Open letter to Chris Wilson

Chris,

You seem to be repeating falsehoods in blogs since the Proposed ECMAScript 4th Edition Language Overview was published, claiming dissenters including Microsoft were ignored by me, or “shouted down” by the majority, in the ECMAScript standardization group. Assuming you didn’t know better, and someone was misinforming you, you (along with everyone reading this letter) know better now. So I’ll expect to see no more of these lies spread by you.

Everything that has been done to advance JavaScript to the proposed ECMAScript 4th Edition (ES4) in Ecma TC39-TG1 has been in the open for well over a year, first via the es4-discuss mailing list (complete archive) and exports of our group’s wiki, along with public talks I’ve given. Then by ecmascript.org hosting the reference implementation for ES4 as proposed, along with our public trac database. And finally by the whole wiki being fully opened up and hosted live — including Microsoft’s “ES3.1” proposals.

These ES3.1 proposals came suddenly in March after years of passive participation by Microsoft, while the rest of the group worked on ES4. They have not been touched since April. They weren’t published via wiki export at that time, by agreement among all parties in TG1 including Microsoft and Doug Crockford. For one thing, they were (and still are) extremely rough and incomplete, with unanswered comments.

Almost all of the non-deprecation ES3.1 proposals were lifted directly from ES4 proposals (see my comment here).

One document reaffirms an agreement made in March: any ES3.1 candidate specification would be developed as a subset of the ES4 reference implementation, so it could be tested mechanically for forward and backward compatibility. This agreement has not been kept.

In February, an early warning was given by Microsoft, and met with vigorous debate (no shouting). Readers should take the time to follow this link, because I think it gets to the heart of the dispute, which is superficially over whether ECMAScript should remain small and mostly the same as it is in Edition 3. The pattern of general assertions about small being beautiful and sufficient for web application developers’ needs, met by specific arguments listing use-cases where JS does not scale in time or space, or lacks basic data integrity, type safety, and programming in the large support, in turn met by absolutely zero specific counter-arguments — this is a pattern we have seen over and over in TG1 this year.

The small-is-beautiful generalization alternates with don’t-break-the-web, again without specifics in reply to specific demonstrations of compatibility. Oh, and sometimes fix-security-first is put forth, without sound and sufficient solutions. At best, we have a fundamental conflict of visions and technical values between the majority and the minority. However, the obvious conflict of interest between the standards-based web and proprietary platforms advanced by Microsoft, and the rationales for keeping the web’s client-side programming language small while the proprietary platforms rapidly evolve support for large languages, does not help maintain the fiction that only clashing high-level philosophies are involved here.
Readers may not know that Ecma has no provision for “minor releases” of its standards, so any ES3.1 that was approved by TG1 would inevitably be given a whole edition number, presumably becoming the 4th Edition of ECMAScript. This is obviously contentious given all the years that the majority of TG1, sometimes even apparently including Microsoft representatives, has worked on ES4, and the developer expectations set by this long-standing effort.

A history of Microsoft’s post-ES3 involvement in the ECMAScript standard group, leading up to the overt split in TG1 in March, is summarized here.
The history of ECMAScript since its beginnings in November 1996 shows that when Microsoft was behind in the market (against Netscape in 1996-1997), it moved aggressively in the standards body to evolve standards starting with ES1 through ES3. Once Microsoft dominated the market, the last edition of the standard was left to rot — ES3 was finished in 1999 — and even easy-to-fix standards conformance bugs in IE JScript went unfixed for eight years (so three years to go from Edition 1 to 3, then over eight to approach Edition 4). Now that the proposed 4th edition looks like a competitive threat, the world suddenly hears in detail about all those bugs, spun as differences afflicting “JavaScript” that should inform a new standard.

Sorry, but most of those JScript deviations are not candidate de facto standards — they are just your bugs to fix. They should not stall ES4 for one second. I’m testifying as an eyewitness, and I have other witnesses in TG1 who can confirm what I write here. Everyone in the majority of TG1 gave time to the late-breaking dissenters from Microsoft and Yahoo!. We went out of our way to read, cross-reference, and comment on the “3.1” proposals. Activity on those proposals stopped in April.

Anyone who wants to check my claims against the TG1 meeting notes can go to the meetings page on the wiki, and follow the links. The face-to-face notes starting in March are easy to scan for political content (including my dissenting notes), and I invite anyone who is interested to have a look.

The meeting notes were edited by many hands, including Microsoft folks to their evident satisfaction, at the time of the meetings. The change logs are public in the wiki. There was no ignoring of minority positions. There was no failure to listen on the part of the majority. On the other hand I did not stop all progress on ES4 until unanimous agreement was reached on how to proceed (since Ecma and ISO do not require unanimity to make standards).

There certainly was no shouting down of the dissenters — that’s a bold lie in view of the well-attended and friendly dinners sponsored by the face-to-face meeting hosts. As the links above demonstrate, there has been no secrecy on the part of the majority of TG1, other than the secrecy requested by Microsoft and required by Ecma. Rather the opposite: Doug Crockford and Microsoft’s reps would depart for private meetings, in the middle of the March, April, and especially the May TG1 face-to-face meetings.

My TG1 Convenor’s Report, dated 4 May 2007, to Ecma TC39 (chaired by Jim Miller of Microsoft) is available to Ecma members at the Ecma members website. In it, I informed our parent TC39 committee that “[a] sub-group of TG1 is investigating possibly standardizing a smaller, compatible language, but this proposal has not yet been adopted.” Since then, the sub-group has failed to present a coherent proposal — JScript informative documents are not proposals — and my next report to Ecma will have to say so plainly.

You may have been misled, but now that everyone can see almost all of the primary sources (the remaining documents are hidden behind Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Ecma firewalls), please stop repeating falsehoods about either my conduct as TG1 Convenor, or the treatment of dissent by the majority favoring ES4 in TG1. If you have any documents to publish that shed light on Microsoft’s actions and intentions in Ecma TC39-TG1, I welcome them.

/be