Opera: Setting the record straight on Microsoft and Web standards

Opera: Setting the record straight on Microsoft and Web standards

Summary: Not surprisingly, Opera Software took issue with my blog post yesterday on "Why Opera's antitrust complaint against Microsoft is a bad idea." Opera Chief Technology Officer Hakon Wium Lie asked for a chance to respond to my points. Here is why Opera believes the European Commission should get involved in the browser-standards issue.

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Not surprisingly, Opera Software took issue with my blog post yesterday on "Why Opera's antitrust complaint against Microsoft is a bad idea." Opera: Setting the record straight on Microsoft and Web standards

My premise: Whatever you think of Opera's attempt to get another antitrust court to revisit whether or not Microsoft should be allowed to bundle Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows, Opera's attempt to get courts involved in mandating Web standards compliance is ill-advised.

Opera Chief Technology Officer Hakon Wium Lie asked for a chance to respond to my points. Here is his take on why Opera believes the European Commission should get involved in the browser-standards issue:

Yesterday, we filed an antitrust complaint with the European Commission about Microsoft's practices regarding Internet Explorer. There has been some questions about our motives for this and I think it would help if I set the record straight, particularly as it comes to my area of expertise, Web standards.

It has been claimed that we're dredging up the past; the browser issue is dead and it was decided more than a decade ago. Actually, the browser issue is far from dead. The browser is more important now than it ever has been. The Web is exploding with new applications and new services. If we did not file with the Commission at this time, once Microsoft had settled their differences with the Commission, the fight for an open Web could have been lost forever.

To help Microsoft and other browser makers support standards correctly, the Acid2 test was developed and published by the Web Standards Group. When published, it exposed bugs in all browsers. The programmers of Safari, Firefox and Opera got to work quickly and the latest versions of these browsers now pass the difficult test. Microsoft took a very different attitude and has not, seemingly, made any efforts to pass the test. This tells me we must do more than just ask them nicely.

At the same time, we recognize that developers have coded for Internet Explorer and we have no desire to break the Web. We have a group here at Opera that group that works only to improve Web compatibility across devices and browsers. We've even helped to make pages render properly in Internet Explorer. However, it is quite possible to support standards correctly while also rendering legacy content as the author expects. All modern browsers support two rendering modes: "standards" mode and "quirks" mode. We're simply asking Microsoft to make sure that their "standards" mode really support the standards.

Mozilla Corporation's Firefox has made tremendous inroads into Internet Explorer's market share. But even with all the support and marketing Mozilla Corporation, Opera and Apple can muster, Internet Explorer hovers at a global market share of approximately 80%. We believe in free markets, we believe in offering new and innovative products, but we feel that the tight integration of IE with the operating system and its refusal to support standards in the most-used consumer software application puts both developers and consumers in a difficult position.

We're taking up this fight on behalf of those who share our belief in open standards and free choice. We are not seeking money from Microsoft. We are fighting this battle on behalf of open standards in the hope that the Web will remain the dynamic and open community it is. If we lose this battle now, those things will be gone. And I think that's something worth fighting for. I have to say, with all due respect to Wium Lie, I still think bringing courts into the Web standards arena would set a bad precedent. What do you think of Opera's reasons for advocating for the EC to get involved here?

Topics: Browser, Enterprise Software, Microsoft

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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254 comments
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  • People have choices to make

    As someone who has to use IE 6 in the office, but gladly use FF2 at home I think Opera's decision to bring an antitrust claim against Microsoft is ridiculous. Yes, IE is tied into Windows, but the reason it holds an 80% market share is because 70% of Windows users are happy with the experience and have no need or desire to use FF or Opera.

    I think FF will continue to make inroads, but most people will stay with IE because it just works. Power users and the rest of us geeks that read ZDNet articles don't make up a majority of PC users.
    endermc12
    • "IE...just works."

      That's the point: It <i>doesn't</i> "just work." It fails in at least two ways: Technically, by failing the acid2 test, and functionally by, in many instances, working only with web sites that are broken (according to W3C standards) in ways that allow IE (and only IE) to appear to work.

      <p>IE is doing the moral equivalent of a nut-and-bolt manufacturer claiming that their products are SAE standards-compliant--except that, being 5% larger than spec, won't work properly with nuts and bolts made by any other manufacturer.
      Henry Miller
      • IE is just broken

        IE's dominant position means that anyone wishing to implement a new web application has to either produce 2 sets of code - one for IE and one for standards-compliant browsers - or reduce the functionality of their web application to the lowest common denominator, which is IE.

        Visitors see a perfectly operational web site and have no idea that had the developers been allowed to take full advantage of standards, it would be a heck of a lot better.

        IE has well-known bugs that have been exposed for years, yet MS refuses to fix them. It is still not compliant with web standards that are 5 or 6 years old, standards that MS helped to write. There is no excuse for MS's tardiness.

        Once MS dominates a market segment, they simply stop any useful development and focus on useless new features without fixing old bugs. If there is no pressure on them to improve their browser, they will never do it.

        So is Opera doing the right thing? [b]Absolutely[/b].
        Fred Fredrickson
        • Oh Boy, yet another Geek requirement! Acid 2?? c'mon!

          Listen people, the aversage consumer, which is the largest user base of any browser technology, could care less about some acid2 test. The minute the geeks finally move out of the way, and stop complaining and nicknacking about something they have NO CONTROL OVER, maybe, just maybe the average consumer can make some headway. But as long as geeks make statements like, IE is broken because it fails the acid2 test, there will always be a perpetuated perception that IE is broken. The truth is, and any true geek knows, IE gives the average consumer one of the best browsing experiences out there. Standards Schmandards! The average user could care less. If you don't like how MS does it, don't use their product. There is no law that requires MS to stick to a software development standard. Companies are upset because when MS does not follow a standard, and if they are developing in the same space, they, then, too, have to develop to a model that has no standard and that MS pretty much has control over even their product; I got that, but that is life. Had you been there in the 90's and beat Netscape at their own game, then you, too, would have that power. However, you were not there. Live with it! This is not to say that MS should not be following standards; if they want true interoperability and interaction with other vendors, then they should participate. However, to try to force them to in the court I think is the wrong way. The EU has no power in the US. The innovation takes place, for MS, in the US. No US court is going to force MS follow a software development standard. Again, face the fact that MS has got a huge jump on you. The courts, no matter what their decision, in any country other than the US, will help you gain ground on that.

          Just my .02 cents. Your agreement is NOT required. :-)
          andrej770
          • You make no sense! Society is all about standards! - NT

            NT
            raycote
          • What part about "MS is in control" did you not understand?

            Show me one average consumer that knows or even cares to know about this acid2 test. You won't find one. Go ask grandma if she cares about the acid2 test in IE and she's say "acid??...is that some kind of new drug?" LOL

            The perception is that society is all about standards. But standards are set (and continually changed) by whomever is in power. MS is in power today. Live with it.
            andrej770
          • Missing the point

            In a rational world (i.e. - one in which Microsoft didn't have a monopoly), it would be dumb to take Microsoft to court for not supporting industry standards. After all, it's their business if they don't want their browser to work on web sites that make use of features that IE doesn't support. But this isn't a rational world. Most people didn't choose to use Windows over other alternatives based on technical merit. They chose it simply because that's what came on their shiny new computers (we'll leave how Microsoft used unfair and illegal business practices to do this to another discussion). Microsoft's goal is not to produce quality software that supports their customers' needs; it's to use whatever means they can to get people to use their software and make it difficult to use software that doesn't conform to their specifications. In this way, they get partners to jump on board at the expense of technologies from other companies.

            It doesn't matter to Microsoft that IE doesn't support industry standards because they don't care about protocols they don't own. It's a feature, not a bug. This is just like the bugs in Outlook Express (which have been known for years) that keep it from working with IMAP servers. Again, their focus is on their monopoly. One way to perpetuate it is produce both server and client software that inter-operate well, but do not work with client and server software they don't produce. How many times have you come across sites that only work properly with IE? Now look at it from the business perspective: if you own a company that has a website based on a non-Microsoft stack that doesn't work properly with the browser used by 80% of your perspective clients, won't you seriously reconsider your choice for you web server software? THAT would be the real problem with IE not being standards compliant. It's not about some "geek standard".
            dilireus@...
          • It seems he would fully agree

            to a yard being changed to be only 25 inches as long as a dominant company was behind it.
            The rest of the world DO NOT have to put up with that. (Besides the rest of the world is metric, where you HAVE to stick to standards.)
            hkommedal
          • In control or not.....

            In control or not, Microsoft shouldn't have to try and control the web standards. This haves nothing to do with the average consumer, but the men and women working to develop websites for the consumer. It's hard to make a website knowing that there is more than just one standard that has to be accomendated. I could give a care less about the IE intergration in Windows, but a consistant standard for web development would be quit helpful.
            justice_fist_82@...
          • Let's take it all the way then

            "There is no law that requires MS to stick to a software development standard."

            Well Hell! Why have standards? Let's all start printing our own money and making up our own units of measure. Standards serve a purpose. In this case they are there to guarantee a base level of performance, operation, and communication. If MS wants to improve the browser experience I say fine. But if you're going to do that at least do it in such a manner that preserves that standard. Firefox seems to able to do that with no problems whatsoever.
            DB_z
          • Outstanding Andre

            Andre,

            You have just given one of the best defining examples I've have yet to see in differentiating between communist-democratic retardation vs. a Capitalist republic. Ayn Rand would be proud of you. Hell, I'm proud of you, and I don't even know you!
            professordnm
        • Bull, works for me and everyone I know.

          But hey, if you don't like it, USE SOMETHING ELSE! How friggin hard is that concept to grasp for you?
          No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Hey, Axey!!!

            These standards aren't for users, they're for Web site designers. I wonder how much money is wasted having to design every website at least twice, once for the "MS crowd", and again for the rest of the planet?

            If MS decided to work and play well with the other kiddies, most of the complaints against them would stop . . .


            And on another note . . .

            I understand that Plays for Sure is about to be defunct, and I distinctly remember you saying something about it becoming the Standard. Care to Comment?

            And what was the name of those two "Books" you wrote???
            JLHenry
          • As you seem slow on the up take, one more time.

            "These standards aren't for users, they're for Web site designers."

            Oh my gawd!!! You actually figured it out, the rendering engine has NOTHING to do with how the site is coded!

            "I wonder how much money is wasted having to design every website at least twice, once for the "MS crowd", and again for the rest of the planet?"

            That of course is 100% up to the web site developer. As to the rest of the planet, I am afraid you have it backwards, non-IE users are the minority. After all, that is what Opera is whining about...
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • I know you're not that stupid, so who pays you to sell this FUD - NT

            NT
            raycote
          • Show me any FUD oh all knowing one.

            Fear Uncertainty Doubt. Hmmm, show me where I posted anything like that.

            Do you disagree that IE is just a rendering engine and has nothing to do with how I decide to code a site?

            Do you disagree that people that dislike IE have many choices open to them?

            Come on, you shot your mouth off, now explain where you see any fud...
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • No snacks

            Don't feed the filthy troll...
            thungurknifur
      • Re: "IE...just works."

        To the [b]USER[/b} experience, it just works. The average user cares not about ACID2 tests or whatever else, just that the site displays properly. Since most sites make sure there site displays properly with IE, to users, IE just works.

        Like others, I have to use IE6 at work. If not, some intranet applications just don't work.

        Would I like to see MS toe-the-line...sure. When might it happen...I don;t know.
        zappster
        • Arrrggh

          Arrrggh. Pardon my "boldness" and less than perfect use of their vs. there.
          zappster
    • Logically questionable

      "Yes, IE is tied into Windows, but the reason it holds an 80% market share is because 70% of Windows users are happy with the experience and have no need or desire to use FF or Opera."

      The only way that this statement is even close to being valid is if
      100% of all windows users are even aware that other browsers exist. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that 50% of windows users aren't aware of those choices of which you speak.
      DB_z