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Microsoft and Novell Pull Another Netscape Using Silverlight, OOXML

Novell and Microsoft piss on GNU/Linux codebase
Two partners make Windows, IE and Office stronger



Background Story



While we're concerned about Microsoft's Silverlight and Novell's Moonlight, there's another burning trouble on the horizon. Microsoft is bound to unleash Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) some time in the near future and further integration with the operating system is to be expected. Only yesterday we mentioned the forcefeeding of IE7. A month ago we pondered the tricks that IE8 might have in store [1, 2] and some answers are now beginning to arrive.

First of all, Microsoft's claim that IE8 passed the Acid2 test isn't much of a noteworthy claim. Many people called it vapourware at the time, particularly because it came just days after Opera had filed for antitrust action (more recent articles on Europe are here). Web standards being ignored were among the allegations. Opera's top gun has just published his perspective on the latest development:

What will happen when you type http://webstandards.org/acid2 in your freshly installed IE 8? Will Acid2 be displayed correctly when you hit the test button?

Microsoft has been asked that question, but it has not given an answer. I think that the company is considering three possible scenarios.

One scenario could be that IE 8 will require users or authors to "opt in" to support standards. For example, in order to render Acid2 correctly, users could be required to modify IE 8's default settings. This breaks with the guidelines of the test, and IE 8 will therefore not pass in this scenario.


Consequences of a Broken Web



As Heise Online puts things, on the face it, developers will need to embed Microsoft Internet Explorer-specific tags inside their pages.

Internet Explorer 8 introduces new meta tag



The developers of Internet Explorer 8 around Chris Wilson have joined forces with the Web Standards Project (WaSP) to develop a new HTML header.


Great. Memories of {if {browser==containsSubString("Internet Explorer") then ...}} blocks (consider this pseudo-code) return to mind. What makes this more outrageous is the fact that we already know how Microsoft messed up Web standards (deliberately!). Proprietary 'litter' remains standing to this date. According to another long article on this matter, there is another way to look at the situation. The way it puts it, Microsoft's programmers could actually be punishing themselves at the moment.

Microsoft have got themselves into this mess by their own misguided strategy. By promising backwards compatibility, they've compromised the future direction of the browser. They've compromised Internet Explorer's capability of challenging Firefox in any meaningful way.


It Happens All Over Again



Two strings of questions to ask ourselves are these:

  1. Can OOXML be trusted? Will it preserve backward compatibility? Although it cannot be implemented by anyone but Microsoft, will it at least honour competition?
  2. Can Silverlight be trusted? How will be it be extended? Will there be an implementation other than the one/s from Microsoft and Novell? Will Microsoft be interested in making Moonlight incompatible if desktop Linux became as widespread as Firefox (or even Netscape in its early days)?


If we refuse to ask the questions about and address the issue, then we're entering the very same trap that some of us managed to escape when Mozilla Firefox gained traction.

As a side note, it's worth adding that Sun is currently collaborating with Adobe to ensure better Flash compatibility. The Register wrote about this yesterday.

James Gosling, Sun vice president and fellow, told Register Developer that Sun is working to ensure interoperability - rather than provide its own design tools.

"We are putting a lot of effort into interoperability with the Adobe tools - a lot of the Adobe tools are wired into the neurons of the artists of the world," he said. "We are not trying to be a completely isolated island that has all the tools for everybody."


Take-home Message



Microsoft may be trying to address the trouble which it introduced about a decade ago. At the same time, Microsoft introduces new problems using its '(X)HTML replacement' called Silverlight. It also pretends to be standardising its document formats, but nothing truly changed. Corrupted voters, some of whom are paid puppets (including Novell) are used to put an "Open" label on proprietary formats. Silverlight and OOXML are tomorrow's ActiveX and DirectX. There are also things like Sharepoint and XPS to consider here, but that's worthy of a separate post.

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