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


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

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 19:16:25 UTC