Why would Microsoft care about standards?

At the end of July, there was a huge fuzz when Microsoft released beta one of its upcoming version 7 of Internet Explorer and it basically just contained new interface features and two CSS bug fixes. As a web developer, I was very saddened by this in my review, but only a few days later, Chris Wilson wrote a post about all the standards support goodies beta 2 will have (and yes, I agree with what many people have said, beta 1 should have been called alpha since it was far from feature complete).

And this got me thinking: from a business perspective, why should Microsoft care about supporting web standards? The reason Microsoft had to release a new version of Internet Explorer is because other web browers, I guess mostly the ones in the Mozilla product suite (Firefox etc), gained some user percentage and attention. But to the end user, seeing the new additions added to beta 1 of IE, that should be enough to slow down/stop people from switching to its competitors. I mean, most people don’t give a damn what web standards a web browser supports. Like above mentioned beta 1: if it contains tabs, popup blocking and RSS support like the other web browsers being available, while being as secure as well, that should be sufficient.
People started using other web browsers than IE because of security flaws and lack of some features, not because they weren’t satisfied with how IE handled standards.

Most users’ demands on a web browser is that its secure, contains the interface options they like and that web sites work in them. With the sorry state of most web pages out there today and Microsoft being allowed to bundle IE in Windows, I think, business-wise, that what they added in beta 1 would be enough to maintain most of the web browser market for a long time. End users don’t need more proper web standards support in their web browser than was implemented in IE 6, until most web pages are properly coded and take advantage of (or even, in some cases, rely on this to give the user the maximum experience of the web site in question) the things possible with CSS 2.1, correct DOM event handling and so on.

Don’t get me wrong here, I for one is very happy that Microsoft has decided to improve its standards support, and I guess we owe our thanks to the dedication of the IE developing team. But a part of me can’t help thinking that it wouldn’t have been necessary to keep their web browser market share.


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  • Kristin VÃ&fn says:

    Hello Robert.

    You kept your promise to publish today:) I admire you for being such a Duracell-rabbit.

    I agree with you. Personally I hope that IE want take more market share with the release of IE 7. If there was no competition between the browsers, when would they have done a new browser release…

    But they lack the useful extensions that you can download for Firefox. So that will be a good reason for users to stick to Mozilla´s.

  • Tommy Olsson says:

    Since there has been no real development in IE for several years, it's lagging behind the competition. This has finally made more and more people abandon IE in favour of something more modern (and safe), like Opera or Firefox. That, in turn, has forced developers and designers to make sure their sites work cross-browser.

    Developers and designers would rather create one version that works in all browsers (including IE) than effectively having to do two versions (IE vs. the rest). I think this is putting a little pressure on Microsoft. In order to maintain their market share, they essentially have two options:

    1) Eliminate the competition, so that everyone will have to do it the Microsoft way.

    2) Adhere to the standards supported by the competition (of course adding some proprietary stuff to get the upper hand).

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Well, I try to keep my promises πŸ™‚

    When it comes to Firefox, I personally really like the functionality with adding extensions.


    Oh, absolutely, of course we web developers want to write one set of code that will work in all web browsers; that's one of the major reasons why we promote web standards so much.

    And I think that Firefox, Opera and Safari gaining more and more of the web browser market has been a good thing, since it has forced web developers to learn about standards and code properly. That in turn has also opened up their eyes when it comes to <acronym title="Internet Explorer">IE</acronym>'s shortcomings.

    However, what I was going for in this post is that the enhancements they offered in beta 1 would maybe (probably?) be sufficient to, maybe not eliminate but diminish, their competition so much that it wouldn't bother them.

  • Tommy Olsson says:

    I'm not sure I agree. When developers and designers are forced to learn about CSS 2.1, they'll find quite a few useful features in it (which IE does not support). As long as they didn't know about anything else than IE, Microsoft could safely ignore this. Now, these people will start demanding from Microsoft that they implement at least the CSS 2.1 specification.

    The alternative is using MS-specific hacks like 'filter' or 'expression' to do what you can easily do with standard CSS.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    I agree that web developers start demanding that (<acronym title="Cascading Style Sheets">CSS</acronym> 2.1 support and other things) from Microsoft, no question about that. And that's a good thing.

    But what I'm talking about is how to get the end users, that don't care about web standards at all, to use your product. And I think by only matching the interface features of other web browsers (with things like tabs etc) Microsoft would be home free.

  • It is always better to have even bad standards than no standards at all. On the other hand, standard is not talk of a things to come, it must have origins in existing technologies.

    Now, if you take a look at web development today, you can clearly see some written standards that are living as intended ans some standards that are de facto imposed my MS. And there is also CSS2 that, though standardized, is not supported by any browser on the market (correct me if I am wrong). How many browsers today can pass ACID test?

    And if we follow Robert's mindpath, what is the benefit in it for Joe Average?

    "Now, these people (developers and designers) will start demanding from Microsoft that they implement at least the CSS 2.1 specification."

    I can find this or some other technology easier to use and more productive, but what benefit is inthere for end-user? And what exactly could be argument when pressuring MS about adhering to standards. And also, do you really do think that web as a medium would become better if we manage somehow to pressure MS to adhere to standards? I do not think so. Put best tool in the world in unskilled hands and you will see horrible results. With or without standards.

    Take a look at PDF, Postscript or Flash. Have you ever heard of anyone manually coding e.g. PDF page? Why? Because there are tools that generate PDF from any document without any errors (by error I mean not complying with standards).

    Now, take a look at web development. In my oppinion most normal thing in the world for a designer would be to "draw" page in Photoshop and then export it as a web page. Is it really possible that no company in the world is capable or interesting in producing such a tool. I really cannot see how harder is automatical coding of Postscript page (for example) than coding of XHTML+CSS page. Can someone enlighten me?

  • Robert Nyman says:


    That was indeed a thorough comment.

    When it comes to <acronym title="CSS">CSS</acronym> support, I'm not sure exactly how complete the different web browser manufacturers claim that their support for it is. Safari is the only one passing the Acid test, but that version haven't been released yet. And then again, it has been debated if the Acid test is perfect in its testing.

    You definitely get my point of the end user not gaining anything from standards support in <acronym title="Internet Explorer">IE</acronym>.

    …do you really do think that web as a medium would become better if we manage somehow to pressure MS to adhere to standards?

    Well, yes and no. It might get better when it comes to creating validating pages that would work better in screen readers and such, and it should keep development time and costs down so web developers can focus on creating better and more groundbreaking web sites instead of wasting time covering up for flaws in web browsers that don't (fully) support web standards.

    I've been toying with the idea myself to create a web site out of an image, to be a 100% sure that it will look the same and the layout will be intact on every OS and in every web browser. And I guess most people that are new to <acronym title="HyperText Markup Language">HTML</acronym>, <acronym title="Cascading Style Shets">CSS</acronym> etc ask the same question: why does it have to be so hard? Then, of course, a little of it falls back to accessibility, screen readers, <acronym title="Personal Digital Assistant">PDA</acronym>s and so on.

    But still, it's an intriguing thought! πŸ™‚

  • Chris says:

    I agree that end users do not care about web standards and that is probably because web standards are a topic difficult to explain to end users. Maybe we should find a way to explain clearly and in terms aimed at non designers such a topic to end users so that they understand what is at stake here. If they did understand I am sure end users would like companies to adopt the standards and that (and only that IMO) could put pressure on companies like MS. This is a problem of communication here.

    Also, it is true that end users are not interested in design matters but rather in usage matters, ie features of the browser. In other terms, giving new, useful and unique features to a browser is the only way to attract users now. So the question is: what do users want in their browsers that is not already there? The only way to know is to ask users.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Yes, how to communicate it is a key issue. But the problem is also that people tend to be egoistical and lazy, so even if we give them a lot of arguments they'll probably keep on using <acronym title="Internet Explorer">IE</acronym> as long as it's pre-installed on their machine.

    Asking users is definitely one of the most importat measures to take to get the best product out there, no question about that.

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