Thursday 14 December 2006
On a rainy Wednesday in Redmond, Washington, 14 invited bloggers and industry leaders gathered at building 20 of the Microsoft campus for a full day of discussion regarding Microsoft’s outreach to its communities via the upcoming MIX07 conference. The very interesting and productive meeting was topped off with an hour spent with none other than Bill Gates, during which we had the fantastic opportunity to discuss issues of concern to the industry.
We were asked not to publish any audio, video, or photos (except for the group photo here, which you can also see on Flickr for more detail). I wish I could publish the audio, I think folks would enjoy it, but since I promised not to, I’ll make good on that and provide you the transcript of my discussion with Bill on the issue of Web standards here. I also have some video from earlier in the day that will be of interest to the standards community. The photo that’s on Flickr is tagged with all the attendees if you’d like more information on that. So, here’s my five minutes of Web standards banter with Bill Gates, which I hope you’ll find as intriguing, charmingly stubborn and witty as Mr. Gates himself.
Molly: On behalf of the constituents that I represent . . . standards-oriented developers and Web standards supporters around the world, I think they see a tremendous leap forward in IE7 and the work that has been done as well as the evangelism, the outreach. What would you say to the people that remain skeptical about Microsoft’s agenda in terms of committing to the implementation of standards for the browser and other development tools instead of this paranoia that seems to be out there that Microsoft wants to own the Web. What would you tell the skeptics out there regarding your commitment to the implementation of open Web Standards in your products?
Bill: I don’t know what it would mean to own the Web. It sounds attractive! [group laughter]. We’re a software company, and we write software tools that let people do productivity, content, write applications. You know, we have our track record. I don’t know what date you want to start in. 1993, when we started IE 1.0, or 1995 when we shipped Windows 95, or when we shipped IE 4.0? We have our track record.
Molly: Well that’s the irony. You [Microsoft] were always ahead of the curve until the IE6 issue occurred, and this . . . five year gap really caused some issues for the development world, and that’s continued.
Bill: No, no. Come on! There’s stuff in IE 4.0 that people are starting to take advantage of. I mean . . . script has been there!
Molly: Scripting, yes.
Bill: Well? Now people are finally using it.
Molly: Well, how about CSS support specifically? It comes down to CSS implementation . . .
Bill: Well, okay. That is up to Dean . . .
Molly: [amidst laughter] Oh, I see, passing the buck, Bill?
Bill: No, no, there’s two things. There’s what we expect we’re trying to do; and the state of implementation of the things we’re trying to do. We’ve done the Mea Culpa . . . that yes, we should have kept the browser innovation curve to be a more continuous curve. Believe me, we wish that we’d done that differently. Dean’s group is getting more resources, and so you’ll actually see us not only going back to the state of what we were innovating before but actually innovating at faster speeds than we were before. A lot of that has to do with implementing standards. It also has to do with doing user interface things that make our browser a cool browser and ultimately preferable for people to use.
Molly: But the question wasn’t answered, which is: What is the commitment?
Bill: Who has done more implementation of Web standards than Microsoft? I mean . . .
Molly: I’m not arguing you. I’m asking a question . . .
Bill: No, no but eventually a question has to be answerable. What did we do in 1995? What did we do in 1996? What did we do in 1997 . . . you can skip like three years and say we did nothing. We didn’t do anything proprietary, either! That’s criticizing not our intent, our strategy, that’s criticizing our execution and we fully accept that. But every year for 13, 14 years now we’ve not just followed and implemented standards, we’ve contributed. This WS stuff, . . . we contributed more Web standards than anyone! We have our smartest people who go and work on that stuff . . . we just did the OpenOffice . . . our office XML formats we contributed to them . . . we’ve got XML at the core of all our products. Back in 1996 it was us and a few small companies that proposed XML in the first place. At some point you just have to say hey, look at our track record and if somebody’s track record doesn’t prove something you, then I’ll probably never convince you of something. What is it that we’re not doing? You know if you name some obscure thing and say hey, Microsoft ought to do more on that I’ll probably just send Dean mail and say hey, she said that such and such a thing we should go and do and we’ll go and do it . . .
Molly: That’s absolutely what’s happened, and I’m acknowledging you for that and Microsoft for that. I’m just saying there are a lot of skeptics still out there.
Bill: How can they be skeptical? I guess if your job is to be skeptical, you’d hate to be out of a job!