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Improving the Web

Brendan Eich wrote (and Joel Spolksy notes):

What matters to web content authors is user agent market share. The way to crack that nut is not to encourage a few government and big company easy marks to go off on a new de-jure standards bender. That will only add to the mix of formats hiding behind firewalls and threatening to leak onto the Internet.

The best way to help the Web is to incrementally improve the existing web standards, with compatibility shims provided for IE, so that web content authors can actually deploy new formats interoperably.

I think this is dead on. IE has the market share. It will have it for some time. Does that mean we should give up? Skip SVG, because it’s too limited as IE implements it? Skip XForms, because a little DOM and JScript work works better in the short term?

I think not. IE is hackable. I think that even binary plugins are okay to do the work. ActiveX does let you do things that the Netscape plugin API does not: You can extend past the edges of that little grey box. Let’s make some shims. Let’s make them tough, durable, hard-to-knock-out-of-place, easy-to-install shims. Stop saying This page made for Mozilla, stop saying This page made for IE, and stop saying Standards compliant when what that really means is We use a subset of the standards because that’s what’s available. Let’s write a set, a coherent set, of ActiveX controls. Let’s package them up in a simple, one-click installer. Let’s make it as easy to install as Flash, and as compelling to do: Let’s make SVGs sing and dance. Let’s get Joe User to install the shim just to see that funny cartoon that his brother sent him. Let’s take advantage of viral marketing and tell-a-friend-about-this-site forms. It works. It’s worked for the history of the web.

And most importantly, let’s make this shim silently upgrade IE to do what everyone really wants, whether they know it or not: Support an interoperable, standard web.