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And So, to the New Breach

Fortunately, some players care little about money or popularity. The Mozilla Foundation has systematically been building open, manageable, standardized data support into its offerings. Profit is not a primary motive. Mozilla technology has a bloody-minded attitude: standards-compliant or bust.

Perceptive customers and consumers see this standards support emerging. The web development community is starting to grasp the use of standards: XHTML is now an issue, and CSS and HTML 4.01 are in popular use. Many market segments have an interest in a standards-oriented environment: education, government, the military, large corporations, and enthusiasts. All these factors serve to strengthen the web as a global commons and as a marketplace—in which there is no value for tools vendors such as Microsoft.

Make no mistake: Microsoft really hates the web. The new browser war may appear to be about the emergence of Mozilla and friends with their polished eye-candy interfaces, but it's really about Microsoft versus the W3C. Internet Explorer is Microsoft's blocking tactic—never to be properly web-compliant, never to give the W3C a day in the sun—and Longhorn technology is the big-stick alternative being built. One of the purposes of Longhorn is to destroy the web as we know it.

The web is used to provide a variety of services and communities. Part of the Longhorn strategy is to extract from the web all of the services with any profit model at all: web magazines, auction sites, news, online retailers, and so on. When Microsoft tempts these organizations and communities to Longhorn, the web suffers the death of a thousand cuts. Over here will be the standards-based web, with a gradually shrinking set of web sites. Over there will be the future Longhorn-based proprietary global infrastructure—a global version of the early Novell NetWare, a sort of stock market/CNN fusion for content delivery. For Microsoft, the best possible outcome is for the standards-based web to be reduced to the profitless: a few idealistic hippies, some idle perverts, and the disaffected. Few others will want to go there; so every day there will be fewer traditional websites, every day less relevance.

This is a fundamentally different attack from that of the browser wars, round 1. Instead of fighting for control, the new browser war is a fight for the survival of the web itself. In this new war, the eye candy offered by new and polished browsers is a necessary but insufficient response to the stonewalling of Internet Explorer as a precursor to Longhorn. It's the presence of standardized data in web content—whether current standards such as XHTML or some yet-unknown future standards, perhaps based on XUL—guaranteeing that the web will remain a global commons, an information highway, and a free marketplace. The alternative is a corporate Diaspora and a tollway.

The decision to generate such content is not the province of consumers or hobbyists; it's the province of organizations. Organizations must wake up to the value of open and manageable standards-based web data, and cease being stupefied by irrelevant popularity arguments.

Historically, to standardize your web data was something of a commitment to an ideal. Ideals alone are not very attractive to pragmatic organizations. Standardizing data should not be an act of penance; it should be about sustaining communities and markets—ones from which service agendas and profits derive. If organizations don't see the web as a useful global commons into which they can deliver their services, that global commons will vanish as a community and as a marketplace. That is the new browser war. Either tweak your web data to approximate standards now, or risk the cost of a massive Longhorn infrastructure upgrade in a few years' time. If you don't standardize now, you'll be forced to buy or build that Longhorn infrastructure in order to access the communities that Microsoft has managed to attract and bottle up inside Longhorn. It's very easy to do the math and conclude that it's cheaper to support your existing public rather than relocate and rebuild when that public goes west.

Fortunately, some organizations are indeed modernizing and standardizing their web data. We need to see that movement reported more often. No doubt it's harder work than reacting to press releases about the latest browser share, or playing with a new lifestyle tool, but readership is served just as well by investigative journalism as it is by idle review.

In this new war, individual action is still important, so choose a standard compliant browser if you value the web, or if your job earns value from it. This time around, however, it's just as important to discuss with your peers the state of your web data—the very data that will protect the web from self-implosion in the face of competition. Standard data guarantees that you won't have to migrate to Longhorn in order to stay where you are.

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