IE8 XDomainRequest conspiracy theory

UPDATE: This conspiracy theory has been debunked. Microsoft said they would implement various aspects of the access-control spec in IE8. For what it’s worth, those Microsoft guys are ok with me 🙂

I love conspiracy theories… particularly when I get to make one up! Here is my conspiracy theory for how Microsoft will try to force both the W3C and other browser makers to adopt IE8‘s XDomainRequest mechanism/API.

A bit of background first: the Web Applications Working Group (WAF) has been working on a spec that allows browsers to do cross-domain requests (basically for creating mashups securely). The spec is called Access-Control, and has been in development for three years. The spec was being edited by Anne van Kesteren of Opera Software, but under heavy influence from Hixie of Google, Jonas Sicking from Mozilla, and Maciej Stachowiak from Apple, to name a few people/companies. Marc Silbey, the representative from Microsoft to the working group, was also participating for a while, but he dropped off the radar as Microsoft shifted into high gear during development of IE8 (actually, Microsoft assigned 3 people to participate in WAF, but only Marc did). A few months ago, to coincide with the release of the IE8 beta, Microsoft announced XDomainRequest… aspects of which look, in a lot of ways, very similar to Access-Control, but with some key differences.Then, to the shock of the working group, they brought XDomainRequest to the W3C for standardization knowing full well that WAF had been working on Access-Control for over three years!

Naturally, Microsoft’s actions pissed a lot of people off because, as I stated in an email, they are just ignoring over three years of work into the Access-Control spec, they created their own proposal and implementation in secret and now are attempting to fast track it through standardization ignoring due process.

To which, Sunava Dutta, from Microsoft, responded by saying “incorrect” and prompting Chris Wilson, Chief Architect of IE, to respond:

You know, there is an idea that perhaps we’re not IGNORING the work on Access Control, and perhaps we simply disagree with some of it.

Which prompted me to respond:

…If Microsoft would have found the time to collaborate [in the WAF WG], all this stuff could have been resolved progressively and the [Access-Control] spec would probably be done by now (as has been shown, the MS proposal has just as many issues, if not more, than the Access-control spec; so trying to do it in-house did not yield a more adequate solution).

Which beckons the question, why did Microsoft stop participating in WAF to go off and create their own version of access-control? And here is the conspiracy theory:

  1. Microsoft joins the WAF working group in 2007
  2. Microsoft “borrows” Access-Control idea
  3. Microsoft implements its own XDomainRequest mechanism in IE8beta
  4. Mozilla implements Access-Contol in FireFox 3, but then pulls the feature at the last minute (consequently leaving a gap in the cross-domain request space for Microsoft to jump in)
  5. Microsoft delays Access-Control work by sending in comments a year late (just before it was about to go to Last Call) and putting in their XDomainRequest proposal for standardization. Meanwhile…
  6. Microsoft rolls out IE8, quickly gains market share (no help from Vista, of course 🙂 )
  7. Other browsers must now implement Microsoft’s solution/spec because business and developers start using it
  8. Microsoft’s spec become a W3C Recommendation, Access-Control spec dies in the ass.

We are currently at point 5, with Microsoft using delay tactics to slow down standardization of Access-Control.

Why do I care? I’ve only contributed to Access-Control from the sidelines by attending face-to-face meetings and asking Anne dumb questions. However, a lot of C02 has been wasted flying everyone to meetings to talk about this spec; that’s thousands of dollars and thousands of kilos of C02 going to waste. Another thing that annoys me is, as I already stated, that Microsoft has every chance to provide feedback to the working group to fix/discuss any issues they’ve had with the Access-Control spec.

Microsoft sticks to the standards

According to the IE Blog:

Now, IE8 will show pages requesting “Standards” mode in IE8’s Standards mode. Developers who want their pages shown using IE8’s “IE7 Standards mode” will need to request that explicitly (using the http header/meta tag approach described here).

That’s great news. However, the fact that they are keeping the meta switch is a bit disappointing. They should really dump that altogether.