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Thread: Internet Standards & Competition

Author Image Gerry Patterson. The world's most humble blogger
All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.

The Official End Of The Browser Wars

Chronogical Blog Entries:

Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2008 22:18:51 +1100

The great MS/Yahoo merger/takeover has gone rather quiet lately. But although it looks calm on deck, down in the engine rooms of Yahoo and MS there is a general panic ... It's all hands to the pumps!

Yahoo is playing for time. On Friday, they announced they may delay their annual General Meeting. Although this could upset their shareholders, many of whom think it would be in their (the shareholders) best interest if there could be a speedy resolution of the whole matter.

And there were three product announcements from Microsoft last week.

The announcement concerning Office Live Workspace is hardly revolutionary. Since Microsoft has not endorsed ODF it is not a big step forward for Redmond. This initiative will probably get a luke-warm response from users, most of who are are already sharing and transferring documents via e-mail. It is mostly window dressing.

The Silverlight announcement is more significant. Mobile platforms are an important area for expansion of the Internet. This is probably more to do with the deal that Microsoft has done with Nokia. Silverlight includes IronRuby, and it conforms with OSI standards. If they can succeed with this, they will have established Silverlight on the most popular Mobile OS in the world. It is also interesting to note that Google have announced that they will be offering Gears for various mobile platforms. And not long after, Yahoo announced a new bookmarking tool called OnePlace for mobile platforms. And it is hard to judge how this might affect the iPhone. But if Microsoft really wanted Silverlight adopted widely, they would have to bring out a version for Apple, to show they were serious.

The last announcement concerning IE8 was easily the most significant one made last week. And yet This little announcement has slipped by almost unnoticed. There have been several reviews of the beta version of IE8. Some comparisons. And some speculation ...

But the real significance is that: This announcement officially puts an end to one of the most destructive and wasteful periods in the history of the Internet.

It is the End Of The Browser Wars. This is is the Software universe's equivalent of the demolition of the Berlin Wall.

And what was it all for? In the final washup, the old players (except Netscape) have hung in there. As far as I can tell all the following specimens will continue to be found in the wild and not just an Internet zoo:

It seems they all survived the Browser War. And now at long last Microsoft have announced that they will support Web Standards!

Most smart managers would have realised long ago that complying with Web Standards is the only option, if you want to be able to maintain your code (especially if you often hire new programmers). The Browser Wars and Microsoft's bad behaviour have resulted in a lot of unnecessary, wasteful and downright ugly programming practices and contributed to the dilution of Web Standards.

And this has proved very expensive. The thing is, it takes a lot of effort and investment to dilute and subvert Open Standards.

Let's take one small example (there are many but I want to keep this entry brief) ... At the height of the browser wars, after Microsoft had finally garnered more than half the browser market (by bundling IE with the Operating System), they added code to their publishing software to drop the terminating semicolons on the special characters. So something like an ampersand might be represented as &amp rather than &. At the same time they added code to IE to render this broken code.

This little trick probably gained Microsoft an additional three or four percentage points of the total market share, as users who believed that Netscape was broken, changed to IE.

Since Netscape was in a battle for their very survival, they also rushed out a patch to do the same. So then the two major players were both rendering invalid code. And yet when the HTML standards had been drawn up it had been explicitly stated that code that was invalid, malformed or unrecognisable should be ignored. Of course, after the heavies rolled out their fixes, it wasn't long before all the minor players also adopted this bug.

It was trivial, but it was expensive. The planning and the execution took a great deal of effort. Not to mention the time and cost as other browsers were forced to adopt the broken code. Eventually even Konqueror, bless their dear little idealistic hearts threw in the towel. These days, Konqueror will render special characters characters with missing semi-colons as everyone else does. And apart from being non-standard and just plain wrong, all these browsers still have to support the W3C standard (which to this day, specifies that there must be a semi-colon). All of which adds more unnecessary code and slows things down a few more cycles... Which would be ok if it was serving some useful purpose.

Similar tricks in the postmodern Firefox era would not work. Firefox can bring out ten releases in a year, and it will always remain a free product because it is Open Source. Thanks largely to the practice of bundling last century, browsers are now generally given away. And that gives an Open Source browser a natural advantage. It's just too expensive to go on undermining Open standards in order to give a product away for free. Even an organisation with as much money as Microsoft can't continue to do it. And besides, they want to catch up to Google somehow. And if they want to do that, they'll have to start offering their users genuine products rather than sly tricks to make the competition look bad.

Which is why Microsoft have finally run up the white flag on Web Standards. This is what is sometimes referred to as being hoisted with one's own petard.

Perhaps the newest browser from Microsoft should be (facetiously) called IEL8 (pronounced IE late)?

Of course, this does not mean that their enemies will ceasefire however. But more about that later. Much more.

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Copyright     2008, Gerry Patterson. All Rights Reserved.