Thursday 24 January 2008
If you work in Web design and development and haven’t read any of the articles and discussions taking place regarding IE8 and its use of meta versioning for standards compliance, it’s time to read up on it ASAP. Begin with Aaron Gustafson’s “Beyond DOCTYPE: Web Standards, Forward Compatibility, and IE8” on A List Apart. You can follow the threads from there. Russ Weakley at maxdesign is keeping a good list of the conversations too, so you can drop by and fill up on all
the mud-slinging and drama as it unfolds.
I began to write a response to Shelley Powers’ formidable “Bobbing Heads and the IE8 Meta Tag.” In this article, I’m cited as being in compliance with the Microsoft
meta option. At first I resisted that I was being “compliant,” thinking that despite my discomfort with the option, I thought (and still do think) that it was the best solution that came up during the year-long versioning discussion we had.
The year long, very private, NDA’d versioning discussion. Which is where I have to agree with those who cite me as being “compliant.”
Because this was not a public discussion, and because I and others both internally and externally failed to convince Microsoft to make it a public discussion (although to their credit they did bring in industry advocates), I am in fact in compliance with the
However, this doesn’t mean I agree it’s the right thing to do. I can say that I think it was the best of a list of much more problematic options that were presented. Just think about what naturally came up at first, attaching to the DOCTYPE switch or encouraging the use of conditional comments are both easily identified (but also very problematic) possibilities. And just because I did in the end agree that this was the better choice has nothing to do with silence. We all had legal and ethical responsibilities in that process.
I wish, oh how I wish, we could have all worked on this openly and together. That would have been my dream, but alas, it wasn’t to be.
Holding back the tears
When I began to talk to Microsoft and IE via the WaSP Microsoft Task Force, the conversation was far more open, or at least it appeared that way. When I left WaSP to work with Microsoft in a liaison capacity, that was still true. Over the past few years changes within the company infrastructure led to changes for the IE management hierarchy, and suddenly things got very quiet.
Silence can equal consent, indeed. Which is why I personally focused on breaking that silence. It took enormous pressure internally (and frankly, I believe that’s continuing) as well as my blatantly asking Bill Gates about it this past December to push the doors open again. Finally, this allowed Aaron, who was part of that long versioning discussion, to publicly talk about the switching work being done.
If those hands had not been forced, no one would have heard about this until IE8 landed on our doorsteps.
Out the issues
Now it’s out in the open, prior to a beta. We now know a hell of a lot about IE8 because of this. We can take a damned good guess at what’s actually in IE8 standards-wise because in IE8 standards mode, we have Acid2 compliance. Break down Acid2, and you’ll see what those implementations are or will be.
I believe we are in a much better situation knowing all of this in advance of the product. Was it wrong for Microsoft to shut up? I say yes and I call foul on those folks within the organization who allowed the very positive and productive conversations be shut down so dramatically. Clearly, they made a drastic mistake, which they were warned about by internal folks as well as advisors over and over and over again. So, the more yelling that comes from the Web community and the public press, well, that’s a message Microsoft will listen to so let’s remember that and hope some good comes of it.
Honestly, would it have been better to hide all this information until IE8 landed on our doorsteps? I don’t think so. At least now we have a window into what Microsoft is doing and the conversation, as is evidenced by the activity of the last week, is outed.
Transparency is bullshit, let’s get naked
Open standards must emerge from public, open, bare discussion. Microsoft clearly does not agree with this. It goes against its capitalist cover-up mentality, even when Bill Gates himself has quite adamantly stated that there should be no secrecy around IE8. In fact, he was the one who let the name slip. The fucking name, people! This shows you how ludicrous the lack of communication had become: Gates himself didn’t even know we weren’t allowed to say “IE8.”
This covert behavior is a profound conflict for me as I’m sure readers will at least agree that I’m pretty darned overt by default. But I knew it going in, I just kept and am still keeping my hopes high because that is also my default.
Sometimes the solution is to step back and re-evaluate. Sometimes the solution is to walk away. I haven’t firmed up my personal decisions on that just yet. Maybe it’s time to go back to Old School WaSP-style stinging of MS, but that definitely is not my default.
Can’t we all just get along? No, really. During my time at WaSP, the door was open to a kinder, gentler way. More fool me? So be it. I’m not giving up the greater goal, which is keeping the Web open, free, naked, bare-assed to the world.
Of, by and for
I think about all of us, whether we are “for” or “against” a given approach in the context of Web technologies in general, and I realize how necessary our arguments are. We are some of the world’s smartest, most innovative, committed and passionate people. How we’ll start figuring out better ways to collaborate, change old-school thinking, and encourage positive innovation and growth for the Web, well fuck if I know. Been down several roads (WaSP, for example) to try and see just how to do that.
What I do know is that the Web is still of the people, by the people, and for the people, no matter what Microsoft or anyone else does. And we’re the people to keep it that way. It’s not the what, but the how, and the when, that we have to focus on.