A web standards advocate has told Bill Gates that Microsoft's secrecy over the next version of Internet Explorer has alienated web developers.
Relations between developers and designers, and the team working on the upgrade to Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0 have become increasingly rocky, but developers' simmering discontent has recently boiled over. In comments attached to posts on the Microsoft blog dedicated to the browser, developers have chastised Microsoft for not following through on browser upgrade promises, for not supporting crucial web standards, and most of all, for not keeping them in the loop.
Molly Holzschlag, one of 10 influential bloggers who met with the Microsoft chairman this week, pressed the company's chairman to explain why the IE information spigot had been turned off. "Something seems to have changed where there is no messaging now for the last six months to a year going out on the IE team," Holzschlag said, according to a transcript she posted on her blog. "They seem to have lost the transparency that they had. "This conversation [between web developers and the IE team] seems to have been pretty much shut down, and I'm very concerned as to why that is."
"I'll have to ask [IE general manager] Dean [Hachamovitch] what the hell is going on," Gates replied. "I mean, we're not, there's not like some deep secret about what we're doing with IE."
"But they're not letting people talk about it," Holzschlag continued. "I do realise that there is a new engine, there is some other information, and this information is not being made public. We are being asked not to talk about it. So, I'm concerned about that."
"He was clearly surprised by the news," said Holzschlag. "You could see that from his reaction. And yes, he was angry. To me, he seemed very concerned that the message [between Microsoft and web developers] got broken."
Gates defended Hachamovitch as the dialogue between he and Holzschlag went on. "There's a paradox about disclosure, which is when you're far away from doing something you're super open; when you're very close to doing something you're open; when you're making your cut list of what you can do and not do, then particularly because - well..."
"It sets expectations and that causes trouble?" asked Holzschlag.
"Yeah, and so I don't know where Dean is in terms of if he's willing to commit what's in IE 8.0 and what's not in IE 8.0. In terms of standards support, he'll see that it's a glass half full. It adds a bunch of new stuff we didn't have before, it doesn't add everything that everybody wants us to do."
It may have been coincidental, but a day after the Holzschlag-Gates exchange, Hachamovitch disclosed on the team's blog that the next version would be called IE8. And at the end of the post, Hachamovitch hinted that the information drought may be coming to a close. "You will hear a lot more from us soon on this blog and in other places. In the meantime, please don't mistake silence for inaction."
But the plea fell on deaf ears. As happened last Friday when another post received a chilly reception, Hachamovitch's was slammed by frustrated web developers and users. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 250 had left comments. A small sampling:
"Maybe for you it's just a game, but for us developers, who have to spend 20 to 30 percent of our front-end dev time implementing workarounds for your browsers' bugs and lack of standards support, it hurts to even try to smile at that post," said someone identified as Yann. "You really don't get it. This post makes it blatantly obvious."
"Please, just go ahead and close this blog," added Cal Jacobson. "I'm serious: there's no actual discussion here - it's just a series of proclamations by the IE team member unlucky enough to pull the short straw this month, followed by reactions by web developers which apparently are ignored."
Dave had a different take. "Wow, *that* was poorly calculated. For months, interested parties (including former colleagues) have begged and pleaded Microsoft for information about IE 8.0. Now, with everyone's attention and an opportunity to impress the web development community with substance, this blog instead opens with a substance-free post about product's upcoming name. Did I miss the joke, or was the joke on me?"
And finally, someone using the nickname 'Irritated senior manager' pinned the blame on Hachamovitch. "In 12 months your policy of silence has attracted more negative perception for the product that you manage than for any other product at any time in Microsoft's history.
"However good IE 8.0 may or may not be, for the first time in the browser's history the result of your use of 'omerta' will mean that most developers won't really care. Gaining acceptance will now be a great deal harder than it might otherwise have been, and MUCH harder than should ever have been necessary."