March 16, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Perspective: The Acid2 challenge to Microsoft

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The Acid2 challenge to Microsoft
Last month, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates made two announcements that are important for the future of the Web.

First, he embraced interoperability between software from Microsoft and that from other vendors. Then he announced that a new version of Microsoft's Web browser--Internet Explorer 7--is coming.

Does this mean IE 7 will be interoperable with other browsers? Does it mean IE 7 will take Web standards seriously?

Don't get your hopes up. Microsoft has a long history of promising interoperability, while failing to deliver. In an e-mail to Gates (reprinted in the The Register) I listed some of the opportunities Microsoft has had over the last decade to establish interoperability on the Web.

Microsoft has repeatedly promised full support for key Web standards in Internet Explorer. Here, with reference to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is what the company said in 1998:

"Microsoft has a deep commitment to working with the W3C on HTML and CSS. We have the first commercial implementation of HTML4, we were the first vendor anywhere to implement even portions of CSS, and we have put a tremendous amount of energy into seeing CSS mature to Level 2. We are still committed to complete implementations of the Recommendations of the W3C in this area (CSS and HTML and the DOM)."

Microsoft now has the chance to redeem itself with regard to Web interoperability.

Yet Microsoft failed to deliver on these promises, and the cascading style sheets standard CSS2 is still not supported in IE 6. As a result, interoperability on the Web suffers.

In 2002, Microsoft terminated the Web Core Fonts initiative. The fonts offered were professionally designed and served as a common foundation for Web designers. Microsoft deserves credit for making fonts available, but why pull the plug when designers were addicted?

Microsoft's own Web servers are configured to send different versions of Web pages to disparate browsers. For example, the servers sniff out the Opera browser and send it different style sheets from the ones they send to Microsoft's own Internet Explorer. As a result, Opera renders pages differently.

The acid test
To ensure that IE 7 does not become another failed promise, the Web community will issue a challenge to Microsoft. We will produce a test page, code-named Acid2, that will actively use features Web designers crave, such as fixed positioning of elements.

Fixed positioning is described in the W3C's CSS2 Recommendation, to which Microsoft has a "deep commitment." However, fixed positioning has been supported for years by all modern browsers except IE for Windows.

Other features are partially supported in IE, but designers enter a minefield of bugs when trying to use these features. All software has

To the Web community I want to say: Microsoft has now been challenged.
bugs, and a major part of software development is to clear the minefield. Microsoft, however, hasn't fixed bugs in IE for four years, and important features therefore remain unusable.

Microsoft now has the chance to redeem itself with regard to Web interoperability. All it needs to do is make sure IE 7 passes the Acid2 test before shipping.

The Acid2 test will be sponsored by the Web Standards Project, which is a grassroots coalition fighting for Web standards. Its integrity is unchallenged in the Web community, and its presence will ensure that Acid2 will be fair for all. It might even smoke out some bugs in other browsers.

As the test name implies, this will be the second acid test put forward for Web browsers. The original acid test, created by Todd Fahrner in 1997, was instrumental in ensuring interoperability between browsers in their CSS1 implementations. The existence of the acid test forced browser vendors to fix their implementations or face embarrassment; the test was created so that testers could easily see which browsers failed the test.

Even Microsoft made sure IE 6 passed the acid test. As a result of the acid test, CSS became usable and has changed the way Web sites are authored.

Web designers are now ready for the next phase. Acid2 will test the features they want to use. Will Microsoft support interoperability? Will it deliver on its promises?

To the IE 7 developers, I want to say:

You are smart and talented. You know Web standards as well as anyone. You were capable of fixing IE in the past, but your managers didn't let you. You now have a new chance to get it right--don't waste it. Download Acid2 when it's released and get in touch if you think it's unfair for any reason. Resist pressure from management to ship before you are done--spend the extra time it takes. When they say you can't change how pages are rendered as this may "break" pages, tell them about quirks mode and strict mode.

Show them that other browsers get it right. Explain how embarrassing it will be to release a browser that doesn't live up to community standards and that the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox, Apple Computer's Safari and Opera will increase their user share as a result.

What you do is important. The Web will thank you for your efforts.

To the Web community I want to say: Microsoft has now been challenged. They will respond, if enough people remind them of the challenge. Please remind them. And, when IE 7 is released, make sure this is the first thing you type into it:

Håkon Wium Lie is chief technology officer of Opera Software. Before joining Opera in 1999, he worked at W3C where he was responsible for the development of Cascading Style Sheets, a concept he proposed while working with Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in 1994.

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Sucking Microsoft in
by ( comments ) March 16, 2005 9:37 AM PST
It's about time. I look forward to the development of this idea---putting pressure on Microsoft to improve its browser is a great idea---one I'm sure forward looking designers will embrace.

Great idea!
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CSS Rocks!
by ( comments ) March 16, 2005 10:01 AM PST
Just picked up Eric A. Meyer's 'Cascading Style Sheets - The
Definitive Guide'. I finally commited myself to ditching tables for
element positioning, and am already reaping the benefits. This
absolutely must become standardized... please MS, get on it. As
well, update your older browsers for OS' not capable of running
IE 7. You enjoy your ~90% browser market share through illegal
actions of the past, if it were up to me, I would demand that you
make these changes. Your inaction over the last four years has
been a huge retardant to our collective progress. You should be
embarrassed and ashamed. Oh, and OS X makes you look silly
and helpless.
Reply to this comment
Our voices...
by ( comments ) March 16, 2005 12:23 PM PST
Our voices regarding web standards is very big, but do you actually think that Microsoft will have the ears to listen. Full implementation of CSS 2 in IE7 would be somewhat make me smile at Microsoft. Then again, I had very rarely smiled at the things Microsoft said that they would do in the past but never did. Our voices will be loud but does Microsoft have the ears to listen?
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Outstanding idea
by Bill Dautrive ( comments ) March 16, 2005 1:37 PM PST
There is one small problem though. Microsofts definition of interoperability is one MS product being able to communicate with another MS product.

Rare is the situation where MS thinks outside its own little box it trapped itself in. They need to join the rest of the computing world and stop being isolationists.
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Great initiative!
by naylor83 ( comments ) March 16, 2005 3:09 PM PST
Thanks Hakon for doing us this favour. Now it's our turn to help you in return, by nattering (no end) over at the IE blog. ;-) I've already done my part (for today).
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Maybe Opera need to look at its own core first
by tennapel ( comments ) March 16, 2005 11:02 PM PST
"Who is without sin may throw the first stone".

While I would like to see a fully compliant IE7 and while I fear the result of what Microsoft will deliver, I think Opera needs to take a hard look at itself.

While Mozilla and Safari and even IE6 often render specific CSS the same, Opera is often the odd one out. Release after release, the same bugs persist in Opera. Gaps do appear between <div>'s that should be seamless and there isn't a single way to avoid it in Opera, no matter how much you try to isolate the problem.

Or you can isolate the problem and think of a workaround, but that will effectively break Mozilla or Safari rendering.

For IE we've luckily got CSS filters (thanks to Tantek), but for Opera/Mozilla/Safari we haven't got a way to single out browser-specific bugs.

Of course we should not have those, we should have browsers that render the ssame CSS statements the same way, in a predicatble manner.
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Please provide a URL that shows this "bug"
by ( comments ) March 17, 2005 2:45 AM PST
Please provide a webpage that shows this "bug". It might very well just incorrect use of CSS, but a URL might or might not add some light to this.
What kind of problems?
by ( comments ) March 17, 2005 2:52 AM PST
Every browser has its bugs, and so has Opera, but generally its rendering engine is excellent.

Could you be more specific about your problems with Opera? And report it to Opera's bugtracking system so it may be fixed?
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Couldn't agree more.
by katamari ( comments ) March 17, 2005 11:35 AM PST
Absolutely. I don't understand why the Opera CEO has this huge vendetta against Microsoft -- it seems quite unwarranted, even more so with the "bork" Opera engine thing... totally bizarre, and COMPLETELY worthless.
I sure do miss playing Java Quake under IE
by inachu ( comments ) March 17, 2005 12:28 PM PST
Don't you even start with my achy breaky heart!
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What about full png support?
by ( comments ) March 18, 2005 1:59 AM PST
Will the full png support also be in the acid2 test?

I surely hope so.

By not upgrading IE to better CSS and png support, Microsoft is hindering us developers to make the internet to what it is enabled to do already.

And I am sick of it :)
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by ( comments ) March 18, 2005 2:15 AM PST
I second that :)
by ( comments ) March 18, 2005 2:20 AM PST
I also second that
Opera and standards
by HåkonWiumLie ( comments ) March 21, 2005 2:22 PM PST
We share the same goals: having interoperable
implementations of standards. Acid2 will not shield any browser, including Opera.
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CSS2 for IE7 - come on MS, we're praying!
by ( comments ) March 22, 2005 6:17 PM PST
This is a positive campaign that will benefit everyone who works with or uses the internet if it is successful. It will allow designers to focus on designing rather than continuing to write code for specific browsers, which should have ceased to be necessary years ago. We should applaud Hakon Lie for his positive stance - if Microsoft take this to heart, it will regain the respect that it has lost amongst web developers.
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Opera 8b1 for OSX fails the Acid2 test
by papastanley ( comments ) May 12, 2005 5:51 PM PDT
Just tested it with Safari (not RSS/Tiger version) and the Opera 8
b1 (ok it's still preview release) Opera 8 on OS X doesn't pass the
acid test either... note quite as wacky as the Safari render, but
still wack.

Great idea, but shouldn't Opera's browser work with it already?

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Shame on you!!! Opera 8.01 fails the test!!!
by ( comments ) June 26, 2005 1:33 PM PDT
After reading the article I was really convinced that you try to make the world better. After taking the test with Opera 8.01 on Win XP SP2 I have to assume, that you don't follow your own advice. Your software could not pass the exam you developed. Therefore I can treat your article just as a poor anti-MS commercial. That's a pitty.
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I hope they stop using ActiveX
by cdesimoni ( comments ) November 20, 2005 6:41 AM PST
Microsoft said since July 16, 1996 that "ActiveX is currently
supporte on the Windows Operating system. Microsoft is
working with Metrowerks to support ActiveX on the Macintosh
platform, and is also working with Bristol and Mainsoft to
support it on UNIX platforms. Developers who write ActiveX
controls and other ActiveX objects will be able to reach the
widest possible user audience with this cross platform solution."
Microsoft still has not done this and Active X is not compatible
with the Mac. I wish in there new IE7 (even though it will be for
the PC, I wish and hope they do away with ActiveX. It is more of
a security risk anyways. Take a look at .
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