Microsoft - giving back the web?
Quick backgrounder: In October of last year, Tim Berners-Lee called for a renewed effort to progress the HTML standard from its current version (HTML 4.01) ratified by the W3C eight years ago. More recently, the WHAT-WG, an independent group was established, emerging out of the frustration with the lack of progress made by the W3C. Since October, some progress has been made by the WC3 in that they are chartering a new HTML Working Group and have appointed a new chair - Chris Wilson, Program Manager on the IE team at Microsoft.
In December, Daniel Glazman expressed his concerns with the new HTML WG, including those regarding the appointment of Chris as the new chair of the W3C's HTML WG - the main thrust of his argument being that having a Microsoft employee and a major browser vendor in this key position would encourage poor feedback from the press and the community:
"If I do trust entirely the individual Chris Wilson for the chair of this Working Group, it's with deep concern I see a major browser vendor take the chair of the most visible WG in the Consortium. From my point of view, desktop browser vendors should be banned from the chair of that Group, to avoid (a) bad feedback from the press and the community (b) avoid issues between the WG and the chairman's parent company about the directions taken by the Group. I know Microsoft already had W3C chairs in the past - or even present - but the HTML WG is different in its very high visibility, and I certainly fear the "Microsoft puts its hand on HTML" press articles we're going to face."
Today, Chris Wilson has posted his response to Daniel Glazman's concerns.
I've been out of the tech news loop in the last month and so completely missed that fact that Chris was made chair of the new group, but I think his appointment is very good news for the future of HTML and for the web as a whole. Now, you could say "well, you work for Microsoft, so you would say that". That's hard to argue with. But let me know why I think it's a good thing.
As TBL pointed out, the progress of the official HTML spec has been in a mire for nearly a decade and it's no secret that up to very recently, Microsoft's implementation in IE of web standards has been nothing short of appalling. Since the development of IE7, things have improved in this respect, but they aren't perfect.
Having the Microsoft IE team align with web standards and rid web developers and designers of the overhead that comes with having to design for a broken rendering environment has been wished for by many for years. Microsoft's past distance and lack of engagement in the web standards process was hurting the web: its the users, the developers and owners of websites. The overhead was real. Prior to joining Microsoft I worked at a web development and design agency for seven years and know too well the grief this caused to our team. Cussing Microsoft was literally part of the daily routine as testers reported 'bugs' that weren't actually bugs.
It is why Firefox has done so well - the community's response has been to 'take back the web', a concept that truly resonated with the tech community. Through Firefox, Microsoft has realized that conforming to web standards has to be a priority and not an afterthought. Recent efforts such as Microsoft working with WASP on web standards are steps in the right direction, as has IE7's progress with CSS. But these recent efforts have been about making things work on current specs and standards. We also need to look ahead, and that future needs to have Microsoft's involvement. Personally, I'm not worried about the concerns Daniel has around the media's response to the fact that a Microsoft employee is chair of HTML WG - frankly, WC3's reputation relating the the HTML spec couldn't be any worse than it is today. The only way is up.
The anti-microsoft crowd are anti for a number of reasons and one legitimate reason has been Microsoft's historical disrespect of web standards. As I see it, by having Chris in this position Microsoft is making the biggest commitment it can to respecting web standards in the future. That has to be a good thing for all of us.