WDS07 Bonus Feature: Chris Wilson (Microsoft)

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Chris Wilson presenting at Web Directions South 2007

At Web Directions South 2007 in Sydney this week, I caught up with Chris Wilson, the Platform Architect for Internet Explorer at Microsoft. Chris has been building web browsers for as long as there have been web browsers, and it was a pleasure to sit down with him at the end of the final day of the conference.

In his talk at the conference, “Moving the Web Forward”, Chris gave the audience a glimpse into the realities of developing the most popular web browser in the world. With over 500,000,000 users to answer to, the words “Don’t break the Web” have become an overriding mantra for the company in its work to develop the next version of Internet Explorer (currently known as IE.Next).

I took the opportunity to ask Chris a few of the questions that were at the top of my mind following his presentation:

Kevin Yank
“Your team is building a whole new rendering engine for the next version of IE.”
Chris Wilson
“What we’re actually focused on right now is specifically the layout engine part of that. The part that figures out how to lay out text content, borders, etc. on the screen, and be able to manage text flow in general. […] We realised that, you know, ‘Wow—we are Microsoft. There are a lot of people here with layout expertise. There are a lot of people who really know how to do layout right.’ […] We needed to unchain those people, and really allow them to do some really incredible things.”

Listen to the interview (20’32, 9.4MB MP3)
Read the transcript

Tags: wds07

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  • http://www.pixelsoul.net pixelsoul

    Well don’t talk but do it.. lets face it MS has allot to make up for and i like to see more then pretty words.

  • Php_penguin

    if they actually do it this time, rather than just back out for the sake of backwards-compatibility, I will be really surprised.

  • faxi

    I *really* hope that MS allows their developers to turn IE into a modern browser again and that the result of this is made available to XP users, not just Vista users.

    I am tired of hasLayout, tired of having to use conditional comments, tired of 500,000,000 users supposedly claiming that MS should not break the Web. Until now, firefox and opera and Khtml/safari did not break the web. And as a web developer I am very willing to fix my part of the web for that matter. I don’t think that there needs to be any additional type of “backwards-incompatibility” in addition to established doctype switching.

    I hope they finally get standards right next time. CSS2 will probably be 10 years old when IE8 comes out.

  • Tomm

    A transcript would be great!

  • RobIII

    ^^ With stupid.
    A transcript would be great. No speakers on my PC here at work.

  • Heinz

    Transcript, yes please!

  • MonoMelodies

    *sigh*

    Microsoft doesn’t need to do “incredible things”. Microsoft needs to, first and foremost, finally do things *right* for a change. With “right” meaning “like the rest of the world”. How’s about CSS2? (I won’t even start on 3.) How’s about fixing the gazillion rendering bugs in IE (yes, even in 7)? Fixing bugs in ECMAscript? ACID2-compliance?

    I mean, come on. Just build a browser that conforms.

    I’m not saying MS has never invented anything good. Inline frames – though I personally advise against them – were a good idea in principle and offered solutions in the pre-AJAX era. Even AJAX itself is basically an MS invention, and a good one. Conditional comments are a godsend and I’d love to see all browsers recognising them to be able to fix their specific quirks without resorting to hacking.

    But please. Please. Please. Just for once follow the W3C recommendations when building a rendering engine…

    PS is mr. Wilson an ex-Mosaic or ex-Netscape employee? Otherwise I fail to see how he can have been building browsers since as long as there have /been/ browsers…

  • DMassy

    @MonoMelodies
    Chris Wilson worked on Mosaic before coming to Microsoft and working on IE3 (he may even have worked on IE2 I don’t recall). He’s probably been working on browsers longer than anyone and is very knowledgable.
    -Dave
    http://www.dmassy.com

  • http://www.sitepoint.com/ Kevin Yank

    Transcript added to the original post.

  • Chris Vincent

    Couldn’t help but notice that apparently some of Microsoft’s developers are actually in chains. Kudos for unchaining them.

  • XLCowBoy

    That didn’t sound promising at all.

    He keeps talking about the “difficulty” of knowing when to implement standards and when to allow for old code to still appear the way it did, in order to prevent the alienation of old sites.

    Is it that difficult to program your browser to recognize correct doctype’s and DTD’s, and implement them when they are basically true, and then default to a “quirks” mode when shown otherwise?

  • Anonymous

    Microsoft needs to, first and foremost, finally do things *right* for a change. With “right” meaning “like the rest of the world”. How’s about CSS2? (I won’t even start on 3.) How’s about fixing the gazillion rendering bugs in IE (yes, even in 7)? Fixing bugs in ECMAscript? ACID2-compliance?

    Why does MS need to do anything? When you have 500,000,000 users with 95% of them not even knowing how to change their browser and 99% of users not concerned with compatibility(not even knowing what it is)you don’t need to put any time, effort or dollars into changing something that works well for everyone who uses it. IE does work well,’cos Web developers make it work well, ‘cos we have clients breathing down our necks and 99.999% of our clients use IE and 95% of their customers use IE. If it doesn’t work in ALL versions of IE we are soon told about it. No one breathes down MS’s neck, they are their own boss and beyond listening to a few cries of “foul” from Web developers.

    I think that we, as Web developers, are kidding ourselves if we think that MS considers our mental welfare when they are building browsers. It’s not like there’s anyone telling them that their browsers must conform to standards. They have never bothered about browser compatibility and standards, so why are they going to start now?

    Lots of people here seem surprised about all of the incompatibility issues(and bugs) in IE7. We weren’t really surprised, were we? Of course not!

    We will carry on like we have since browsers were first built, designing for the standards-compatible browsers first and then tweaking to allow for all of the IE quirks.

    Guys, learn to live with it!(IE that is)

  • Steve

    Alright guys, we are charging an extra $1500 for making IE compliant websites. Pass on the pain to the clients, till it trickles down to the faithful MSFT IFE users. This browser needs to be slaughtered, it’s the archenemy of Web Developers.

  • MonoMelodies

    Hehehe… while clicking through some links on an IE-article I end up here and think “gee, that’s in insightful post, I agree with that guy”.

    And the guy was me, but I’d forgotten all about the post :-)

    This thread is long since dead, but just out of courtesy:

    @Dmassy: thanks for clearing that up. I wasn’t aware of Chris’s history (he looks so young on that photograph ;-)) and obviously couldn’t be arsed to google him at the time. Cheers.

    @”Anonymous”: well, obviously MSFT doens’t “have” to do anything. And don’t they know it! That’s not to say that their attitude isn’t doing a lot of harm. Webdesign is approximately twice as expensive as it needs to be, thanks to MSFT (I’m not even starting on licensing fees for all kinds of additional software like virus scanners for Windows, but let’s stick to the internet for now). So let me turn your argument around: if those 500.000.000 users don’t know or care about standards, MSFT might as well start supporting them, right? No-one cares, so no-one’s miffed but a lot of other people are the happier for it. What’s the reason, I ask you, MSFT could possibly have for knowingly being incompatible with the rest of the world?

    Well, at least institutions such as the EU are starting to sue them over this kind of behaviour. Vendor-lockins are a dead end.