MSIE and Mozilla, circa 2006

First, I'm bullish on client-side intermediaries and orchestrators. For me, at least, this is the AJAX endgame. Service composition in the browser can, and will, nicely complement service composition in the cloud. I've done it at the WS-Light end of the tolerance continuum; Tibco General Interface shows it can be done at the WS-Heavy end as well. AJAX and BPEL aren't in bed together yet, but mark my words, it'll happen.

Second, I'm cautiously optimistic about the future of the kinds of advanced Web standards that can make this stuff really sing. The latest W3C APIs all worked well in Firefox 1.0, and they work even better in 1.5. Meanwhile the once-frozen Internet Explorer has thawed and is on the move again. I don't know how far Microsoft will allow IE to go, but the Windows Live initiative gives me hope that the full power of the standards-based Web client may yet be unleashed. [Full story at]

After spending a bit more time with the beta version of Internet Explorer 7, I've had to add a few more helpings of caution to my optimism. For example, in a prelude to this week's column, I mentioned that I'd hoped IE7 would pass this CSS test, but alas, no such luck.

On the flip side of the coin, though, I was heartened by Brendan Eich's come to Jesus essay prompted by Robert O'Callahan's detailed analysis of why Mozilla's shiny new SVG implementation is such a resource hog. The issue came to light most prominently when Google began publishing stats about usage of HTML, using SVG charts for which Firefox was the recommended viewer. We came, we tried, we were bitterly disappointed.

I'm heartened, nonetheless, because we do finally have a working implementation of SVG in a popular browser. First make it work, the old adage goes, then make it work fast. As fiercely committed to web standards as the Mozillians are, I've come to expect that they can and will. And when they discover along the way that engine needs some serious tuning up -- involving, in this case, the XPCOM (cross-platform component object model) subsystem -- I expect they'll rise to the occasion.

Web technologies are a motley collection, when you get right down to it. What makes them uniquely valuable are the open standards on which they're based, and the people who dedicate their lives to advancing those open standards.

Update: Kamalesh Thakker emailed to say:

I'm sorry to hear your optimism was stamped on by IE7p1. Let me resuscitate it for you by noting that the popular, advanced, OS-agnostic browser, Opera9, passes CSS, while also supporting SVG natively for approximately a year...

Please consider not excluding Opera9 when discussing heroic web standards efforts and browser-enabled technologies, Jon...
A fair and excellent point. I apologized to Kamalesh in email and it's worth repeating here. I've just downloaded the current version of Opera for OS X, and have been cruising through two sets of tests: Eric Meyer's CSS2 suite and the W3C's SVG suite. Ironically, although Opera does extremely well in general on CSS, it seems not to pass the visibility:collapse test I happened to cite. On the SVG stuff, though, it blows the doors off Firefox on completeness, correctness, and speed. Thanks for the reminder!

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