Web standards vs. competitive edge

Last night I held a presentation for SWENUG about web standards and what to think when developing web interfaces with .NET. Interesting with a crowd who are general web developers and not just working with HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

After the presentation we had an open discussion for an hour or so, talking about circumstances surrounding web developing and what the future might hold. A question that came up hit the nail on the head: if everyone abides to web standards, no more, no less, what’s the gain for them?

Let’s break this down. There are two possible scenarios:

  • Not fully and/or properly implemented web standards.
  • Fully implemented web standards and some extra features on top of that.

When it comes to the first bullet, I think the answer is pretty clear. We need some kind of minimum ground to stand on, the least common denominator where we start developing. So far, so good.

The second bullet is more interesting. If software makers aren’t allowed to implement something extra to get that competitive edge, what’s their incentive? For instance, why would companies put a lot of time and money into developing a free web browser? For the good of the world? I don’t buy that. I think Microsoft have a web browser to make it function perfectly with, as well as promoting, other products in their product family.

On the other hand, offering something more than web standards will result in product-specific proprietary solutions and add-ons. And we don’t want that either, that will bring us back to 1999.

I guess a natural follow-up question then would be: Is Microsoft on to something with XAML and WPFE? Should we expect software companies to start delivering products that will give a richer experience for some and downgrade automatically to others?

I don’t really have a good answer to this, but I believe in two things:

  • Companies will want to deliver something more than their competitors.
  • We will see a need for emerging technologies to give users a richer experience on the web. If that’s open like SVG or something company-specific, I have no idea.


  • Bjarne says:

    I agree with your final two opinions. But even if companies will want to deliver more, that doesn’t have to mean it is bad thing. Look at Flock for example. And who knows what Firefox and Google are up to?
    Surely, there must be ways to enrich without leaving the standards behind.

    But, when someone deliver something that says “to heck with the standards, this is how it should work”… well, that would be a bad thing.

  • Olly says:

    I'm not sure if I can put this in words at this time of night, but I know what I mean πŸ˜‰

    The standards need to be there so that solutions can work across the wide variety of browser and application platforms. Obviously they need to grow as people come up with new and exciting ways of doing thins – and more often than not these are going to come from brwoser vendors.

    That can work fine, as long as they work with bodies like W3C, WhatWG and ECMA (look at Apple's recent HTML extensions and Mozilla's evolution of Javascript). Otherwise you end up with the major forks in the browser market like we had in the old days and everybody suffers.

    So, vendor comes up with an idea, and implements it in conjunction with standards body. Obviously they get it to market first, which gives them an advantage, but others will catch up quickly – so everybody can use this new feature without worrying about compatibility issues.

    There's also other ways vendors can innovate without breaking the standards, the major one being their browser's interface.

    Whats more, we the web developers, can obviously push the exisiting standards to the limit in the pursuit of innovation.

    Does that make any sense?

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Oh, definitely, Flock's a good example. But if they support the web standards correctly, is it ok then to add something extra to offer abilities to, through code, make it a richer experience?


    I read you just fine! πŸ™‚

    Companies will probably want to add possibilities to make it a richer experience, not only through the product's interface.

    But if a vendor adds something extra and then adds it to any recommendations/standardization organ, there will still be an interim period before it has been added and then before everyone else has implemented in their products.

    So, still kind of back to how it was before…

  • Paul D says:

    It seems silly to worry about having an "extra competitive edge" until at least one browser fully implements existing standards. Until that day comes (and it might never), simply being ahead of your competitors with superior standards support is the competitive edge.

    I guess Microsoft is in trouble, then. πŸ˜‰

    Note that "standards" can be applied more broadly than your basic W3C standards. There's stuff like RSS, microformats, and so on.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    In the case of Microsoft, one example is that you could code vector graphics directly in IE with VML already back in 2000. Pretty neat stuff, and an example of what I mean.

    I like your last paragraph, though. Supporting different kinds of standards directly natively, like you mention with RSS etc, is definitely another good way to compete.

  • Bjarne says:

    <blockquote cite="Robert">

    But if they support the web standards correctly, is it ok then to add something extra to offer abilities to, through code, make it a richer experience?

    Yes, it has to be ok. But personally I probably might use the freedom of choice and choose not to use such a product.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Yes, it's definitely your choice then. But I think most Windows users out there would go for the richer experience, no matter if it's a standard or not.

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