Sunday, August 9, 2009

The IE Team Responds to the HTML5 Draft Standard

In an message to the W3C’s HTML development mailing list, Adrian Bateman from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer team provides feedback about the draft HTML5 specification that I can only describe as breathtakingly curmudgeonly and obstructionist.

One of simplest and seemingly least-controversial goals of the new HTML5 standard is to make the web more semantic. This has generally taken the form of adding tags such as <nav>, <section>, <aside>, <header> and <footer>. These new tags aren’t intended to improve the display of web pages; that was already accomplished with CSS and the more generic <div> and <span> tags. Instead, these tags are meant to aid the interpretation of web pages by software so that search engines and screen readers can better handle different types of content. Such noble sentiments, however, fail to impress Microsoft:

It’s not clear why these new elements in particular are necessary. Those that use HTMLElement for their interface provide no extra functionality beyond <div class="xxx"> or <span class="">.

Microsoft also displays remarkable institutional inertia and a general “we’d really rather not bother” attitude. For example, the HTML5 draft introduces a long-needed <datagrid> element for displaying data organized by tree or list. Microsoft, however, seems to prefer the existing hacks that try to circumnavigate this deficiency in the current standard:

There are a number of libraries providing support for databinding using script and HTML. We’re not sure this is the correct design and we will investigate further.

Microsoft even has the audacity to raise some security concerns:

We believe there is a risk in allowing an element of this nature to be manipulated by script because it could create a scenario where developers auto-select it as part of the onload page (to force their website to be accessed as an individual app) and the user would see a consent dialog without knowing why. This would remove the user from being in control of the experience.

It’s possible that there is a legitimate security concern here, but it’s just too hard for me to take seriously from the company that continues to support the notoriously insecure and dangerous ActiveX plugin system in its browser.

The good news is that HTML5 is gathering tremendous support from the other browser vendors and especially the web development community. So much so that even Microsoft can’t ignore it without risking its browser hegemony. The bad news is that Microsoft is still perfectly capable of doing what it has always done: implementing those parts of the standard that it doesn’t like so poorly that no one wishing to support Internet Explorer will bother with them.