There’s Something Happening Here…

What it is ain’t exactly clear – at all. So I need your help. All input stays private unless you are happy to have your name/handle and perspective published at some point. If not, say so clearly. If so, lmk how you take your attribute(s).

In 2005 we formed a task force between Microsoft and the Web Standards Project. This task force was a force indeed, with employee advocates on the inside whose careers went into tailspins, with the project members who participated actively and supported a drive which resulted in me somehow sitting directly across from Bill Gates (2006) and speaking with him about the commitment to CSS as spec’d and other issues. This was just as Microsoft began slowly moving away from IE6 to IE7 after holding a large portion of the developer world in gridlock for some five years as they enjoyed the market dominance I believe they felt was theirs forever.

It was a very daunting experience, the room was crackling with all kinds of revolution or disruption – to my right sat Ev Williams and at the head of the table, Tantek Celik. The two were giggling like little boys in grade school so eventually I asked them what the hell they were up to and Ev turned his laptop to me. It was Twitter, I believe there were less than 5,000 members at that point. There were others in the room like Michael Arrington who was still at TechCrunch. Kelly Goto was there to advocate for education and diversity. It was a time of frustration and of possibility, and it chills me to this day to imagine I even had this experience.

Other folks mission critical were Eric Meyer, Dave Shea, Ben Henick’s unfailing constancy in the Web Standards Project, numerous Microsoft folks whose names are obfuscated until I know which way you’re gonna go with the public disclosure. Another very important person on the Task Force was Dean Edwards – who had taken IE’s own technology and created a simple .js library that had one script element and a URL to the project (running off of HIS server in HIS kitchen as was found to be true…) and it was called IE7. Brendan Eich was a huge advocate of its use, he was Mozilla’s CEO at the time and also daddy JavaScript. So, you know. This is all such a point in history that to me, and hopefully to others, will spark some awareness in a time when we’re still discussing fucking “alt text” for inline decorative images. FFS!

Passions aside, the need is this. The original blog post from 2006 that I wrote here at molly.com states that we were not supposed to publish any recordings, just the official photos and transcripts that were provided to us by Microsoft. It’s now 15 years later, the transcripts are a matter of public record, and I have the entire 58 minutes of discussions with Bill Gates with a subpar audio track but hey, transcripts! We’ve only worked on some audio tweaks on the conversation he and I had about the Microsoft commitment to Web standards, specifically CSS. The clip you’ll be listening too is only 7ish minutes of that full hour, to put a clear point on the listening involved!

I think the conversation is historic and fascinating. I’m kinda horrified at my rambling at the beginning but dayum…how did a Brooklyn born, Jersey raised cursing rebel like me end up in that place? I found my inner Jersey though, and we had quite a parlay. The Atlantic City decks were stacked, and in the end, well. Edge.

How do you think this should be positioned to inspire conversation about today’s issues with not only a near-browser monoculture, accessibility, inclusion, CSS and HTML and JS and API everywhere WTF and fire up some passions. The sad irony of that time is that we all ultimately failed as IE lost its market position very soon after the next visit back in 2007, when Gates was a little more savvy about where the browser and related tools were causing trauma and drama in our community.

We truly did not wish to harm anyone or destroy a browser, we simply all wanted quality assurance and assurance of quality for all browsers. Fundamentally, to not compete on an implementation, rather reserve that for feature sets for users. We wanted to evolve and scale technology, and the heat and fire is born of passions for the Web, which now powers (or disempowers) much of the world’s economy, social needs, infrastructure, recreation, entertainment – and since Covid-19, so much more rests upon an open ideal given to us so freely.

My thought is to have different perspectives and voices weigh in because this was an act of passion by many people and it does have lessons for all of us and certainly me to learn. I believe it belongs in the community. I want to know your thoughts before I do this, because it is like opening a 15 year old bottle of something fermented – who knows what the results might be. So here’s the original post naked CSS style and a link to the audio file. There’s a bit of commentary to other participants on both ends of the standards session. Bill was finishing up answering Ev, then it rolls over after me to the awesome question that makes me giggle to this day “What’s on your Zune?” Epic.

I look forward to your thoughts. Email them to me at mholzschlag at gmail dot com with your privacy requests and/or attribution method and it shall be done. Thank you always, Molly