Microsoft came under fire from some of its rivals on Wednesday for its decision not to offer Internet Explorer 9 -- and hence support for the upcoming HTML5 standard -- to users of its older Windows XP operating system.
Microsoft said at its MIX developer conference in March that IE9 won't be offered for XP. The reason, technical evangelist Giorgio Sardo said at the Web 2.0 Expo on Wednesday, is that IE9 is a "modern browser," and getting the benefits of the hardware acceleration and other performance gains that it will offer requires a "modern OS."
That didn't sit well with Alex Russell, a member of Google's Chrome browser development team. "Opera and Mozilla are also hardware-accelerating their browsers, and all of us are doing it on XP," said Russell, who joined Sardo and representatives from Mozilla, Opera and Yahoo for a panel discussion on the future of Web browsers.
"You describe a world where users are getting left behind," Russell said.
At issue is the adoption of HTML5, an upcoming revamp of the Web's markup language that will add significant new capabilities, including standard ways to implement video, animation, audio and offline storage, that are not included in the current HTML standard.
It's important partly because it should help to reduce fragmentation on the Web, which forces developers to build and test applications for multiple browsers or use proprietary technologies such as Flash and Silverlight.
But if IE9, which will be Microsoft's first browser to fully support HTML5, isn't available for XP, then those users will be outside of that HTML5 compatibility sphere. And IE6 still has more users than the Opera, Chrome and Safari browsers combined, according to Crockford. In some countries it accounts for as much as 40 percent of browser usage, he said.
But Dion Almaer of Palm, who moderated the panel, said it has become "an anchor around our necks."
As Crockford sees it, the W3C "abandoned its role as the stewards of the Web" at the start of the decade, allowing incompatible technologies to flourish. There is now a fresh burst of standards activity around HTML5. "Which is great," Crockford said, "but it's all irrelevant if we don't solve the IE6 problem."