Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

OMG! I’m kinda on the side of Microsoft!

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-02-11

I’m an open-source unix-loving bigot, so it is very strange for me to urge qualified support for Microsoft when M$ is under attack in an anti-trust case.

What is happening is that Opera, with less that 1% of the Browser Hit Marketshare, has gone to the EU anti-trust groups (which have a history of justly hassling M$) complaining about bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows, and Mozilla Firefox (who have over 20% of the market) have weighed in on the case.

Firefox is being unfair in my view, although not for the reasons outlined in ArsTechnica who rightly say that M$ market dominance is dropping.

If there is abuse by Microsoft, it is that IE has never yet released a production browser that correctly renders standard html – and with their market, this makes it much harder for those products that generate standard html to be viewed fairly, more than the browsers (like Firefox, which I heartily recommend) that do render standard HTML properly, but have problems dealing with the non-standard HTML generated by M$ products.

Admittedly, M$ are promising that IE8 will be much better rendering standard html, but that’s still a promise about a product that is still Beta, not production.  Other browsers render standard html fine… it’s the FIRST thing they try and do.

To fix this, the EU anti-trust mob should force Microsoft to include one or two other browsers with each installation of Windows until such time as a production version of Internet Explorer is included that renders standard HTML as well as it does Microsoft non-standard HTML.

So, Opera and Firefox could fairly say that Microsoft must include one or two alternate browsers with every Windows distribution (including the versions on Mobile phones), but they should be supporting html and javascript generator tools that are widely used in the open-source operating systems (as well as on Windows platforms) as the plaintiffs.

Google and Apple could also weigh in, because they know Microsoft wants to increase market share of Windows (including IE) on appliances such as mobile phones, and an IE that barfs on standard HTML promotes non-standard HTML from both Microsoft and non-Microsoft generators.

As with any broken implementation of a standard by a dominant company, this makes it nastier for everyone.  It also makes life difficult indirectly for standards-compliant browsers, because they’ve got to work out the guts of the Microsoft non-standard HTML and figure out how to deal with it: this takes time and money.

And if browsers, from Microsoft or not, need to use the extra libraries to deal with standard and non-standard Microsoft html as well, well that takes up space in memory and disk… making it harder on consumers and equipment manufacturers.

So, take Microsoft to court by all means because of the dominance of Internet Explorer, but unbundling it isn’t the problem.  Fixing IE (and ensuring there are alternatives bundled with Windows until then) should be the method of remediation.

The only thing is that Microsoft wouldn’t accept this approach unless there was no other alternative… because it absolutely relies on market dominance, refusal to deal properly with standards.  Just look at how hard they are making it to use ISO standard Office Document Format (the equivalent of Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents, but in the format natively used by OpenOffice) with Microsoft Office?  Do you see easy "OpenAs/SaveAs ODF/OpenOffice" in your version of M$-Office?

And why do governments buy and use products like Microsoft Office that HATE standards, when things that DO comply with standards come at no cost?

That’s the next fight.


3 Responses to “OMG! I’m kinda on the side of Microsoft!”

  1. Just arming you with some facts here which may or may not support what you are saying..

    IE8 is set to a “standards” mode that is compliant with other browsers HTML, and there are a number of site out there that won’t support Microsoft moving to more open HTML standards to which they have to be set into a compatiblity mode to access them (including the header in your blog which has problems with IE 8 and no doubt HTML 5) with IE 8 Standards mode as default. Microsoft is having to “list” these sites that require compatibility with older standards in their compatibility view that forces these sites into IE 7 mode until they are compatible with open HTML standards..

    As far as open office standards go, if you are using office 2007.. Try renaming any file Office 2007 file saved (such as a .DOCX etc) as a ZIP file and opening it. You will see that it’s just as open as open document format, it stores it as pictures and XML)..

    It’s very easy to create a document viewer with even a few lines of script code to view any of these files on a web page etc.. So the idea that Microsoft “CLOSES” their formats in the current version of office to any platform is really a misgiving on someone’s part..

  2. Dave Bath said

    Thanks for your notes.

    The fact that there are sites out there that are broken when IE8 is HTML-compatible mode illustrates my point about Microsoft’s evil habit of encouraging people to write to the MS-false-standard rather than the appropriate standard… if this were not the case, there would be no broken sites with the change.

    It will be interesting to note what products were used to produce the “broken” sites – microsoft, or whatever.

    BTW: I’ve pulled apart DOCX etc, both manually and with OpenOffice. Even then, the DOM is ugly (can you represent a background color for the “paper” not just the text on a section by section basis… nup), and the use of vbs is still painful… would have been trivial to use javascript/ecmascript. Again, vbs in web pages is bad news… when js and standard DOMs would have been better.

    It’s also worth noting that MS has been pushing for inclusion of proprietary blobs inside XML… plain fugly.

    The problem of governments using rtf and doc/xls on their websites, rather than ISO ODF and/or HTML still is a pain. It only encourages people to either waste money or break the law.

    I don’t mind if an organization wants to use MS formats and protocols internally, but when the info crosses between organizations (basically, when it “leaves the building”), then that’s where the problems arise.

    There are actually few things Microsoft I’ve liked since the Z80 MBASIC (that was a huge advance on Dartmouth I’d used earlier), although Vista is one of them… halfway secure. The other thing MS deserves great credit for is MOF.

  3. RDP said

    In my opinion, it’s not about anti-trust anymore, it’s about granting a new form of taxing authority to EU bureacrats and giving them the power to decide what software the world is allowed to have installed on their computers.

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