New W3C HTML Working Group chaired by Microsoft

When Tim Berners-Lee announced in October last year that the W3C would charter a new HTML Working Group to reinvent HTML, there was plenty of discussion about what that would actually mean. For the Web, for the WHATWG, who have been working on HTML 5 a.k.a. Web Applications 1.0, for XHTML 2. So this move clearly interested many people.

The new W3C HTML Working Group has been chartered and obviously needs a leader. I haven’t really thought about who that person could be, or what organisation that person would represent. According to the HTML Working Group Charter, the initial chair will be Microsoft’s Chris Wilson. This is confirmed by Chris Wilson in You, me and the W3C (aka Reinventing HTML).


I’ve only met Chris Wilson once, and only exchanged a couple of words with him, so I don’t know him personally at all. From what I can tell about him from reading his blog posts and comments, and from reading what other people’s impressions of him are, I do think he would be a good chair. I have no objections to Chris as a person.

However, I am very uncomfortable with a Microsoft representative being the chair of what is possibly the most important Working Group of the W3C, and definitely the most visible one.

Like Daniel Glazman says in Future of the HTML WG, no employee of any major browser vendor should be allowed to chair this Working Group. In my personal opinion that is especially true for Microsoft, who time and time again has shown a total lack of respect for Web professionals and Web standards, and has no credibility whatsoever among the people who will be using the new HTML specification.

Or maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way. Instead of Microsoft using Chris to control the future of HTML, perhaps Chris can influence Microsoft to really work with the W3C on this, and actually implement the standard they are part of creating? Yes, that would be nice.

Posted on January 17, 2007 in (X)HTML


  1. I don’t mind the possibility. I think if Microsoft uses the position to try to pull anything, people will cry foul, and it won’t go anywhere. Indeed, I think the influence could go one way only: from Chris to Microsoft.

  2. Judging by Chris’s blog post on the topic, it sounds like he has good intentions.

  3. I have to disagree with you (and Daniel) on this one, Roger. Sure, Microsoft has in the past “shown a total lack of respect for Web professionals and Web standards”, but I thought we’d all accepted that the company has changed its attitudes: hence their work on improving support for CSS 2 in IE7, and their involvement with the Web Standards Project. It’s worth noting the Chris has been instrumental in bringing these changes about, to the extent that he has in the past stated that he would leave Microsoft if he thought they were abandoning their commitment to supporting standards.

    Chris Wilson has been involved in such W3C recommendations as DOM Level 1 and DOM Level 2 Style, and himself states that

    I don’t think chairship gives any particular power in a W3C Working Group; I believe it carries the responsibility to get things done, and to be objective about the needs and requirements of the other WG members and the public we serve.

    Chris has extensive knowledge (predating his time at Microsoft) of the needs of browser developers (at whom the W3C HTML WG recommendations are primarily aimed), and also has experience of working with the W3C which would help him in this particular cat-herding exercise.

    I could understand objections to him that are based on his perceived inability to do the job (although nobody has come up with any of these), but to object to him on the basis of his employer seems to me to reflect the kind of paranoia about Microsoft that is more suited to Slashdot than to a meaningful discussion about the direction the W3C should be heading in, and how they should get there. To quote Chris again:

    …the first thing I said to the Chris Lilley of the W3C when he said the new HTML WG was likely to happen and that several of the other W3C staff said they would like me to be Chair was that I wouldn’t even consider it unless the other browser guys thought I was a good choice.

    If the “other browser guys” (what, no gals?) are happy for Chris to take the role, I really don’t see any need for concern. If it helps strengthen his hand in convincing his bosses to support his ongoing work in improving Microsoft’s commitment to web standards, so much the better.

  4. I could see this going either way, really. What I mean is, it could go a long way toward convincing the web development community at large that Microsoft, at least with regards to IE, really has changed their tune through-and-through (following up the mostly successful IE7 with a real, honest-to-goodness effort to effect positive changes elsewhere). Or, it could totally backfire, where past (not-alltogether-without-base) predjudices lead to everyone ignoring Chris’ ideas and input simply because he’s associated with Microsoft.

    And of course, there’s always the third option. E.g., Chris’ ideas are good, taken into account by both the W3C and the community at large, and then simply ignored, or poorly implemented back at Microsoft. From what I’ve heard/read, Microsoft still hasn’t gotten over the fiefdom mentallity, and different departments and employees are constantly at war with one another, rather than working together to get things right, let alone done.

    All that being said, I’ve got something to get off my chest. Why, oh why, did the IE team decide to improve IE’s security, standards, and other innards and, at the same time, introduce a new interface? I’ve lost track of the number of people who are refusing to install IE7 because they don’t want to deal with learning a new, uncustomizable interface. Not because their favorite websites won’t work right. Not because they’re lazy. Simply because they don’t like change. To me, it’s a little like Microsoft threw web developers (and end users) a bone, and then kicked them in the face when they bent down to pick it up.

    End rant.

  5. Looks like Microsoft wants to get new space for monopoly. It seems to be hell…

  6. Better HTML than XHTML (zing!)

  7. January 17, 2007 by DigitaLink

    I don’t see the problem here. He won’t be THE committee, just the guy who takes all the crap that comes flying at the group, and who’s head gets beaten if they go afoul.

    If ANYTHING, having a Microsoft employee in the hot seat will keep everyone’s eyes even MORE peeled for hints of foul play. Remember, this is a COMMITTEE, with lots of reps representing lots of varied interests. And if the proposed spec is horrific, it simply won’t become reality!

    And on another note, the advantage to the patent policy on W3C specs means that even if Microsoft DID somehow manage to weasel something into the spec, they would instantly lose the right to assert any patented work they add. So, I can’t see how this is a really BAD thing.

    Of course, like Chris said, if there’s someone else out there qualified and willing to do the job, they’re welcome to it and he’d step down.

    I think this will generate a lot of hot air and venting just because the word Microsoft is in there. I’ll be shocked if it becomes any kind of problem for the spec.

  8. Is Chris Wilson the guy in charge (or at least the public face) for IE 7? He seemed like good people.

    Does seem weird having Microsoft leading development of HTML at the W3C, but it’s a huge company. I think they’re beyond trying to use HTML as a business weapon.

    I hope the WHAT WG stuff and the W3C stuff all gets integrated into one well-supported whole.

  9. I agree with DigitalLink.

    While I don’t like how Microsoft has treated standards in the past (at all), I have to wonder what everyone expects them to do. At the one turn, people say “show your support for standards!” but when they do, they get lambasted for being involved, like now. At least give the guy a chance before hanging him. You can’t know one man’s intentions (or even a company’s intentions) until you’ve seen him at work for a while. And, as others have mentioned, this also just means people will pay closer attention.

  10. I am not concerned with Chris Wilson/Microsoft as chair. What concerns me are his W3C-Member comments regarding the WHAT WG. I found the tone of his comments dismissive and condescending and, because of that attitude, I am more concerned about the W3C HTML WG and what it may or may not do with the HTML5 recommendations.

  11. I don’t trust Chris Wilson because he has a Microsoft agenda. Therefore, it is a horrible decision to make him chair of this group. In addition, there are other persons, groups and companies who have long shown a willingness and responsibility toward the standards group in the past while Microsoft AND Chris Wilson have not.

  12. I think Chris being the chair can only be good for all. Why? Because Microsoft will not be able to roll out another horrific browser without completely loosing face. There will no longer be any excuses available to them. They know what the standards are because one of their own helped write them. And just like the rest of us their job now will be to properly implement them.

  13. I’m also uncomfortable with a Microsoft employee chairing this position, and disappointed to read this.

    I don’t think MS has earned this privilege, or deserves the positive media accrued from a MS employee being in this position. Like you, I believe that Chris will do the best job he can, but I don’t see a commitment from Microsoft on standards. The company still thinks its calling all the shots. There’s a corporate arrogance to the body politic at that company, and I don’t think we need to feed it, do we?

    Worked with the Web Standards Group? Again, I saw this as more of a public relations move than a legitimate effort to ‘fix’ things. Remember the Bill Gates discussion with the group of webloggers and his response to Molly H. when she raised concerns about IE7? He laughed, said they have ‘innovated’ in the past, and haven’t been as ‘innovative’ as they should be recently.

    Well, here in Missouri, we don’t it innovation, but I can’t say what we do call it in polite company.

    I just spent months working on a book on Ajax, and in almost every single example, I had to do something to make it work with IE, either 6.x or 7. The company has done better with IE7? Better than what? Instead of being 50% out of whack, it’s only 40%? What commitment has the company made for all the folks still using Windows 2000 and other ‘non-supported’ operating systems? We’re now stuck with the legacy of IE 6.x for possibly years, because the company still is hooking IE into the OS, and it’s only providing IE7 for WindowsXP and Vista.

    I also agree that a neutral party would be better as lead in this effort. How about people who have been working on this problem all along? If it does need to be a browser company, I’d rather see someone from Opera.

  14. Nick has stated it quite well.

    This has nothing to do with Microsoft exerting it’s power over the spec or committee process and trying to take over the world. Microsoft has been heavily involved in previous standards development and it is obvious that they cannot simply subvert it (nor do I believe they ever tried to, maliciously). In fact, having 90+% of the browser market has demonstrated that even having a near de facto standard couldn’t subvert the W3C standard.

    This is about someone, a person, a human being, who has been through the process before, understands it intimately, and understands the needs of everybody involved in that process. I commend Chris’s level-headedness in what I can only imagine being a stressful position, taking the brunt of the onslaught of the web dev community furor.

  15. Chris WIlson has a reply for the onslaught of the web dev community furor.

  16. I prefer modular XML/XHTML2 to the stuff I’ve seen so far. Because basically. To me. It looks like crap.

    Don’t get me wrong, I welcome the public discussion about hypertext markup (and my god, it’s late!) and also the good intentions - but I don’t anticipate but a mediocre, loose recommendation that I’d never possibly use nor recommend anyone using.

  17. Just a minor fix on your post

    You said: “The new W3C HTML Working Group has been chartered and obviously needs a leader.”

    The charters of the new HTML Working Groups are being discussed and not yet adopted. The discussion is open until Friday, then a decision will be taken with regards to the comments which have been made. Once everyone agree on the content and the form, the WG can be started.

  18. January 18, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Karl: My mistake. Thanks for clarifying that.

  19. I think it’s difficult to say at this stage whether the appointment will have any negative effect at the W3C. Time will tell but I really hope it doesn’t. However with regard to Microsoft changing their ways, their recent announcement about CSS support for emails in Outlook 2007 doesn’t fill me with faith.

  20. I suppose I agree with some of the comments on this post that the most important thing to consider when heading up a commitee such as this would be leadership skills. No great decisions can be made without the approval of the rest of the commitee; so it’s not greatly important if an agenda is present.

    However, having seen Chris Wilson speak at events in the UK, his views on web standards during the development of IE7 seemed to be that they’d catered for their customers needs more than that of adheering to web standards.

    Understandable but not useful to the development community. I fear that having Chris Wilson as chair, or in fact any member of any browser vendor, will eventually lead to the web standards being bent to suit the only the majority of the market, rather than sticking to the spirit of web standards and making it accessible to everybody.

    We could all be proven wrong though, it could have a positiive influence on the development of browsers over at Microsoft.

    Don’t cross your fingers though, Microsoft don’t offer progressive browser updates like Mozilla do with FireFox, and updates are usually in 2-5 year increments.

  21. January 18, 2007 by Marjorie

    I completely understand why everyone is outraged at the idea that Microsoft might be steering the development of any web standards, what with the experiences we all have across their product range. And I hate their product range. Hate, hate, hate.

    But I agree entirely with Nick Fitzsimmons and Jonathan Snook: Chris Wilson is a person of undeniable experience who is not, after all, personally responsible for all of Microsoft’s faults. And he will be one man on a large group. Yes, he’s the chair, but my experience of working on government committees is that one person cannot steer a group away from its consensus. That power rests with the person who takes the minutes or, in this case, edits the HTML 5 spec.

    Equally, as I think it’s likely that most who have commented do not know Chris Wilson personally, I think it’s invidious to accuse him of even having an agenda which would be diametrically opposed to all the other group members. Having read his blog responses to Daniel’s statements, he seems like an intelligent, capable and even-handed man who does, in fact, agree that your employer’s views should not interfere with your responsibilities to the group:

    I believe any chair should be, in effect, dropping their affiliation to perform those duties.

    Given the debacle of WCAG 2.0, surely the most important thing is not who the chair is, but that the group conducts its business in a public manner, so that the wider standards community can comment before anything is set in stone?

  22. January 18, 2007 by Simon

    Well i see it the way that if a microsoft dude is on that team … then we are saved .. simply because then we would finally have an standpoint. I dont care if mozilla, the ie7 og w3c makes up that standpoint, but i do care about everyone agreeing, im sick and tired of making exceptions for this and that browser - its hell! Every browser should render html, css, xhtml etc exactly alike on any OS, regardless of who made it.

    Im mostly a firefox man, simply because it renders my html and css proberly, but maybe this approach will cause IE to do better - i hope.

  23. Do we need XHTML 2.0 ??

  24. Would someone (another post perhaps Roger?) mind making (some) sense of this HTML5 vs. XHTML 2.0 mess?

    What I don’t quite understand is why would you want to continue developing HTML if the goals are pretty much the same.

  25. And, Sufin’ Safari HTML Standards Process Returning from the Grave has this,

    “Those of us on the Safari team have asked Apple’s AC Representative to submit feedback on these proposed charters.”

    which includes

    “We request that the charter call for a formal relationship with Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), even though the group itself is informal.”

  26. “Equally, as I think it’s likely that most who have commented do not know Chris Wilson personally, I think it’s invidious to accuse him of even having an agenda which would be diametrically opposed to all the other group members.”

    I don’t know about others, but my concerns have nothing to do with Chris Wilson as an individual. I’m sure he’d be an excellent group leader. Just as I’m sure he’s not the only person capable of filling such a role.

    Chris Wilson has to accept some responsibility for his company’s continuing to hinder web design and development. One of the effects of this is, we assume, that he must be so busy trying to get Microsoft to clean up its act that he doesn’t really have time to take on this additional task. I would think if standards are important to him, he has other priorities.

    To basically reward the company that has caused more problems than any other single company in this regard is a slap in the face of all people who work in this medium. This is just another example of how completely out of touch the W3C is.

  27. Absolutely agree with Shelley. Chris Wilson should voluntarily drop out of this ‘run for the chair’ altogether as he, and his company, are not wanted or trusted.

  28. January 18, 2007 by Circlefusion

    I can understand why Chris might want to become the chair. It could become the litmus test of whether or not Microsoft’s new browser agenda is truly standards based. I have the impression of Chris that he personally is a standards advocate and that his main job focus is in persuading his bosses to accept a plan toward standards compliance. So he is evidently one of the good guys. The downside would be if the litmus test returned false and Chris ended up as just a pawn of Microsoft’s false “open standards” scheme (like with their Open XML file specification). However, I don’t believe the W3C would stand for a chairperson that pushed a non-standards agenda, especially if that chairperson worked for a controversial company like Microsoft. They would be scrutinized pretty heavily.

    Then again, especially with the controversy surrounding Microsoft, perhaps having a Microsoft rep as a chairperson isn’t necessary. As long as Microsoft has a representative in the group, that is a sign that Microsoft may respect the purpose of the W3C group and web standards.

  29. January 18, 2007 by Isaac Lin

    Rob, Chris stated on his blog that he would rather not be the chair, would not serve if the major browser manufacturers objected, and would step aside for any other person preferred by the W3C. As for not wanting a major browser supplier to be represented, this would belie the open nature of the HTML standard.

  30. Interesting post, really. I have objections against any browser vendor chair of the HTML Working Group … would it be any better if it was a (or another) Mozilla representative, honestly? Would there be enough trust, basically?

  31. Isaac, “If nominated I will not run and if elected I will not serve.” I get it.

    If Chris doesn’t want to do it then he should withdraw his name for consideration.

    I don’t know if I have a problem with a browser maker being the chair. I have a problem with the representative of an untrustworthy company being the chair. Microsoft has spoken out against W3C standards in the past and does the poorest job of implementing them now. It makes sense to me to have a chairperson who is, and has been, an advocate of the W3C.

  32. From my point of view a W3C HTML Working Group is like parliament, something that says what the rules are. As far as I know there is no way to be a businessman and a member of parliament at the same time. Same rules should be applied for W3C. I totally disagree with your last paragraph, Roger and I do not believe that this can work. But what can we do..

  33. January 20, 2007 by Isaac Lin

    Rob, the W3C asked Chris to be chair because they felt he was well qualified and a suitable choice. It’s sort of like the scenario where your head of government asks you to serve in a high-level government position: you feel a certain duty to show appreciation for the trust that has been placed in you, and so are willing to take on a role that may be somewhat burdensome that others feel you are well equipped to handle for the good of the community. Now if the key stakeholders would object to working with Chris as chair (one of the caveats Chris has stated), then another chair would probably be more effective.

    Rafal, the speaker of the House of Commons in Canadian Parliamentary tradition is elected from the members. The elected speaker steps down from his/her partisan duties and assumes the role of speaker. This is somewhat similar in nature; Chris will forego his role as Microsoft representative to be the chair.

  34. Yeah I had blogged about this a few days ago too, and previously too (see my site URL). It’s interesting, and Chris’ involvement with the Web Standard’s project is probably the biggest saving grace — he’s quite involved in the community and what is going on out here. He’s also spoken openly about his involvement in implementing bad things (incorrectly nested tags) and good (uh, CSS, IE3) in IE.

    While his company has been the bane of the Web designer, he’s committed to standards.

    Double-edged sword I guess — Microsoft’s history vs. his positions. I say give him a shot, but only time will tell.

    Maybe the charter should have stricter rules in it about vendor involvement and grounds for replacement.

  35. unless html5 is going to add a standard rich textbox, I don’t care. HTML4 seems to work ok.

  36. Hi, my site is in xhtml1.1 & 1.0, I have all my pages valid according to the w3 standards, but why is that itself has few invalid pages, over 10 pages.

  37. Hmmm.

    I actually have a huge amount of respect for Chris Wilson. He does his bit to interact with the web developer community, knowing that there will be an onslaught of grief every time he posts something. Of course Microsoft does deserve the grief that is given - their almost total ignorance of web standards would be pretty damn funny if it didn’t cost me time and money on a daily basis.

    Anyway, I think Chris has enough on his plate trying to get IE7 to a point where it resembles something that is compliant with today’s standards. I think once IE is competitive in this area, Microsoft/Chris can then look at how they can support standards that don’t yet exist.

  38. March 12, 2007 by Ken Kuhns

    Anyone who thinks those ‘good ole boys’ at Redmond are saying “Gee, we wouldn’t dream of influencing W3C standards,” has his head in a place where the sun doesn’t shine. Anyone who believes that is clueless about why for-profit corporations participate in a standards group in the first place, and the important role of ANY chairman of ANY team.

    No matter how great Chris Wilson may be, intellectually or personally, his allegiance must lie with the company that pays his salary — the same company that uses any tactic to dominate and control everything that’s computer and destroy anything that gets in its way.

    The W3C has already placated Microsoft with bloated standards that include those that were created by the giant in the first place to create browser incompatibilities. The chairman of ANY committee should NOT come from a competive browser company, especially one that has clearly demonstrated it’s disregard for standards, ruthlessness with competition, and lack of customer concern!

    The W3C might as well become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Microsoft. The good ole boys at Redmond are one step closer to ‘owning the internet’. HTML standards are moving closer to hell, and Bill is laughing all the way to the bank!

  39. March 18, 2007 by John Kent

    A few misconceptions here:

    1) W3C does not produce standards but specifications. Quite a difference for whoever understands.

    2) Microsoft people in the W3C=no good. Oracle, Apple, Nestcape, Realnetworks (..and so on) people in the W3C=good. This is quite laughable. W3C is a CONSORTIUM and his members always represented commercial interests. Nothing new.

    3) Microsoft “demonstrated it’s disregard for standards, ruthlessness with competition, and lack of customer concern!” Well, customers are so disappointed that they keep representing over 90% of the PC market. Please.

    4) So called “compliant” browsers are not quite compliant, it’s not only IE7.

    As developpers we’ve had enough trouble trying to make something working properly all these years. To me, anyone trying to contribute is welcome, independently from the company he works for. Please don’t misunderstand me: Microsoft definitely has its load of responsibilities. But let’s stop fighting, this won’t help any of us.

  40. March 29, 2007 by Mike

    John Kent on 03-18-2007…. PERFECT! Thanks, couldnt have said it better.

  41. Hey, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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