Microsoft needs to stick to standards

When someone decides to stay away from a defined direction, ignoring both precendence and the collective good, they are considered to have gone rogue.

Microsoft, bastion of monopolistic behaviour in the software world, is known for being somewhat rogue. They defend themselves by saying they’re blazing new paths. This time, they’ve gone too far.

Internet Explorer 6 was released in October, 2001 to much fanfare. The hope was that IE 6 would be the one to correct the errors in IE 5.x, some of which were horrible. Sadly, IE 6 failed to live to many expectations, and the web development world would have to wait until future browsers (such as Firefox) to find stronger support.

In the last year, we’ve seen the release of Firefox, and it’s been good. We have much better (though still not perfect) CSS support. This has allowed us to start thinking about ditching the older code bases and concentrate on the standard development practices we want to use.

Microsoft has allowed Internet Explorer to wane, following up only with security updates, and no new version to correct the errors of yore. Naturally, the news that IE 7 (aka “Rincon”) is coming down the tracks has been met with a great deal of interest…

…and a little too much dismay. It appears that despite all the progress towards supporting CSS Level 2, Microsoft might decide not to completely support it.

This little statement has left a lot of us scratching our heads. Why the heck not?! You’ve got more than enough time to get it right (correction: you’ve had more than enough time), you’ve got a strong development team, and for crying out loud, you helped define the freaking standard in the first place!

(For the record, Microsoft is a member of the World Wide Web Consortium, and Microsoft employee and web development guru Tantek Çelik was one of the editors for CSS Level 2.)

Let’s not forget that CSS 2.1 has been around for over a year, and CSS 2.0 was released in May, 1998.

Is it really that hard to implement standards correctly?

The single biggest fear I have is that they’ll release another browser that requires another set of esoteric hacks to get layouts to work properly because Microsoft refuses to follow the CSS specification properly. Sure, they fixed the box model, but that’s basic-level stuff. Relative layouts introduce a whole new world of pain.

As a web developer, I don’t want to see any hacks at all. I want something that is clean, something that interprets CSS the same way as Firefox, Safari, and Mozilla. They’re compliant. Why can’t IE be the same way.

Throw in your proprietary extensions. Go nuts. I’m sure someone will find them handy. But for the love of all things standard, can you please support the existing specification properly? And in its entirety?

(Oh, and would it behoove you to throw in even just a little CSS 3 so we can start using that, too?)

In the meantime, Häkon Wium Lie and the Web Standards Project have announced Acid2 to help push Microsoft to do the right thing. The rest of us in the Web Development biz should unite behind them and help.

[Update: 18 March]

An interesting little note came up on Microsoft Watch. It seems that a few insiders claim that CSS 2 is “flawed”, though they fail to indicate how. As CSS 2.1 is still only a candidate recommendation, Microsoft seems keen to continue on its merry way and do what it wants to.

Just a thought on that, Microsoft… Netscape tried that once with Netscape 4. Hopefully, I don’t need to elaborate.

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