard others say it’s due out long before then. Shipping with Vista IS a reasonable goal to be ready by. Shipping a less-than-reasonable standards-supporting IE7 _before_ Vista is freaking idiotic, and a slap in the face to web developers and designers who will have to support yet another version of IE for years to come. There’s no reason in the world ACID2 compliance and whatever else needs fixing can’t be done if the Vista release date is the schedule. If they’re going for some totally arbitrary pre-Vista release date for IE7, then I say damn them all, and the browser they rode in on.

    But that’s just my opinion. 🙂

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  19. Um… wouldn’t it have been better to just rephrase that so that iCab wasn’t lumped in with KHTML, instead of removing it from the discussion of Acid2 entirely, considering that iCab was the second browser to pass the test (at least a week before Konqueror) and has had an Acid2-compliant public beta available since May?

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  22. Kelson: Man sometimes I think I should just write these complex reports on a wiki so people could do the proper editing. You are absolutely correct, I wasn’t trying to leave iCab out, I went for the quick fix. So now I’ve changed it.

    Anything else I’ve not done properly, anyone? Reasonable repairs a specialty . . . 😉

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  26. In the spirit of Chris Wilson I would like to say that I too expect IE to pass the Acid2 test some time in the future and won’t expect it in IE7.

    I wonder how many high level, important meetings take place in Starbucks.

  27. Another microsoft apologist now?

  28. “In fact, perhaps more diplomatic than the Firefox team, who have stated that Acid2 came at a bad time and wasn’t really relevant for their development process, despite their interest in and support of Web standards.”

    Molly that’s absolute bullshit. As soon as the Acid 2 came out, there were bugs filed for each one of the things that weren’t working right. In fact Ian filed those bugs, and dbaron started working on them right away and determined which ones were hard to do but they are scheduled.

    Quoting one guy from the community albeit roc, isn’t representative of “Firefox team” says such and such and you know better.

    I’d love for you to talk to the IE team again and have them say to the web community, “yes, we believe you (you as in web developers) should build web sites and applications that work in all browsers. You need to build for web standards, and building an application just for IE is not what we recommend.”

    It’d be cool to see if you can get them to publicly say that. What do you think?

  29. Rafael, you’re totally right. I can be very snarky sometimes.

    But of course Microsoft will never say that. It’s the fundamental difference between a proprietary, closed, profit-driven platform and open source. That’s why this dance will go ’round and ’round forever.

    What’s going on with Firefox? We need you guys to kick serious ass on all fronts. Competition is good. I’ve never said it wasn’t, nor have I not supported Firefox. It’s my favorite browser on Windows (I don’t use it much on Mac). But the holy wars will always rage on. We do what we can.

  30. If you are developing .Net apps and you want to start using XAML, Aurora is a XAML designer that is free for download at The tool also plugs seamlessly into Visual Studio 2005.

  31. LOL @ the penis enlargement spam

  32. When ever I haer Starbucks in Seattle it reminds me of tha movie with Tom Hanks “You got mail” . I hope microsoft does not unleash XAML anytime soon. Hope you had a happy thanksgiving and have a very merry christmas!

  33. All I congratulate on a holiday.

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  36. I would like to check out IE7 in action. Firefox need some good competition.

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  40. Thank for the full review of the net update here.I will try Acid2 for the next two days. Many thanks Molly.


  41. Very is very informative post, congrats.

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  43. Another microsoft apologist now?

  44. All I congratulate on a holiday.

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