Opera Takes Aim at Internet Explorer

Hakon Wium Lie, CTO of Opera Software, has leveled a blast directly at Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as of today in the form of a formal antitrust complaint- calling them to task for both not adequately supporting web standards, as well as the direct ties between IE and the Windows operating system. You can get more context on this complaint directly from the open letter on his weblog, as well.

One of the key tenets of the complaint is IE’s failure to pass the Acid2 test, the most prominent test case to date for determining a user agent’s adherance to the W3C HTML/CSS 2 specs. All other significant modern browsers have successfully passed the Acid2 test case (Gecko-based browsers expected to fall in line with the current 1.9 spec, to be implemented in Firefox 3 among others), however the IE team has publicly noted they do not consider Acid2 a true test of standards compliance, but a ‘wish list of features’. That characterization is one I’ve never quite agreed with. Acid2 is a lot more than just a laundry list of ‘nice-to-have’ features, in my opinion- and more a list of ‘need-to-have’ features.

That being said, I do feel that Internet Explorer has come a long way with version 7 (despite still receiving the brunt of browser-based designers/developers’ ire for it’s remaining shortcomings), and have hopes that the recently-hinted-at IE 8 will come even closer to compliance, but would also hope that passing the Acid2 test becomes a reality with that release.

Now although I would hope to see ALL browser vendors (including IE) recognize Acid2 as at least a common target for verifying baseline standards-compliance (and was personally a bit bummed to see it dismissed by the IE team specifically during the IE 7 cycle), I’m not sure I can get entirely behind Hakon’s argument that IE’s existence alone is limiting choice for the Windows community, as both Opera and Firefox have no problems on that platform- at least as far as I can tell. I’ve chosen to use Firefox on Windows myself, and had no issues in doing so.

Microsoft’s Chris Wilson was pretty straightforward (over 2 years ago, in fact) as to why IE 7 did not consider Acid2 compliance a top priority for that release, to be fair. And I know that there’s always a balance to be struck between strict adherance to specs and the top issues your customers face – we develop software here at Adobe too, and compromises are always involved – but an antitrust complaint suggests the strategy is more one of the oft-cited ‘embrace, extend, destroy’ practice Microsoft has been called on in the past, notably during the Netscape/IE dogfighting during the mid-to-late 90′s. I’m not sure I totally agree here, either. Both Chris and Molly have been effecting quite a bit of positive change in Internet Explorer and I’d like to keep a positive attitude about where things are headed. However, even Molly has recently taken Bill Gates to task on the degree of transparency the IE team has been exhibiting lately, so maybe there’s something to Opera’s argument beside saber-rattling. Couldn’t say, personally. But I will be paying a lot closer attention now.

Is Opera’s formal complaint against IE simply an aggressive plea for consistency among the browser developers, or the first warning shots across the bow before Browser Wars 2008 kick in? Will other vendors join into the fray? Interesting developments in the standards community these days, to say the least.

What do you think?