Words by c.z.robertson

Hypocrisy in the Web Standards Project

2000-07-21 01:00:00 UTC

For a long time I've thought the Web Standards Project to be somewhat lacklustre. I agree completely with their aims and wish them all the success in the world in achieving them, but their tactics leave something to be desired. Basically, what they do is they moan to the browser developers about the abysmal standards support in their browsers. And that's it. They moan.

Ok, everyone moans. I do it all the time. But I don't think that's a viable tactic for convincing the likes of Microsoft to change their ways. Microsoft have been moaned at since they and IBM first inflicted MS-DOS on the world, and their software is still unbearable. Microsoft are not going to be moaned into submission. The WSP seems to think that its moaning will be enough and, because of this, I simply cannot give them my support.

However, if I thought the WSP merely incompetent I wouldn't be saying all this. Incompetence, after all, is not a hanging offence. No, the reason I'm saying this is that a few days ago they went from incompetent to obnoxious. They attacked Netscape for doing the very thing that they asked it to do in the first place: for taking time to do a browser the right way.

The WSP are saying that if they'd known that developing a standards-compliant browser would take so long they wouldn't have asked Netscape to drop everything to do it. With the implication, presumably, though it is not explicitly stated in the article, that they'd have asked for an intermediate release that would've been buggy and incomplete. According to them, taking two years to make a standards-compliant browser is giving other people the impression that standards-compliance means commercial suicide.

That might make some sort of sense (though it's still obnoxious after making so much noise to persuade Netscape to take this path), but then they attack Netscape for making bug-fix releases to the 4.x codebase, because to do this is to support a buggy and incomplete browser. But this is precisely the way in which Netscape tried to avoid commercial suicide.

The WSP cannot have its cake and eat it. Nor should it be so hypocritical as to attack those who have made great sacrifices to comply with their demands.

So my challenge to the WSP is this: What have you done for web standards lately? In creating and funding the Mozilla project and in cancelling an intermediate release so as not to promote another buggy implementation of the standards, Netscape have taken great steps towards promoting standards on the web. Off the top of my head I can think of one WSP victory: the petition which went part of the way towards convincing Netscape to take this course of action. Your effect on Microsoft has been precisely zero, and the encouragement you've given to other web developers to use the standards in their own work has been minimal at best. So, before you berate Netscape for not single-handedly creating the utopia you demand, ask yourselves, what has your contribution been worth?

Note: the above is directed only at those at the top of the WSP. Having read the discussion on the WSP mailing list following the publication of the article it is clear that the rank and file of the WSP were not consulted before the article was published. It is not, apparently, a particularly democratic organisation.