Hakon Wium Lie, CTO at the Olso, Norway-based Web browser maker Opera, has contributed a stinging commentary to CNET Networks that calls Microsoft out for using Internet Explorer 6 to slow down the adoption of Web standards. Lie, known by many as the father of cascading style sheets (CSS), is hypersensitive about Microsoft's failure to fully embrace the most recent W3C CSS recommendations (in W3C-speak, a "recommendation" is the equivalent of a ratified standard). Using his history lesson to prove that Microsoft likes to say one thing but do another (when it comes to supporting standards), Lie warns that IE 7 could be more of the same and challenges Microsoft to show up with its new browser for the unofficial W3C-standard CSS 2.1 compatibility test. More precisely, Lie is inviting Microsoft to take the Acid2 Challenge -- a compatibility test suite that's being co-developed by Lie and the Web standards project.
At the end of his contribution, Lie appeals to IE developers and Web users saying:
Show them that other browsers get it right. Explain how embarrassing it will be to release a browser that doesn't live up to community standards and that the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox, Apple Computer's Safari and Opera will increase their user share as a result....What you do is important. The Web will thank you for your efforts...To the Web community I want to say: Microsoft has now been challenged. They will respond, if enough people remind them of the challenge. Please remind them. And, when IE 7 is released, make sure this is the first thing you type into it http://webstandards.org/acid2.
I checked in with Microsoft to see if it would be willing to accept the challenge and according to a spokesperson for the Redmond, WA-based company, it had no response at the time. Nor does a report by News.com's Paul Festa on whether Microsoft will bow to standards pressure say whether or not Microsoft will accept the challenge. But it provides significant evidence that Microsoft appears to be taking standards a bit more seriously. In the report, Festa points to a blog on the issue by Chris Wilson, Microsoft's lead program manager for the Web platform in IE, who writes "We know we have a lot more work to do in addressing our consistency issues with CSS and furthering our coverage of these standards. Expect to see more detail on our plans in IE7 in the future." In the blog, Wilson claims responsibility for Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3 being the first to support CSS at the time it (IE3) came out 1996.
Of course IE 7 isn't even out yet. It was only announced -- something that we all knew was coming even before it was officially coming. Microsoft really had no choice given the delays and retrenching around Longhorn (the codename for the next version of Windows). But, here's what's different this time around: the blogosphere. When IE 6 and all versions previous to it first came out, hardly anybody knew what a blog was (although they did exist). Today, the rules are different. The Web Standards Project's Who We Are page has a few influential names on it that could easily raise the sort of blogosphere cacaphony that would ring in the ears of Microsoft's corner office as well as off the presses of the mainstream media: something Microsoft could do without now that Firefox has already taken a toll on Internet Explorer's usage.
If you ask me, it's likely that Microsoft will look to support all of the key standards. It doesn't have a choice (well, it does if it's suicidal). What's ironic about Lie's challenge is that once Microsoft rises to it, then one of Opera's big differentiators (standards support) gets wiped out. Can Opera survive two free browsers on the market (Mozilla and Firefox)? I've said my piece on Opera before and not much has changed. Fellow ZDNet blogger and ex-State of Utah CIO Phil Windley has other reasons for moving to Firefox and never looking back. Perhaps Opera should rip a page out of Apple's playbook and innovate on top of open source (Firefox in Opera's case) rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. There are certainly plenty of things that a good developer can do with Firefox to come up with something unique. If more people start thinking like Windley (and they most certainly are), the total weight of the Firefox ecosystem is what could do-in Opera while putting a serious dent in IE.