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How Suite It Is

When Microsoft took the initiative to correct the problem created by the absence of a test suite, it chose not to act alone, instead inviting its competitors and an outside group (WaSP) to participate in the standards-based effort. Just as significantly, those competitors and that outside group jumped at the chance. The work was submitted free of patent or royalty encumbrance, with resulting or derivative works to be wholly owned by the W3C. Neither Microsoft nor its competitors attempted to make a dime for their trouble.

In the ordinary scheme of things, Microsoft is not known for considering what's best for AOL/Netscape, nor is the latter company overly concerned with helping Microsoft—and neither wastes many brain cells figuring out what's good for Opera. And these companies didn't go into business to lose money on selfless ventures. Yet here they all were, acting in concert for the good of the web, and focusing, not on some fancy new proprietary technology, but on humble HTML 4.

Ignored by the trade press, the quiet event signifies a sea change. We've come a long way from the days when browser makers focused on “our browser only” technologies at the expense of web standards and web users and in hopes of spoiling the market for their competitors. Browser makers still innovate, of course, and they still hope you'll choose their product over a competitor's. But their newfound willingness to work together shows how deeply they are committed to interoperability via web standards and how greatly the industry has changed from the days of the browser wars (1996–1999).

Don't Believe the Hype

From time to time, newspapers and trade journals seize on some shift in the browser market to declare that the browser wars have reopened. It happened in June 2002, when AOL switched its CompuServe users from an IE-based browser to a Mozilla/Netscape-based one. “Shift in Web Market Upsets Developers!” shrilled the trade journals. “Browser Wars II!” shrieked the business sections of consumer newspapers. Similar press screeches resounded a few months later, when AOL switched its Mac OS X users to a Gecko-based browser. Don't believe the hype.

In today's news economy, editors must sell papers if they want to hold onto their jobs. Crisis and conflict always outsell reasoned reportage, and tabloid instincts have little to do with the dull, pragmatic truth. Regardless of occasional shifts in market share, the browser wars are behind us, and no editor's wish can bring them back.

The web will be built on the bedrock of technologies discussed in this book and supported by all major browsers. AOL/Netscape and Microsoft will still skirmish from time to time, but competition between them has largely shifted from the realm of the browser to arenas that need not concern us (with the exception of FrontPage, discussed next).

The Web Comes of Age

Although not as miraculous (or as important) as a U.N. peace plan, the “set of HTML tests” quietly presented to W3C by Microsoft and its staunchest business foes signals a permanent shift in the way the web will move forward. When competitors cooperate in this way, it's a sign that the medium they serve has come of age.

The same thing happens in any mature industry. Record companies that hate each other will band together peaceably to present a new industry standard or to ward off perceived threats to their livelihood (such as peer-to-peer music file sharing on the Net). That Microsoft, AOL/Netscape, and Opera can work together tells us that the web has matured. What brought them together (a W3C test suite) tells us why the maturation has come. Our medium has grown up because of the standards discussed in this book.

We can anticipate more cooperation and increased support for standards in the years to come. We can also relax, knowing that sites built to standards will continue to work in these manufacturer's browsers today, tomorrow, or 10 years from now. Their joint actions prove they're as committed to forward compatibility as any designer or site owner could hope.

As yet another example of a browser maker's commitment to supporting standards, Netscape funds a small team of standards evangelists whose mission is to work for improved standards in the browser and on websites and who publish cross-browser solutions based on open standards, not “best viewed in Netscape” or other proprietary fixes.

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