Opera and Mandated Standards

16 December 2007 at 12:39 am 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

More on Opera and Microsoft. Besides demanding that Internet Explorer be unbundled from Windows, Opera wants the European Commission “to require Microsoft to follow fundamental and open Web standards accepted by the Web-authoring communities.” But what standards? Determined how, and by whom? “[S]peaking as a web developer,” writes Mike Gunderloy on WebWorkerDaily, “I do not believe that I want the courts stepping in to determine what standards must be implemented in shipping products.” He notes:

  • It’s not at all clear just what are the “fundamental and open Web standards.” Some sites are already experimenting with HTML5 and CSS3, even though the standards are in flux and not thoroughly implemented. Are these fundamental yet? Are things like MathML fundamental? Who decides?
  • No browser is perfect. Depending on how closely your read the standards and interpret them, you can always find a test to break any given browser. Will some other vendor turn around and demand that Opera be pulled until it fixes its own rendering bugs? If the end result is that only perfect browsers can be shipped, we will have no browser at all.
  • Once they get involved, why would the courts stop at regulating browsers? Imagine a takedown order aimed at a site you just deployed because it won’t validate. There are people out there determined to make the Internet a better place by forcing us all to be less sloppy. I’m not sure I want them to end up in control.

As the critics of Microsoft’s critics have frequently pointed out, asking the courts to determine optimum technical standards makes no sense — and neither does asking the courts to determine the optimum bundle (“you can buy a suit coat and a pair of suit pants, but not a suit”), the optimum set of vertical contractual restraints (“software licenses are OK, per-processor licenses aren’t”), and so on. Why can’t we let the market decide?

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Graeme  |  16 December 2007 at 1:33 am

    We should not let the markets decide because MS is a monopolist that is using bundling and other tactics (such as co-marketing deals with manufacturers) to distort the market.

    In most of the discussions I have seen (see some of the comments on the page you link to), developers complain about IE’s lack of standards compliance, which creates a lot of extra work.

    MS’s departures from standards are also very often clearly not for technical reasons, but deliberate incompatibility (to increase the costs of supporting all web browsers). Examples include:

    1) the border box model,
    2) the minor changes that make Silverlight incompatible with SVG: they are so similar that third party fixes can translate on into the other (see http://intertwingly.net/blog/2007/05/06/SVG-to-Silverlight-Workbench and http://sanpaku72.blogspot.com/2007/09/having-fun-with-xaml-silverlight-and.html).
    3) The failure of IE to accept content served as “application/xhtml+xml”, even though it is supposed to support html.

    Sorry to be so technical, but I cannot make the point properly without doing so. There are plenty of resources on the net that explain the above well.

  • 2. Peter Klein  |  16 December 2007 at 10:46 pm

    Yes, but the comments in the post refer to processes, or rules, not specific outcomes. Suppose you’re right. Then what? The courts, or the Justice Department, or some other regulatory agency should mandate that IE adhere to — well, to what, exactly? If the government is competent to mandate browser standards, then what other standards should it have control over? Why stop at the browser? What about the rest of the operating system? What about file formats, communications protocols, page layouts, and who knows what else? Who decides what are “techinical” reasons for doing things, and what are “anticompetitive” reasons? Is this something you want a government agency to do?

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