Wednesday 5 December 2007

Conversation with Bill Gates about IE8 and Microsoft Transparency

Yesterday I was once again honored to have the opportunity to speak directly with Bill Gates at Mix n’ Mash about issues pertaining to standards and the upcoming IE8. Concerned about a lack of forthcoming information to the designer and developer community regarding IE8 and Web standards, I asked Bill if he could, in the spirit of a more open Microsoft, find out what was going on. Here is the transcript of our conversation (with some repairs where the transcriptionist couldn’t hear), along with a photo of the fantastic Mix n’ Mash crew.

The Mix n' Mash Attendees with Bill Gates

(From ltr: Jonathan Snook, Julie Lerman, Kelly Goto, Rob Howard, Bill Gates, Molly Holzschlag, Kip Kniskern, Jesse Warden, Keith Peters and Erik Natzke.)

MOLLY HOLZSCHLAG: So, I have a little bit of an infrastructure question, as related to MIX and the open conversation and transparency. A few years ago, MIX was a big information and conversation about the opening of ideas, it was about when in the specific we talked about the browser, IE 7, a lot of interest in that, a lot of talking about it. So, for the last year or so, I’ve been working, I’ve been a consultant here with the IE and tools teams to try and help get standards implementation to be strong, and we see some really great advances.

But very recently there seems to be a shift in infrastructure, and I don’t really know exactly what happened, but what I understand, my understanding is that IE sits on the Web platform rather than in the — excuse me, on the platform, on the Windows platform rather than the Web, and something seems to have changed where there is no messaging now for the last six months to a year going out on the IE team. They seem to have lost the transparency that they had been able to get some momentum going on in the IE 7 phase, in the year and a half since MIX06.

So, I’m very concerned about this, because being the person here that’s supposed to be the liaison between designers and developers for the Web and the browser conversation, this conversation seems to have been pretty much shut down, and I’m very concerned as to why that is, and how we can correct it.

BILL GATES: I’ll have to ask Dean what the hell is going on. I mean, we’re not — there’s not like some deep secret about what we’re doing with IE.

MOLLY HOLZSCHLAG: But they’re not letting people talk about it. I do realize that there is a new engine, there is some other information, and this information is not being made public — we are being asked not to talk about it. So, I’m concerned about that.

BILL GATES: I’ll ask Dean what’s going on. I mean, is IE 8 represented at MIX? I assume it is.


MOLLY HOLZSCHLAG: To what extent?

JENNIFER RITZINGER: To be determined


JENNIFER RITZINGER: There will be disclosure by MIX08.



BILL GATES: There’s a paradox about disclosure, which is when you’re far away from doing something you’re super open; when you’re very close to doing something you’re open; when you’re making your cut list of what you can do and not do, then particularly because — well —

MOLLY HOLZSCHLAG: it sets expectations and that causes trouble?

BILL GATES: Yeah, and so I don’t know where Dean is in terms of if he’s willing to commit what’s in IE 8 and what’s not in IE 8. In terms of standards support, he’ll see that it’s a glass half full. It adds a bunch of new stuff we didn’t have before, it doesn’t add everything that everybody wants us to do.

MOLLY HOLZSCHLAG: I mean, really IE 7 made some great advances, so . . .

BILL GATES: No, and believe me, Dean gets this stuff.

MOLLY HOLZSCHLAG: Oh, Dean totally gets it, and that’s why I’m concerned, because they have always been so forward facing.

BILL GATES: I’ll look into it.

MOLLY HOLZSCHLAG: Yeah, do. It would mean a lot to the design and development communities.

BILL GATES: I mean, I will look into it.

BILL GATES: We do sometimes have MIX — a lot of how the MIX agenda gets set is the tools guys, and we need to make sure the Win — yeah, we have two organizations. I mean, they’re totally complementary, but we should make sure the Windows messages come through in MIX. I know last year the Windows group felt like their messages could have — we could have done an even better job on the Windows related messages, that that didn’t happen. So, we’ll double check that.


Today, on the IE blog, the now official name of “IE8” has been announced. Before, or by March of this year at MIX, there will be some news I’m sure will be of interest to anyone working with Internet Explorer.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 18:11 | Comments (88)

Comments (88)

  1. I guess the thing that really made IE7 possible was security. IE6’s inital security (preconfigured) was a nightmare, espacially for companies. In Vista there was a strong struggle for more security and they really did an excellent job. This included IE7 for Vista. But security is very hard to sell. But i think the future will be Silverlight for MS – forget about HTML support. All major vendors realise after a while that the bad thing about the Internet is that your competitor is only one click away. Customers leave as fast as they come. So i would not wonder if many of those apps that today run in a browser would make it’s way back to “rich” clients. Certainly connecting to the Internet in the background to get and save data. But anyway the user should install something and have the feeling: this will not be available as a web site. Example: Windows Live mail. Back on the desktop.
    Nice pic you guys have taken. Tie free zone. Unbelivable that a German manager of Bill ranks would ever talk to guys like you. And espacially without wearing a tie to symbolize it’s superior status. Bill really is a GEEK :-)

  2. At some point I’d love to see the IE team work work on developer tools for IE. Debugging javascript in IE is just a nightmare compared to Firefox/Firebug.

  3. IE7 would have been (mostly) good enough for me but for Microsoft’s insistence on NOT releasing it as a Critical Update. I hope IE8, as a result, cuts into IE6 browser share at LEAST as much as it cuts into IE7’s…

  4. Go Molly! Go! You are my girl!

  5. Although this is promising, I’m not really sure “promising” is enough any more. Things related to IE’s development have been promising for… a couple of years now.

    Either way, I’ve penned (well, typed) an open letter to Microsoft with respect to IE. Please, read it, and pass it on to the right people—even if it’s “look, this is what people are saying”.

  6. Foo, Huh, and Jonathan: What Richard York said. If I could have asked more explicit questions, believe me, I would have. As it is, I walked a very fine line and that’s all I really can say about it. The rest speaks for itself.

  7. Molly, and I glad that you asked the tough questions. Many people out there will soft glove an interview, to simply get access with a big hitter like Gates.

  8. Molly,

    by sheer coincidence I learned that Bill Hill, long-time advocate for proper typography and reading technology, has left the ClearType team and has joined the IE team. So whatever IE8 is it will at least try to focus on making on-screen reading c.q. reading on the web a better experience. This could also mean zooming of web pages and such things.

  9. i heard IE8 is a repackaged opera with silverlight add-on.

  10. Molly, thank you very much for this article. Keep fighting! :)

  11. Molly, please wake up and forget about Bill and his obsolete toys.

  12. kerb said: “i heard IE8 is a repackaged opera with silverlight add-on.”

    You’re possibly joking, but that would fit with the minute amount of info we know.

    Web Browsers do not get developed from scratch in a year or even three. Look at the NS6->Firefox path and it was best part of a decade before the new browser could rival IE. So at first, reading this page, my heart sank at the thought of Microsoft starting development on a completely new render engine which would, with the best standards-friendly will in the world, surely introduce new browser quirks before it was fully stable.

    But if they buy Opera they get one of the most advanced render engines, fully-made, and in one smart move achieve instantly something else IE has failed to do: give Microsoft a presence on mobile devices.

    I really hope you’re right.

  13. @Chris: Opera 7 moved from Elektra (which first shipped in 2000) to Presto (first shipped 2003). It is, IMO, unlikely that the two were developed at the same time, meaning Presto was under development for a maximum of three years. It is now three years since IE development restarted. Who’s to say they haven’t been working on a new engine the engine time?

  14. @Geoffrey: Yes, the thought has occured to me too, that they might have been working on the IE8 engine ever since the IE team was reassembled. We can always hope! :)

  15. @Geoffrey: I didn’t know that Opera had switched engines so swiftly, so thanks for the info. And of course Microsoft has a lot more manpower at its disposal, so it’s perfectly possible. I do find this idea quite disturbing, though, as they seem unable to turn any new project around quickly these days. But it would be quite a typical thing to do – rush out a half-fixed version of the broken browser while simultaneously developing its replacement. (Of course I only mean “rush” as in ~2 years since the project was re-started; compared to the time since IE6 it was more of a slither.)

  16. Exciting stuff. I wish they would choose Gecko over WebKit though. Why? Simply because we’d then have an enormous user base with Firefox as well for the same rendering engine! So designing would be *so* much easier. I doubt they will however because they probably see Firefox as a competitor.

    At least Safari will be better catered for as IE8 compatible sites should (in theory) also work with it. That’s if IE8 uses WebKit.

    The thought of a completely brand new engine brings plenty of worry. It’s bound to be far from complete (CSS2.1 etc). But who knows?

    Whatever happens, still using Trident (IE7) is the least worthy choice of all. By choosing a new engine the IE team can jump on to the standards bandwagon with relative ease, catching up at last with everyone else. Rejoice! Rejoice! Or abandon all hope… for their browser…

    P.S. I’m in awe at you Molly standing right next to Bill Gates. Bet that doesn’t happen every day!

  17. As an IE6 user I really hope they dont try to force me to use IE7 or IE8. In fact IE6 is the primary reason I havent switched to windows vista because I really dont like the UI of IE7. My web browser is the one application I use 90% of the time when at my computer, and I like it just the way it is. If they gave me an ability to run an IE6 skin on top of an IE7 or IE8 rendering engine, fine with me. But dont mess with the UI of my primary tool!

  18. Hi,

    I’m interested in the idea that MS might seriously not be interested in implementing a standards compliant browser. If they can steal market share from Flash, with the superficially similar Silverlight and fracture the browser market by adding another render engine to the mix – surely it’ll drive users to the bespoke-client model that Flash & Silverlight use. Fine for users, Flash & silverlight are free to use… but how much do we have to pay to develop for them? £500 (about $1000) for Flash Pro, and… well I don’t even know where to begin to start building a SilverLight app.

    So my point is that I guess when it comes to the crunch IE8 will be firstly be much later than anyone might guess, then with few significant enhancements in terms of CSS / JS – then (and here’s the killer) will actually be a trojan horse for delivering Silverlight to every WinPC. Let’s just start calling it…


    Somebody please give me good reason why this might not happen… :(

  19. LG–

    In a way, you are right, I believe. Although, it will not be a browser that will not be standard’s compliant. By definition of standards, I mean standards that are public developed standards, i.e. working groups, W3C, et al.

    What may become standards, in the next Net, may very well be private APIs and frameworks such as Silverlight and Flash [Adobe Air]. While Silverlight is still browser based and dependent upon the browser sandbox for security, I am sure that it is planned to become a standalone platform if necessary to meet competition.

    Open data requirements and demand, as demonstrated by the Web 2.0 aberration, will be the driving force behind the breakout.

    Browsers, with the release of IE8, will be public standards compliant portals to traditional content and more advanced RIA Internet content/applications.

    Of the course, the above is opinion based upon instinct and trends as I see them with full acknowledgment that I am in a very small minority.

  20. It appears that IE8 will have a new or improved layout engine inside Trident according to Chris Wilson.

    A very enlightening read. I believe (and hope) that the IE team may have abandoned the property hasLayout with IE8.

  21. To everyone who thinks IE would bundle Silverlight ….. Adobe would sue them for illegal monopoly bundling in a heartbeat. So it ain’t gonna happen.

    @thacker — you’re right. Why do you think that Microsoft spent years developing WPF (which itself has been a dud, hence spinning off a slimmer WPF/e aka Silverlight)?

  22. @hoopskier: they might get away with ‘bundling’ Silverlight support if the browser was actually written as a .net app – Silverlight support would come for free. This would actually be quite nice, because it would make IE8 completely cross-platform (thanks to mono).

  23. Lets just hope IE8 will enhance even further what IE7 already fixed – like PNG support, better CSS compatibility etc. We’ll just have to wait and see. As for Silverlight – it’s a damn idiotic move not to allow you to use it with other browsers than IE…

  24. I really really wish I had your contacts Molly.

  25. I remember when Microsoft was up against OS/2 or Netware. As soon as they heard about a feature in OS/2 that wasn’t in Windows, they were quick to say, “But the next version of Windows will have this too”. And even though it took until 2000 before Windows was usable their FUD kept them in business.

    So if they are not up to FUD with premature disclosure this time, because “it sets expectations and that causes trouble” can it be that the lessons has been learned? I doubt it.

    Mozilla have public bugs and updates their roadmap regularly, in addition to which we have numerous blogs by leading developers. What trouble has this caused? None whatsoever!

    So the IE team “wants” to be transparent? How about letting them influence some more stupid corporate decisions:
    – Let’s have them stop Silverlight! We do not need this lock-in proprietary technology. Or let the IE team order MS to make Silverlight work perfectly on *nix as well! With simultaneous releases for all platforms. Anything else is monopolistic! (And no, hettinmg it through backwards engineering through the Mono project does not count in MS favour.)
    – Let’s have them stop these ES4 “breaks the web” lies that has been spreading – even from Chris W.
    – Let’s have them put IE back as the rendering engine in Outlook. If anything, why not reuse Expression Web code for authoring? That should solve all problems.

    The web is broken. Right now Microsoft is the main force that keeps it broken. 10 years ago it was Netscape. Today it is MS, and there needs to be many, many improvements from you before MS gains my trust.

  26. If Bill Gates, really doesn’t know what is going on with his “famed” flagship product for browsing the Internet, MSIE. Then the man simply should be removed from office and the PR director should run the company. I wonder if Bill also knows that the rest of the Linux & BSD computing world thinks he and his company is a joke, played at public expense. Shh don’t tell him- let him and the toolmakers at MS enjoy the holidays…

  27. What’s with being “honored” to speak to BG?? Ok, I understand courtesy and being polite etc, but “honored”??? The man is not royalty, or divine! It’s fawning at best, and sycophantic at worst. “Pleased” would have sufficed, or “thrilled” if you absolutely had to be.

  28. In any case, that browser was far superior to both Windows IE6 and IE67 in terms of CSS support. I don’t know about JS support, that’s a separate issue anyway.

  29. New engine? Uh oh. We’ve already got 4 to worry about.

  30. If Bill Gates, really doesn’t know what is going on with his “famed” flagship product for browsing the Internet, MSIE. Then the man simply should be removed from office and the PR director should run the company. I wonder if Bill also knows that the rest of the Linux & BSD computing world thinks he and his company is a joke, played at public expense. Shh don’t tell him- let him and the toolmakers at MS enjoy the holidays…

  31. thank you good works

  32. very nice. thanks molly.

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