Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

The WaSP Microsoft Task Force held another face-to-face meeting with available members on Tuesday. We met in a Starbucks along the waterfront in rainy Seattle. While the setting might have been a bit predictable, the conversation was unique and at times, very encouraging.

WaSPs at the meeting were DL Byron and myself. Microsoft was represented by a number of Web platform program managers such as the ever-amiable Brian Goldfarb, Sam Spencer, Rob Mauceri, and the legendary Chris Wilson, the Group Program Manager for IE Platform and Security who has worked on IE since 1995.

We discussed a number of issues including standards support in new software, the role of XAML and the Microsoft agenda, the Acid2 test, SXSW, and last but most decidedly not least, IE progress.

Standards Support in Upcoming Microsoft Products

There are three new tools at the ready for Microsoft, each being developed with the designer and design workflow in mind. The product of most immediate interest to WaSP is code-named “Quartz.” Rob Mauceri gave Byron and I a demo of the software, which produces XHTML 1.0 Transitional out of the box and also supports other relevant DTDs. No tables for layout, all CSS, which is great news and worthy of a hearty round of applause.

Drilling down into the markup and CSS, the tool is not without common problems we’ve seen with other designer environments. The XHTML and CSS generated are not as intuitive and useful as they could be, with lots of span elements, classes up the yin and out the yang, and a tendency toward presentational naming. Fortunately, a skilled CSS designer isn’t blocked by the tool and is in fact able to use it to create leaner, meaner markup and style in much the same way that familiar competitive tools provide.

Not perfect by a long shot, but unquestionably a potential software addition for any Microsoft developer interested in improved workflow along with XHTML and CSS support.

XAML and the Microsoft Perspective

One of the most common questions I get asked when discussing the WaSP Microsoft Task force is “what about XAML!” XAML, the Extensible Application Markup Language, is a Microsoft-specific language that many fear Microsoft will use to leverage its hold on the Web at large.

XAML is at the core of the majority of Microsoft tools development, which does suggest that when in Microsoft, do as Microsoft does. There’s what might be described as a paradigm shift for Microsoft, though. Along with XAML-based applications, Microsoft is concurrently including a subset of XAML that would be more readily useful for cross-browser, cross-platform solutions. The Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere (WPFE) will enable developers to work within the XAML subset. Sam Spencer describes XAML and its subset broadly as “Two different kettles of fish.”

Chris Wilson digs a little deeper. He describes XAML as “a rich client experience,” and the Web itself as being a rich experience. In simpler terms, XAML provides a rich experience if you’re on Windows and developing for Windows. You’ve got “everything you need to build a Windows app.” According to Wilson, XAML isn’t intended to replace HTML. While it’s a Web language, it’s about platform. A developer would choose a situation and determine whether a XAML application is appropriate, or the WPFE subset, which relies on JavaScript, is more appropriate. “WPFE” he says, “gives you a migration path from a rich experience to a broader experience.”

I can’t say I’m delighted with the approach, as conceptually any Web language that is platform-specific goes against the spirit and vision of the Web. At least Microsoft is strategically providing some alternative that would be more conducive to interoperable ideologies, but only time will tell how this concern really does play out.

Want Some Acid2?

It was very interesting to be able to talk to Microsoft the day after Safari released the first distributed browser version to pass the Acid2 test. With Opera 9 only steps behind, and the KHTML browsers (such as Konqueror) already sporting an updated codebase, the KHTML browsers (such as Konqueror) already sporting an updated codebase, and the upcoming iCab browser already passing the test in its pre-release beta version, the question of Acid2 compliance and Microsoft is at the ready on many a tongue.

WaSP has known for some time now that passing Acid2 wasn’t going to be a benchmark for IE’s development at this time, but Wilson, at least, has always been diplomatic about Acid2’s role. In fact, perhaps more diplomatic than the Firefox team, who have stated that Acid2 came at a bad time and wasn’t really relevant for their development process, despite their interest in and support of Web standards.

Maybe Firefox can take a lesson in diplomacy from Microsoft in this one. Wilson told me that he is well aware that Acid2 “tests a variety of features that Web developers would like to have.” He went on to say that he supports the goal, and complimented the Acid2 guide for being well written and fully laying out for developers exactly what is being tested. He finished up his comments on Acid2 by assuring me that IE will pass the Acid2 test at some time in the future, but to not expect it by IE7’s release.


We’ve not yet announced this information to the public, and more details will be forthcoming soon, but WaSP will be holding two important sessions during the March 2006 SXSW Interactive Media Festival. First, we’ll be holding a panel.

WTF? Another panel you say? Well yes! This time it’s the WaSP Task Force panel, in which WaSP and leaders from our Task Forces will be present to discuss what we’ve all been up to in the past months. Expected panel members include myself as moderator, Drew McLellan for WaSP strategy; Chris Wilson (Microsoft) on the WaSP / Microsoft relationship; Jennifer Taylor (Product Manager, Macromedia Dreamweaver) on standards support progress in Dreamweaver and related products; Dori Smith, co-lead for the DOM Scripting Task Force and long-time WaSP member on scripting progress; and Matt May, Accessibility Task Force lead, on WaSP activities related to accessibility.

If that doesn’t sound like an interesting panel, come watch WaSPs buzz in real-time. We’re very pleased to announce that our annual WaSP meeting will be held live and in public under the auspices of the SXSW crew. This will include every WaSP member who attends SXSW plus all task force participants, including significant representation from Microsoft and Macromedia.The first hour is our meeting, following rules of order but open for any member of the SXSW public to observe (we are also hoping to videocast it). The second hour will consist of questions we’ve collected in advance of the event from any interested individual (we’ll be setting up an email address, watch this spot for more information) and the final period will be available for open Q & A from the audience.

We look forward to your participation, whether you’re able to be present in Austin, or not. Again, more details will be forthcoming as the plans, participants, and locations are finalized.

IE Progress

Many readers here also follow the IEBlog (a good practice for contemporary Web developers and designers). Expect significant repairs to most existing bugs, implementation of long-awaited CSS features such as fixed positioning, child selectors, and attribute selectors. Alpha transparency in PNGs? Yes! The XML declaration will now be available without disturbing the DOCTYPE switch, and object handling will be improved with proper fallback.

However, some things simply won’t be there. Generated content? “Won’t make it” Wilson tells us. There’s an overflow problem that probably won’t be fixed, and object for images will most likely not be repaired in IE7.

Wilson remains optimistic and philosophical however, wrapping our conversation up by saying that “I knew when we started IE7 was going to be a challenging release for us, we weren’t going to get as far as people wanted us to get.”

It’s been my opinion all along that Wilson’s perspective is not unreasonable in the least. Anyone who expects immediate gratification for the support problems in IE is simply not realistic. Wilson sums this up himself, saying “I understand we might be the worst offenders today, but hey – I remember back when we weren’t the worst offender.”

And finally, a nod to his team and to the realities of IE’s future:

“The team has done a tremendous amount of work, but we still have a long way to go.”

Good Coffee

The meeting went well, and I’m always impressed by the way that Microsoft interacts with us. Bridges have been built, and we at the hive are confident that we can continue to be an encouraging, supportive resource for Microsoft developers, no matter where their business strategy might lead.

[This entry cross posted to take your comments].

Return to top

Post a Reply

Comments are closed.

All of the entries posted in WaSP Buzz express the opinions of their individual authors. They do not necessarily reflect the plans or positions of the Web Standards Project as a group.

This site is valid XHTML 1.0 Strict, CSS | Get Buzz via RSS or Atom | Colophon | Legal