Opera and Mandated Standards
| 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?