The non-world non-wide non-web

I spent a day at the recent w3c workshop on web apps and compound documents. Due to vacation, that day was the second, so I missed the chance to hear JavaScript praised as the worst invention of all time.

The adolescent sniping and general irrelevance continued on the second day, however. The sad fact is that the w3c is not concerned with the world wide web, AKA the Internet. Rather, the focus for a while now seems to be on vertical tool/plugin and service/cellphone markets, where interoperation is not a requirement, content authors are few and paid by the vertical service provider, and new standards provide livelihoods and junkets for a relative handful of academics, standards body employees, and big company implementers.

Evidence of the vertical nature of the new standards? There are only a few hundred tests for the SVG w3c recommendation. That’s several decimal orders short of what is required just for surface coverage. Often recently, when Hixie hears of a claim about an interesting SVG standard feature, he writes a testcase. Adobe’s plugin too often fails that testcase, although I am sure Adobe SVG tooling produces content that works with the Adobe plugin. Interoperation is a joke.

Real browser vendors, who have to deal with the ugly web as it is, know better. The dream of a new web, based on XHTML + SVG + SMIL + XForms, is just that — a dream. It won’t come true no matter how many toy implementations (including Mozilla implementations — we’ve supported XHTML for years) there are. Long before the w3c gets compound documents working on paper (having missed the chance with SVG 1.0 and 1.1, which ambiguate and conflict with CSS), XAML etc. will leak onto the public web.

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.

What has this to do with Mozilla’s roadmap? Not much, which is why apart from HTML, CSS, DOM, and SVG, which we support, you probably won’t hear much more about the w3c here. But Mozilla is joining with Opera and others to explore the sort of incremental improvements to HTML proposed by us at the workshop. I expect the resulting specs and implementations to play a significant part in the roadmap.