The IE7 CSS Debate

I have been following the IE7 reviews and I am amazed how they are centered on one of two topics. “This is a beta so all the features and functions are not yet baked” is the first train of thought. And the second from Microsoft and friends is “we are working overtime to get a whole list of CSS bugs fixed, be patient” might summarize the Chris Wilson/David Massy/Molly Holzschlag line of argument.

Beta Means Feature Finalized

I have worked for a few software companies and a beta has always meant features are now frozen – if its not in, it wont likely be in unless the company delays delivery by 3-6 months like the recent SQL Server 2005. So what you see in features and functionality is likely what you get. So this is what you very likely wont be getting in IE7:
1) full JPEG2000 or PNG – despite the support by Adobe, Corel, Macromedia, Ulead and others for these graphic file formats
2)user customizable portal windows – like in Opera, SlimBrowser and CrystalPorts
3)JavaScript 1.5, 2.0, and E4x support – despite huge time savings in E4X standard; greater security/reliability of JavaScript 1.5 & 2
4)No fixes for the DOM incompatibilities in coding – so users will have to add countless lines of test-which-browser code
5)No full SVG for for faster, more compact and dynamic Web based graphics – full SVG is in Mozilla, soon FireFox and Safari, etc;
6)No XFORMS and other HTML improvements to Forms processing – Opera, Mozilla , and others are committing to major updates
7)No latest XHTML and HTML extensions – some real improvements lay fallow
8)No SMIL and other multimedia extensions – also big improvements available here
9)No CSS 2 fixes let alone CSS 2.1 or 3.0- “it is beta1, wait until we improve it”
10)No cross platform capability – despite data interoperability and enterprise integration being the number 1 mandate in IT shops worldwide.
The bottom line is that Microsoft is setting the level of innovation and interoperability of its browser at the lowest possible point while still hoping to maintain a 70-90% market share of all browser usage. But even more disconcerting is the CSS Diversion.

The CSS Diversion

Microsoft is orchestrating a briliant diversion to bilk Web developers into thinking IE7 is Web standards complete. Redmond is using WaSP(Web Standards Project) as their Red Herring and Flak Catchers both. WaSP is ostensibly ” a grassroots coalition fighting for [Web] standards that include XHML 1, 1.1; CSS 1,2, and 3; JavaScript/ECMAScript 262; DOM 1 and 2; XML 1; MathML 1, 2; SVG “ among other standards. But one has to wonder why, after having won just 1/2 of 1 of the 10 above Web Standards needs, WaSP would issue a press release declaring:

In a must-read post on IEBlog, [Microsofts]Chris Wilson lays out some of the web standards fixes planned for IE7. While it doesnt hit everything we might like, and we wont see most of it until Beta 2, its a pretty impressive list for a release that by all accounts is primarily about security and UI features.Even more impressive than the contents of the list, though, is that its even available outside the Redmond campus. Having been through this work with Microsoft thing once before in the late 90s, I can assure you this sort of openness is a radical departure from the Microsoft of old and as good a reason as any for optimism that this is just the beginning, and we can expect even more and better in IE 7.5 and beyond. Three cheers for transparency! Three cheers for openness! Three cheers for standards in IE7!

Reading this press/blog release one would think that WaSP “had just secured peace in Europe”. In fact all they got Microsoft to do was commit to some fixes but not all fixes of CSS1 and 2 features that are 4-5 years overdue. Absolutely none of the other nine pressing needs and standards are being addressed at all by Microsoft. But the press release/blog entry implies that all sorts of Web standard issues beyond CSS have been addressed.

This is patently absurd and part of the Machiavellian brilliance of the PR move by Redmond. Because in the meantime WaSP becomes the focus of attention and flak-catcher for Microsoft after it declares the above and its earlier “After all, its only beta 1” press/blog releases. Meantime WaSP has fallen utterly silent about the other 9 Web Standards issues with IE7. And best of all for Redmond the focus of the debate on whether IE7 is meeting standards is reduced to whether it meets old promises to fix CSS and little else. Utterly, utterly awful for Web developers and awfully brilliant results for Microsoft PR. I wondered why Microsoft brought David Massy back as PR point man for IE7.

Meantime, one has to wonder – who is running WaSP, what ties do they and their personnel have to Microsoft, and who is paying for the stay of WaSP personnel on the Microsoft Campus “working to get standards implemented in IE7”.

Conclusion

There are two major conclusions here. First, its been said before, but bears repeating: For IT shops, ISVs and end users looking not just for a better browser but also better innovation and leadership in delivering Web interface improvements(see what is being done here for example) – break the Microsoft lock on the Web interface by switching to a better browser – be it FireFox, Opera, Safari or whatever.

Second, the major IT media have, with exception of CNET, been eerily quiet on IE7 beta1. What stories they have followed have been keyed on the WaSP notes and the IEBlog reply to the same. This has narrowed the focus to just CSS2 compliance and now opinion commentary from the trade press has adopted the “well its only a CSS2 compliance problem” – see eWeek/Publish for example. This is a major victory for Microsoft PR because as we have seen IE is rife with critical compliance issues and blatant thwarting of new web interface innovations going well beyond CSS. For example, two big web developers websites, Internet.com and Publish.com, have bitten on just the CSS 2 compliance story. Infoworld, Computerworld, Information Week, eWeek are almost completely silent. Strange. We shall keep an open eye out for when and what they have to say about IE7 over the next few weeks and months.

(c)JBSurveyer 2005

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