Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

Does The Web Standards Project hate Microsoft? Are we out to get them? Do we punish them for small faults while praising competitors who offer inferior products? Are we secretly siding with Netscape, Sun, Apple, (insert name here)?

The perception has come up from time to time, usually in the wake of a WaSP standards test or press release which finds fault with a newly released Microsoft browser for failure to support 100% of any web standard. When the perception is voiced by someone in Redmond, it’s understandable: nobody likes to be criticized. When some of our own members murmur it, or when the concern is expressed by readers of a WaSP member’s column, site, or mailing list, we need to look twice at what we are saying and how it is perceived.

For the record:

The WaSP has one purpose – to prevent the further fragmentation of the web, by persuading anyone and everyone who makes a browser to fully implement the suggested standards of the World Wide Web Consortium; standards the two dominant browser makers in particular helped shape.

With these standards in place, browsers will work, websites will work, and the web will be able to fulfill its destiny as a vast participatory medium where ideas are shared, products are sold, and unique works of art are created. Without these standards, the web will devolve from a quirky medium with potential to a Tower of Babel.

We can either help shape a rich environment whose potential we of the first generation can barely envision, or we can lay the groundwork for the biggest missed opportunity of the next century. The difference between the two comes down to standards, and that is why we harp on the issue. It’s why we criticize failure and lambaste the practice of putting proprietary features ahead of full implementation of standards.

Personal feelings and preferences have no part in this equation. To fulfill our mission, we state our findings with no regard to who the guilty parties may be, or whether their guilt is less than a competitor’s.

And yet, lately, we seem to be slapping Microsoft more than Netscape, Opera, or anyone else in the field. It baffles Redmond, and provokes justifiable concerns about possible partisanship from some of our membership and readers. After all, Microsoft’s released browsers to date have been closer to standards compliance than the competition’s. Their support for one standard in particular – Cascading Style Sheets – is far and away the better of the Big Two, and lags only slightly behind that of Opera, which is not available for all platforms.

So why the apparent negativity toward a company that seems to “get” standards and appears to wish to support them?

Let’s look at a recent example.

On 18 March 1999 we issued a press release headlined INTERNET EXPLORER 5 FALLS SHORT ON STANDARDS SUPPORT, WEB DEVELOPERS FORCED TO CONTINUE WORKAROUNDS. The press release acknowledged the improvements in IE5, yet took Microsoft to task for failure to fully implement any of the key standards. We called IE5 a “missed opportunity” and mentioned an unreleased product, Netscape’s Gecko, as being closer to the mark. This release was panned by some recipients for being light on detail, and for comparing an unreleased product with a “real” one, while failing to mention that the maker of Gecko has perhaps the worst track record of all where many key standards are concerned.

The first issue is easily explained. Simply put, the press release was short on details because it was a press release. WaSP co-founder Dan Shafer’s article at provided some of the particulars, while that article’s sidebar links to the W3′s CSS Test Suite and allowed readers to do the testing themselves. Adding that level of detail to a press release would have resulted in an unweildly document few journalists would find useful.

The mention of Gecko offended some, because Gecko is not here yet, and because Microsoft has done a better job of supporting standards (in released products) to date.

While it is not mentioned in the press release, The Web Standards Project has consistently tried to fairly evaluate all browsers, and when one is distinctly lacking, we have plainly said so. In fact, the WaSP’s CSS Samurai found Netscape’s releases to date unworthy of the testing to which Opera and Explorer were subjected. The fact was restated in last week’s A List Apart article, Fear of Style Sheets.

Perhaps we have not praised Microsoft or criticized Netscape loudly enough or often enough. A magazine must ensure that its coverage is balanced. But we are not a magazine; we are a group of volunteers. We may have been naive in believing that the vital importance of the issue overrides any need to consider our “editorial tone.” So be it. Like the browser makers, we can’t claim perfection. If we have harped on Microsoft recently, it is because they have released a new product recently – and because they often come maddeningly close, and then take a detour.

As they say in the Mob, “it’s not personal, it’s business.” And our business is to single-mindedly insist on 100% compliance with standards. We may avoid some niceties as we go about our business, but what is at stake is the future of the web.

We hope that Gecko will get it right, that Opera will get it right, that Microsoft will get it right. When they fail, we say so. It’s our job. When they all get it right, we will be out of a job – and very happy.

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