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Opera's Hakon Wium Lie compares IE7 to Ford Pinto

Last week I had the pleasure of talking Microsoft is "doing a paint job on their Pinto" to Opera's Chief Technology Officer Håkon Wium Lie. We spoke about IE7's standards compliance (or lack thereof) and also Opera's many great features.
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Written by Richard MacManus, Contributor on

Last week I had the pleasure of talking Microsoft is "doing a paint job on their Pinto" to Opera's Chief Technology Officer Håkon Wium Lie. We spoke about IE7's standards compliance (or lack thereof) and also Opera's many great features. In this post I'll highlight our CSS discussion and in a follow-up post we'll look at Opera's features and future.

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On the topic of CSS, Håkon is an acknowledged expert. He used to work for the W3C on style sheets - what's more, in 1994 he proposed the concept of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). He's also written a book on CSS. So you won't come across many more qualified people to talk about CSS compliance. This is reflected in Opera's CSS compliance record, which is among the best of the current lot of web browsers. Not perfect, by any means - Opera 9 has had its problems. But certainly better than IE... 

Which brings me to the first topic we discussed - Håkon's reaction to my interview with Microsoft's Chris Wilson, Group Program Manager for IE. If you remember, in that interview Chris said IE7 will increasingly support CSS standards over time. I asked Håkon what he thought of Microsoft working towards standards support, also considering Microsoft's need to be backwards compatible with previous versions of IE. Is Microsoft making a big effort, I asked? 

Håkon said in response that Microsoft has a responsibility to follow up on their promises to support CSS 1 and 2 - meaning they need to both implement the standards and also to fix the bugs they've introduced. Up till now, Håkon said, Microsoft's CSS efforts have been "half-hearted". He said:

"They did a pretty good job in the early years when they had competitors, [but] as they more and more dominated the browser market - their support for CSS didn't really improve that much. And the last [major] release of IE was in 2001 and there were many important features from CSS2 that were missing. So they didn't put in the features that were needed - and secondly they haven't been fixing the bugs either. The IE team was starved, given no resources to fix these issues that people were struggling with. Any web designers will tell how much pain and grief IE5 and 6 have given them - and I think it's been a tremendous cost to society, all these intelligent people working on web design having to debug their IE7 quirk mode late at night in order to make it look reasonable in a second rate browser."

So Håkon was not mincing his words!

He does acknowledge "These bugs have been lingering and a pest to society" Microsoft's "renewed effort" in IE7 - and that they're fixing bugs now. But he calls them "self-inflicted problems" and said that the bugs should've been fixed years ago - "these bugs have been lingering and have been a pest to society".  

But Håkon's real beef with IE7 is that it's not adding many features:

"The new functionality that they've put in, which was specified [in CSS] in the 90's, is still not there. We can't do generated content, for example. We can't do CSS tables. We can't do counters. And these are features that other browsers put in years ago."

Håkon has a nice turn of phrase for what he thinks Microsoft is doing with IE7: "they're doing a paint job on their Pinto". The Ford Pinto is a car from the 70's that has become a symbol for a 'cheap economy car' or 'cheapness'. It also has a reputation for being unsafe.

So Håkon's point here is that while Microsoft is making an effort now to fix bugs, he doesn't think "the underlying machinery is worth their effort". He says in particular their formatting engine "isn't up to speed".

Harsh words then from Opera's CTO Håkon Wium Lie - understandable in a way, given his background in CSS and current role as a competitor of IE.

See Also: IE7 Release Candidate 1 - Review and Image Gallery 

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