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IE9: Microsoft's new browser gets no respect at all

Yesterday, influential web designer Jeffrey Zeldman wrote "there is no such thing as a calm discussion of improvements to a Microsoft browser," and then proceeded to accidentally prove his own case. Zeldman aimed a withering broadside at Microsoft and its "enforced bragging" about Internet Explorer 9. Unfortunately, Zeldman's entire argument was based on a four-month-old speech and refuted by everything Microsoft announced yesterday. Oops!
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Yesterday, influential web designer Jeffrey Zeldman admitted "there is no such thing as a calm discussion of improvements to a Microsoft browser," and then proceeded to accidentally prove his own case.

Someone pointed out Zeldman's post to me yesterday, during a brief lull in the proceedings at MIX10, and I scanned it quickly. Although it carried the bland title IE9 Preview, the post itself was dripping with sarcasm, laced with backhanded compliments, and supplemented with several extra-large servings of contempt for everything Microsoft is doing with Internet Explorer. Zeldman criticized the tone of Microsoft's public announcements, calling it "enforced bragging." He argued that "Getting IE fully up to speed on web standards is much more important than introducing any proprietary innovations." In one breath he said, "I’m not challenging the quality of the hardware and software improvements," and then, in the very next breath, he criticized Microsoft's "brilliant browser engineers" for "torturing the IE rendering engine every couple of years instead of putting it out of its misery."

The piece was picked up this morning and republished on All Things Digital, Walt Mossberg's side project for the Wall Street Journal, under the more confrontational headline "On IE9 and Microsoft's Enforced Bragging."

I read it twice yesterday and scratched my head in bewilderment. Zeldman's controlled seething and barely concealed scorn made absolutely no sense in the context of the keynote address I had just left. Microsoft's Dean Hachamovitch (with a little help from Windows boss Steven Sinofsky) had just announced that Internet Explorer 9 will have full support for HTML5, that it is actively contributing to standards discussions, and that its score on the controversial ACID3 benchmark has improved from 32/100 to 55/100 in the past four months (IE8 currently scores 20/100). There were interesting side-by-side demos of rendering differences on standards-compliant markup in IE9 compared to Firefox and Google Chrome, and some pretty impressive demos of high-definition video playback using pure HTML5 code with hardware acceleration. Microsoft even made an early developers release available so people like Feldman could test it and judge Microsoft's progress in standards compliance.

In short, they'd pretty much done everything Zeldman asked for, and in a fairly low-key speech Hachamovitch let the demos do the bragging.

But Zeldman didn't mention any of this. It's almost like yesterday's keynote didn't happen. And indeed, as far as this post is concerned, it didn't. Zeldman apparently based his entire argument on a post by Hachamovitch at last November's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, where Microsoft first announced the broad outlines of its IE9 strategy. I repeat, he wrote a blistering takedown of IE9 based on a four-month old speech and published it at the exact time time Microsoft was telling the world what it had been up to for the last four months.

Now, anyone watching that very early announcement from last November was well within their rights to be skeptical. But yesterday Microsoft delivered a pretty solid package of evidence that it's serious about standards compliance and performance.

This morning, back in my office after a full night's sleep, I re-read the post and its comment thread and found this downright civilized reply from Microsoft's Tim Sneath, buried deep in the comments:

Hi Jeffrey,

Thanks for your post – unfortunately it links to a blog post from last November, rather than today’s news where we’ve announced much more detailed support for HTML 5 and other web standards. I’d love folk to have a look at http://ietestdrive.com and give us your honest feedback based on today (rather than last year :-)

Thanks for all you’re doing to advance web standards – we’re as keen for everyone to move off IE6 as the rest of the community!

Warm wishes,

Tim Sneath Sr Director, Microsoft

You know something, he's absolutely right.

Personally, I think Zeldman should use the strikethrough attribute for his entire post and replace it with two simple words: "Never mind."

Update: Zeldman responds. Highlights: He was traveling home from SXSW and was unable to watch the keynote. He has not yet reviewed Microsoft's IE9 announcements, but "neutral developers" have "confirmed" that it represents "good news on its web standards support." Two of his friends are former IE developers, although I don't understand the relevance. And the fact that I chose to respond to his post means it must be a "slow news day." What I still don't understand is why someone who is a luminary in web design and web standards circles would wait until the day Microsoft is scheduled to make a long-awaited announcement about IE9 to post a harsh critique based on a months-old announcement. And I still don't understand how the "tone" of Microsoft's announcements is relevant to a discussion of web standards or for that matter exactly where those offensive remarks are.

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