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[media] Tim Berners-Lee on Microsoft's Latest Browser Tricks

From: Kathleen Anderson <kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us>
Date: Tue, 30 Oct 2001 18:50:36 -0500
Message-Id: <200110301850.AA1845297236@pop.state.ct.us>
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Link:  http://web.siliconvalley.com/content/sv/2001/10/26/opinion/dgillmor/weblog/tbl.htm

Article text:

Tim Berners-Lee on Microsoft's Latest Browser Tricks

Posted on Friday, October 26, 2001

Yesterday, Microsoft disabled use of MSN with many non-IE browsers. It was a clumsy move, and it has plainly backfired.  ( http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-7660935.html?tag=mn_hd )

I asked the World Wide Web Consortium's ( http://www.w3.org/ )  Tim Berners-Lee ( http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/ )  for his views on the situation. Here are my questions and his answers (edited very slightly, such as putting in hyperlinks):

DG: What is your reaction to Microsoft's decision to disable non-IE browsers from access to MSN?

TBL: I have fought since the beginning of the Web for its openness: that anyone can read Web pages with any software running on any hardware. This is what makes the Web itself. This is the environment into which so many people have invested so much energy and creativity. When I see any Web site claim to be only readable using particular hardware or software, I cringe - they are pining for the bad old days when each piece of information need a different program to access it.

The "best viewed with" button is bad, but there is worse. Worse are sites which not only ask you but which force you to use software which they control, so they will effectively have control over all your browsing -- even when you are browsing someone else's site. You press "search" the Web and there you are straight back to old site - not just reading it, but feeding it your personal interests, and being fed back its advertising, and its answers on where you should buy things, and what your should read for news and political opinion.

DG: I suggested yesterday that Microsoft is shooting itself in the foot. After all, MSN's content isn't all that compelling in the first place. Why should anyone be bothered in that case?

TBL: Though the MSN site itself may not be compelling, it may be the thin edge of a wedge. Also, the propaganda involved is worrying... the idea that to install IE is an "up"-grade to whatever else you are using.

DG: Does Microsoft IE 6 meet all W3C standards? Do you believe the company's explanation for its action? If not, why not?

TBL: It's fair to note that no browser implements all W3C standards perfectly. That said, there are many which implement them to a high level which are cut out of the MSN site - most notably our own. We've thought a lot about what a browser should do, built one, and even made some guidelines available, which were well received by many developers. Amaya, ( http://www.w3.org/Amaya/ ) the browser which W3C develops as a testbed for our technologies, and which arguably has the best W3C compliance, is blocked from www.msn.com.

Here are our guidelines for what browsers should do. ( http://www.w3.org/TR/cuap )

If the claim for standards-compliant browsers is to be considered true, then it would follow that the msn site itself follows W3C standards for either HTML or XHTML, for CSS (style sheets) and for Web Accessibility. One can test the compliance of the site by using the W3C Validator Service, at this site. ( http://validator.w3.org/ )

Running the msn.com homepage through the validator on Friday showed the site did not use valid XHTML and did not meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. 

So if the site doesn't use W3C standards, and browsers that provide more full support for them are blocked out, I would also like to know what the reason is.

DG: What should the DoJ, FTC, EU and other enforcement agencies be encouraged to do about this, if anything?

TBL: Who can blame a company for aiming for vertical integration - entire control of hardware, software, content, and ongoing business? It is a unbelievably strong position to be in. To be at once the gateway to a user's view of the Web - and thus essential in the user's life - and also have control over that "search" button? A huge commercial benefit - and that is what a company is after. 

It is constituted in order to maximize the return for its investors. There is, I believe, a great power you have over a user when you write software which interfaces then with the rest of the world. I believe that this power comes with a responsibility - a responsibility to be an impartial sense organ for the person, to provide an unbiased view of the world. Normally in the USA it is the rule of law which constrains a company from doing damage to society in the search for profits. Tobacco companies continue to create additions to their products, but their advertising is curtailed by legislation and the law has allowed individuals to later sue about the suffering and death which they caused. This would suggest that we should be looking at legislation to control the independence of the medium which we rely on and trust for so much.

Telecommunications companies have traditionally been restricted in most countries from using their control of communication to give them advantage in other business. We could introduce legislation that the suppliers of generic software, suppliers of generic communications and generic hardware should be isolated financially. This would open the individual markets to fair completion, which is the basis of the market economy in which all these companies and consumers all thrive. At this point I would strongly support such legislation.

There was a time when I would have beloved that the ethos of the Internet, and understanding of the importance as an independent medium, was pervasive enough to ensure that things would be an acceptably open. However, the latest events have shown that this is not the case, and legislation is therefore required before we can have the sort of world in which I want to live, work, and bring up children.

When it comes to the rules of the road, and the ethos of how manufacturers of software and content behave, all I can say is: there is quite an upgrade required.

DG: What has Microsoft learned from its antitrust experiences?

TBL: I can't answer that one.
Received on Tuesday, 30 October 2001 18:55:14 UTC

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