Bill Gates on Web standards: Huh?

In December, Molly E. Holzschlag had the opportunity to talk to Bill Gates for a few minutes. She used that time to ask Bill a few questions about Microsoft’s commitment to implementing Web standards in their products: Who Questions Bill Gates’ Commitment to Web Standards?.

Judging by his answers, Bill Gates does not really know what Web standards are, or why they are important. Not very surprising, but a bit disappointing. It would have been fantastic if he had been able to give straight, honest, and positive answers to Molly’s questions. Especially considering that the new W3C HTML Working Group will be chaired by Microsoft.

Microsoft seems extremely concerned about providing tools that make things easy for application programmers. Why is it so hard for them to realise that Web developers are also important?

Bill tries to belittle those who are skeptical about Microsoft and Web standards:

How can they be skeptical? I guess if your job is to be skeptical, you’d hate to be out of a job!

No, Bill, that is not why people are skeptical. They are skeptical because they find it hard to believe that the richest company in the world can’t afford to make a Web browser whose Web standards support matches that of browsers created by non-profit organisations, open source projects, and one man bands.

Posted on January 18, 2007 in Quicklinks, Web Standards

Comments

  1. I know, it’s terrible to say, but their success shows that they don’t need to be concerned about web standards.

    The vast majority of (non-tech) people I deal with don’t have the slightest idea what web standards are. And the vast majority of tech-people I deal with every day - while knowing that something like web standards exists - have no idea about the benefits of semantic markup, microformats (if they have heard about them at all) and standards. Accessibility is a dirty word for most.

    In fact, it’s easy for us to think we already won the web standards war and that there are only a few bad companies (like Microsoft) impeding the triumphal procession of standards. The people we know, the blogs we read all know about web standards and implement them, but they are not the majority of internet users. The reality is very different. I work for a big web design company and we still produce brand new websites which use tables for layouts and have accessibility issues that make me wince every single day.

    I think the most important thing we have to do is not giving up and not being blind to the problem. We need to give people an incentive to accept web standards. Our best selling argument is that web standards mean we can produce sites quicker, cheaper and more search engine friendly. While this is not the main reason to use web standards, it’s a reason that sells to less technically inclined people. And of course we can spend a little bit of time just educating others.

  2. From the interview:

    “What did we do in 1995? What did we do in 1996? What did we do in 1997…”

    Does Gates realise he’s referencing things Microsoft did TEN YEARS AGO? No one is arguing that during the “browser wars” Microsoft was a great innovator, but that sort of commitment almost completely stopped.

    This interview is just another indicator that Microsoft is woefully out-of-touch with reality.

  3. I don’t know why it came as such a surprise to hear that Bill is largely ignorant of web standards. What is it with becoming powerful that immediately necessitates a disregard for uncomfortable truths? I think IT executives, Bill most of all, need to cultivate a bit of humility. After all, it is the tempestuous climate of radically changing technology that brought about his rise to power. You would then think it would follow that he (and others like him) would pay attention to current changes instead of remaining stagnant in his static world of denial and his false sense of pious, market-leading, technological advancement. Where is that naive curiosity and quick adoption/exploitation of current trends that yielded such opportunity that was the impetus for his success?

    I grow didactic…

  4. January 18, 2007 by Andrew

    Eat a dick, Bill.

  5. January 18, 2007 by BillyG

    BEST SENTENCE OF THE DECADE!!!!

    “No, Bill, that is not why people are skeptical. They are skeptical because they find it hard to believe that the richest company in the world can’t afford to make a Web browser whose Web standards support matches that of browsers created by non-profit organisations, open source projects, and one man bands.”

  6. While I respect the guy, I must say that arrogance is what is killing Microsoft.

    Their idea of ‘I can do whatever I want, the way I want to because our product is the one that is used the most’ is soooo last century.

    I, for one, got fed up with it and while I still develop stuff on Microsoft-based systems (for a living), there’s two Macs at home and enjoying the ride, every single time. =)

  7. Alexander Graf:

    The vast majority of (non-tech) people I deal with don’t have the slightest idea what web standards are.

    Non-tech people don’t need to know what web standards are, any more than I need to know what telephony standards are to use a telephone. But if telephone companies don’t respect standards, I’m going to have a much harder time buying a phone that works in my home.

    If web standards are respected and adopted by software creators and web developers, the user will benefit from them without having to know anything about them.

    But Microsoft has shown that their attitude is “dominate the market and become the de facto standard.” Of course Gates doesn’t see the value of standards; they don’t help him pursue a monopoly position.

  8. January 18, 2007 by Alex G

    This is stupid.

    Ignorance that comes out of the Firefox camp sometimes is not even amuzing.

    Has any of you considered what would happen to thousands of enteprise applications web, and otherwise, that were based on IE? Imagine MS suddenly becomes compliant and relases IE8 that is fully compliant. How many millions and millions of dollars will this cost to their business partners to update all applications deployed?

    MS gets nothing out of regular folk using IE. Money comes from entrprise, and that’s what they have to accomodate and think about first.

    The whole “richest company in the world can’t afford” line really goes to show how little understanding there is about what’s involved in introducing major BREAKING changes to an application deployed and used on such a scale as IE.

  9. January 18, 2007 by Matthew Smith

    Do you really think that Bill Gates should care about an implementation detail as small (in the scope of things) as web standards? Really? He gave Molly a direct and simple answer, that he delegated that responsibility. You are both arrogant and naive if you think that web standards is extremely important outside your little world.

  10. January 18, 2007 by Marcello

    I agree with Alex G. The company I work for has a number of enterprise applications based on IE, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when they continued to perform flawlessly on IE7. And since most of my freelance work is standards-compliant web design, I was thrilled to see that IE7 had taken such a huge leap forward. I think Microsoft is doing a surprisingly good job of accomodating both camps.

  11. Hey, Alex G., thanks for raising a point that apologists raise every six months or so. The answer is “DOCTYPE switching.” Like IE5 had. On Mac.

    Anyway, the problem wasn’t the answers, it was the questions. I suppose it is purely accidental that a blogger with a journalism background wasn’t invited. Or this one wasn’t.

  12. I am not surprised that Bill Gates doesn’t know a whole lot about Web Standards. I didn’t expect him to at all, actually I think he knows very little details about a lot of the Microsoft products or if they meet standards or not. What I would expect Bill Gates to know a lot about is business and his knowledge is probably a lot deeper when it comes to some of the products, that Microsoft actually makes money out of! Take MS Office - they make a lot of money from that product, and they have some serious competition with the OpenOffice movement, so surely he is more interested in that product than IE - he doesn’t lose any money if the whole world changed to Firefox or Safari. Actually, he would save some, as he could fire the whole IE team..

    As much as I dislike IE (which is not a lot - it’s a decent browser), I would never hold Bill Gates responsible for it. He is the CEO of one of the most succesful companies in the world, so why would he change a thing?

  13. Wow, impressive! He doesn’t have a cue about anything and just appears to be upset about the whole ‘standards’ thing. Standards are not to be implemented by Microsoft, but are to be invented and crafted by Microsoft and then ‘given’ to others (like you’d give a dog a bone).

    Apparently the web did stop in the last century for Gates. They did and gave their best at that time. But they stopped, and so did the web. He’s just unable to imagine — or refuses to admit — others did better since. But does he even care?

    How the hell can we stop being skeptical in these conditions? I do hope Dean is a better thinker than Gates and does a great job. If not, I wouldn’t even be skeptical: I’d know for sure there’d be nothing to wait for (sorry, no more bones, come back in a decade).

    Note: I do agree with him when he says that scripting is just starting to be used. Most of the web applications we use today could have already been created in the late 90’s, since all the great apps do run on IE6 (and even IE5 for some). But is that a good reason to blindly rely on what happened a decade ago? It’s absurd.

    BTW, I love your last sentence!

  14. Wow, this has got a few people fired up.

    I think the people with the “Microsoft are making billions, so Bill doesn’t need to worry about a browser that doesn’t make $” attitude have a point, but …

    They could also learn a lot from web standards principles - interoperability, the semantic web, microformats and so on. Bill has been talking about every electronic device in the house being web-enabled and connected for years, and surely a clean standards approach would be a nice step towards this goal.

    That said, with the $ at their disposal they can usually afford to sit back, let others take the risk and then come over the top. I remember a surreal speech when working there (Microsoft in Dublin) years ago along the lines of “we don’t know what this technology is yet, but we’ve decided we will dominate it.”

    Worth remembering too that if Microsoft weren’t the big company to rail against, there’d be another - once upon a time they were the cool upstart looking to usurp IBM. Google, take note …

    Enjoy the weekend all ;o)

  15. They are skeptical because they find it hard to believe that the richest company in the world can’t afford to make a Web browser whose Web standards support matches that of browsers created by non-profit organisations, open source projects, and one man bands.

    Hear hear. My biggest concern, however, is not the browser, but the microsoft developer tools and their lack of focus on webstandards.

    (yes, recent support for xhtml validation does not make your tools entirely focused on webstandards)

    I have seen recent books bought by colleagues at work, where every piece of HTML is table based layouts, FONT tags, etc.

    So there might be a commitment on the strategic level, but it’s very badly executed.

  16. Just added a comment on my blog about the lack of web standards support in microsofts web developer tools: justaddwater: Micsosoft’s commitment to web standards

  17. Hi

    I totally disagree with your post. I’m not a web designer, i’m a programmer. but in our company ours web designers are testing the new Expression tools made up by microsoft and all i’ve saw until now show me the opposite of what you’re talking. don’t know if you know these tools but if not: http://www.microsoft.com/expression all the generated code is totally XHTML 1.1 valid, following the w3c web standards and using css classes. what show that microsoft it is concerned with web standards and designers…

    but…this is just my opinnion…

  18. I’ll probably write a post on my own blog just to collect comments on this topic. Especially since I’m highly interested in the webstandards development, microformats and semantics in general. Shortly I will be joining a university workgroup on semantics in general - a radical change of my workfield - so this interests me even more. In the meantime however, the answers to a few of your replies:

    Tim Hettler

    This interview is just another indicator that Microsoft is woefully out-of-touch with reality.

    Actually, they are very much in touch with reality. Read my comment. We are out of touch with reality. We think we have won a war when instead we only have won one battle. We need to educate more, change the way the web works.

    Really, who cares if IE is standards compliant at this point? We need to make people - non-tech people - aware of what they lose if their favorite browser doesn’t support,… say Microformats.

    Cris

    Non-tech people don’t need to know what web standards are, any more than I need to know what telephony standards are to use a telephone.

    They don’t need to know what web standards are but theey need to know what they gain when everyone supports those standards.

    But if telephone companies don’t respect standards, I’m going to have a much harder time buying a phone that works in my home.

    Do you honestly believe that phone companies respect any standards? Your mobile phone doesn’t adhere to the GSM/UMTS/EDGE/whatever standard. It merely supports the bare minimum the relevant standard requires. But that’s pretty much it. There are more proprietary extensions to telephone standards that you can count.

    Joe Clark

    Hey, Alex G., thanks for raising a point that apologists raise every six months or so. The answer is “DOCTYPE switching.” Like IE5 had. On Mac.

    Hey Joe, nice to ‘see’ you here. Funny, I’ve often used your points in discussions with co-workers although I never actually talked to you. The internet is a strange place sometimes.

    Anyway, I guess I misunderstood your comment or you misunderstood me (my English is a bit rusty, so that might be a problem). I wasn’t arguing against web standards, quite to the contrary, I’m a very strong supporter of standards and accessibility. I fail to see how Doctype switching would be an answer to the problem I mentioned.

    Currently, non-tech people don’t see a reason for web-standards. It’s something ‘those geeks’ have. Why would an ordinary user switch to Firefox? Internet Explorer is available and does everything they need. No reason to switch. What will we have to do to make them see the problem we see? How do we get people to care about accessibility. We might be able to sell standards compliant websites to customers if we do freelance work. But how do we reach say 75% of internet users? I’d say the answer is education. But as a said, I probably a misunderstood your reply :-)

    Ian Stalvies

    I think the people with the “Microsoft are making billions, so Bill doesn’t need to worry about a browser that doesn’t make $” attitude have a point, but … They could also learn a lot from web standards principles - interoperability, the semantic web, microformats and so on. Bill has been talking about every electronic device in the house being web-enabled and connected for years, and surely a clean standards approach would be a nice step towards this goal.

    This is exactly the point I tried to make in my comment. We see this as a nice step towards this goal. I highly doubt it is the perfect step at this point. Why support standards and allow interoperability when you can sell say 3 products to a customer and then reveal to them, that if they also wants to make their fridge web-enabled and make it work with their current Microsoft-only setup, they would also have to buy the Microsoft-Web-Enable-My-Fridge-Toolkit for only US$ 499,-. No better way to generate income.

  19. As much as I’m sure the folks at Microsoft who made IE7 wanted to make it fully standards-compliant (they’re people, too), they ultimately have to do what management wants. Microsoft’s value in IE is not in the public browser market (i.e., Mom & Dad using IE to surf the Web), but in commercial app writers being able to embed the browser in their apps or use it in their systems. That is where IE7 development was likely focused, so that is where the engineering dollars went. If IE7 development helps Mom & Dad, too, then so much the better. Unfortunately, Microsoft probably focused very heavily on making sure people’s web apps didn’t break with the new IE and so the public suffers for it.

    As for Bill Gates, I’d be willing to bet that he’s not had much to do with IE development since the days of IE4, when was popular. Besides, Mr. Gates has always been about “embrace and extend”, not following standards. His Microsoft has always been about taking standards and making them proprietary. Plus, he’s been busy with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Who has time for web standards when you do that?

    It just goes to show that more needs to be done to turn people to other browsers. My entire immediate family now uses Firefox and other friends use Firefox or Opera. Basically, with the extensibility of Firefox and the power of Opera, there’s no reason Mom & Dad should still be using IE any more.

  20. The whole “richest company in the world can’t afford” line really goes to show how little understanding there is about what’s involved in introducing major BREAKING changes to an application deployed and used on such a scale as IE.

    So, because Microsoft screwed up (made a browser that didn’t conform to standards), then convinced every one of their developers to screw up (write sites specifically for that browser), every web designer should suffer for the rest of time? I think the amount of money spent on every designer that has to go back and fix designs in IE for the rest of time would be far less than the amount of money it would cost for the enterprise customers to fix their apps. So, our clients are the ones that subsidize Microsoft’s mistakes. Seems to me like Microsoft ought to. It might not make business sense, but if Bill wants to get rid of the skeptics, he’ll have to have is programmers fix the problems.

    Frankly, with their track record regarding the lack of interoperability of PlaysForSure and the Zune, Microsoft isn’t interested in the slightest about screwing over their enterprise customers. I don’t think that argument really holds up anymore.

  21. Awesome feedback. Keep it coming my dears.

    Love/<

  22. We should put a tax on IE users.

    Whenever I develop a site I create the first version using standards compliant code which looks great in Safari and Firefox. I then have to spend a huge amount of time finding workarounds to get the site to look the same in IE. Why should I have to pay for this?

    If the site is an ecommerce site then why not pass the extra development cost onto the people that are using IE. Explain that they have two options, a link to firefox and a shopping cart with the advertised price or they can shop using IE and pay a 10% TAX to cover the extra work required to make the site compatible with the non standards compliant browser.

    If enough sites did this how long do you think it would take Microsoft to make IE standards compliant? It would also open Joe public’s eyes to this problem. It has already been shown time and time again that fining Microsoft directly doesn’t work, but fining their users (or giving them a choice) may have an effect.

  23. TC!

    Whenever I develop a site I create the first version using standards compliant code which looks great in Safari and Firefox. I then have to spend a huge amount of time finding workarounds to get the site to look the same in IE. Why should I have to pay for this?

    Because it’s probably your job to create a website for the client which works in all major browsers, not a website that is compliant to web standards.

    As much as I would have wanted to, I’ve never been able to get a client to sign a contract which allows me to deliver a site which is fully standards compliant but breaks horribly in Internet Explorer.

    We’re stuck with that until we can force everyone to be standards compliant.

  24. Bill: No, no but eventually a question has to be answerable. What did we do in 1995? What did we do in 1996? What did we do in 1997 … you can skip like three years and say we did nothing. We didn’t do anything proprietary, either! That’s criticizing not our intent, our strategy, that’s criticizing our execution and we fully accept that.

    Ok, so I’m criticizing Microsoft’s execution (and might even like to see a real execution when it comes to what Microsoft has delivered for the web). Does it help that Bill accept criticism on this point? All we get is more of the same anyway, so how about that execution..?

  25. January 19, 2007 by JEREMY BROWN

    Do you guys honestly think Microsoft isn’t making any money out of IE? I think it is just there to support his other products and services, namely MSN, Windows Live etc. If Bill doesn’t know anything about Web standards it is time he did…

  26. Alexander, if IE was standards compliant then writing for all major browsers and writing for standards compliance would be the same thing. IE is the only major browser which is not standards compliant. Because of their dominance there are two sets of people who suffer, the web developers who are forced to cover all bases and the users of other browsers who suffer from sites tailored for the dominant non compliant browser.

    If you hit users in their pocket with a real choice of a standards compliant browser or paying towards making a site work with their choice of browser then you will see people choose a standards compliant browser.

    The blame for this mess has to fall at Microsoft’s feet. IE is the only browser which doesn’t allow two versions of it to run at the same time because of how it is tied to the operating system. If microsoft made it possible for people to have 2 copies of IE installed then there would be no concerns of old sites breaking when people update to a new standards compliant version of IE. They could just fall back to the previous version for those sites.

  27. You know, that is not so simple, as it seems to be. They are making things, which are monopoly spread all over the world and everybody must make itself flexible to their products. Beggining a day, when Microsoft buy a W3C, web standarts will become important. No sooner. After, they will develop their own specification and develop their web browser based on their rendring core respecting their rules… No sooner…

  28. I think the discussion is very relevant, but using the interview with Bill Gates is a silly. How could you except Bill Gates to know about html, css etc. He’s the chairman of the board (yes, of the worlds biggest software company, but imagine how many technologies he should know of then!). Try to ask Steve Jobs about Web standards or Larry Eliasson - I think it would be just as embarrasing (both of them CEOs of big software makers that either produces browsers and/or a lot of web software).

    And MS Tools is much improved. Visual Studio 2003 was a catastrophe, but 2005 is a giant improvement. It actually generates proper code, uses code view as default (2003 used design view so a lot of people never looked at the code - yikes!) and it does generate valid xhtml out of the box. ASP.NET can even run in a mode where non compliant pages will return a server error, which is very neat for testing.

    And Microsoft does a lot to push this. Scott Guthrie (respossible for .net tools) and he’s team is doing a lot to improve and just as much in listning to critisism through their blogs and improved controls etc. A huge problem is the developer legacy in the MS consultancy world. MS has actually changed a lot, but there’s a huge bunch of MS consultants (I guess you can recognize some colleagues here) who used to do Visual Basic stuff and now does web apps. Some of them are writing books - and judging from that angle, boy, being a good software developer doesn’t means understanding web standards.

    Don’t mix this with IE team etc. I also think they’re aware that IE7 wasn’t good enough in some areas (and have been quite open about what they would support and not through blogs). They’ve also begun IE8 already, thank good.

    It seems like the whole web standard movement are so focused on having an “enemy”, that they don’t see the shift that’s actually happening inside Microsoft. Anyone who just follows a couple of MS blogs wouldn’t doubt.

  29. TC!

    Alexander, if IE was standards compliant then writing for all major browsers and writing for standards compliance would be the same thing. IE is the only major browser which is not standards compliant.

    I’m not disagreeing with you. Of course, Internet Explorer supporting webstandards would be one of the greatest things. However, for the moment, we are paid to create sites that even work in this fossil of a web browser.

    If you hit users in their pocket with a real choice of a standards compliant browser or paying towards making a site work with their choice of browser then you will see people choose a standards compliant browser.

    I don’t think this will work. Every company knows that > 70% of their clients still use IE. So you will have to cater for IE users or forget the contract.

    My point still holds I think. It’s not necessary to bully people to use a standards compliant browser. You need to educate everyone on webstandards and what they lose when using IE.

  30. January 20, 2007 by QMccoy

    Bravo. That last statement about no-profit organizations is brilliant. Come on Bill, time to see the light.

  31. Giving people a choice between a standards-compliant browser, or paying for the site to work in ‘their choice of browser’ is just going to cause them to go buy ‘x’ product somewhere else.

    I don’t think any of us sell, or have clients that sell, a product that is unique to our little web application, among the billions of little web applications that exist. If I were given that choice, and were not a web designer, I would simply go find another site that sold my desired product or service. It’s just common sense. The fact of the matter is, business on the web will always have to account for the most common denominator, whether that is a horrible browser or a great one.

  32. Just my two cents, but I’m skeptical that Bill Gates’ opinions or ignorance of a particular part of the computer software field have much bearing on what Microsoft will do next. M$ has a lot of very sharp people who seem to have a great deal of independent decision making power in their own fields of research.

    I would be more interested in hearing the same questions posed to a more appropriate member of the M$ leadership team.

  33. Why should he be worried about web standards, he is a business man. Web standards is not going to add to his billions. If there is huge money involved, I am sure he will know it!

  34. January 29, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    No, Bill Gates doesn’t really have to have any extensive knowledge of Web standards or any other specifics. But he also should not pretend that he knows what he is talking about. He could have told Molly that “Sorry, I don’t really know enough to answer that question.”

  35. Folks, you are all barking at the wrong tree. It’s not his job to be informed about web standards. On the other hand, I talked to people from core W3C working groups who had no clue what this “Web Standards Project” thing (aka WaSP aka webstandards.org) was that I was refering to. Go figure…

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