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Microsoft’s Web Standards Motivations

    Kevin Yank

    Though there is still a long road to travel before we get adequate support for web standards in Internet Explorer, Microsoft has started down that road again with the upcoming release of Internet Explorer 7. As a result, organizations like the Web Standards Project (WaSP) have shifted gears from their traditional role of lobbying against Microsft and have begun working with Microsoft on this effort. Developers are, understandably, suspicious.

    In a recent interview, WaSP Group Lead Molly Holzschlag defended the developers in the trenches at Microsoft, fighting the hard fight to produce a standards-compliant browser in the face of the business realities at Microsoft:

    Hate Microsoft if you want, but please don’t ever think that the developers themselves are anything but our colleagues fighting the hardest fight of all.

    This interview garnered a stream of comments, some expressing concern that WaSP is taking a soft approach to Microsoft these days, others questionning just how committed to standards Microsoft really is.

    On his blog, Chris Wilson (Group Program Manager of the Internet Explorer Platform team) expressed the frustration he feels when he reads these sorts of accusations. Aside from venting, however, Wilson took the time to explain just how important it is for there to be a business case for standards compliance in browsers:

    Business reasons stand the test of time. Pure altruistic “ethical” reasons are hard to defend to shareholders. I personally believe there is a business case for implementing standards, and I consider it my job, among other things, to make that case internally.

    I must say, it is gratifying to hear that–at least for the time being–Microsoft has managed to reconcile the need for standards support with the company’s bottom line. Still, it would be nice to hear just what that business case is, because as a web developer I’d like the opportunity to help support it. I’d hate to see Microsoft put Internet Explorer on the back burner again just because, for example, developers didn’t buy into the standards push as predicted.

    For now, however, it seems that Wilson and other proponents of web standards within Microsoft have a strong voice in the direction of Internet Explorer, and like us developers, many of them consider this Internet Explorer’s last chance. Unlike the rest of us, however, Wilson is staking his career on that chance:

    Yes, I have the power to enact change. Yes, I will continue to improve standards support and compliance in IE, and make the web better. That’s my job, my charter, my vision, and my passion. The day it isn’t, I’ll quit. The day the development of the standards-based platform in IE goes on a back burner again, I’ll quit. My management up to and including Bill Gates has said we are back in the saddle with IE, so I have a job to get back to.