Someone should make a soap opera about this, Tim Sneath vs. Paul Rouget, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) vs. Mozilla. A battle of words to figure out whose new browser is the real modern browser. The current chapter: Microsoft steps up for a lecture on what a modern browser really should look like. The message: Firefox has just a pretty facade but is a scam beneath.

Last week, it was Mozilla's Paul Rouget who took silly potshots at IE9, rhetorically questioning Microsoft's claim that Internet Explorer 9 is a modern browser (actually, Mozilla questioned whether IE9 is a modern browser or not.) We were presented the usual array of pretty charts that were designed to embarrass IE9, including the results from the HTML5test. Of course, the value of these charts was very low and the content even a bit shallow, and the carefully crafted picture may have done more damage to Firefox's credibility than improved it.

Our opinion is that it was an unnecessary shot below the belt line that Mozilla may want to avoid in the future. That kind of negativity may work in political elections, but it is a walk on thin ice in a product category that has many loyal followers, but an even greater share of fence sitters who are willing to jump to either side at any given moment. Of course, Mozilla's broadside was a field-goal invitation for Microsoft. Tim Sneath, Microsoft's Web evangelist, did not waste any time to explain to Rouget what a modern browser really looks like. The post doesn't match the fancy graphics, but it remains positive and focused on IE9, even if the deeper meaning is taking potshots at Mozilla as well. From Sneath's post:

  • "Modern browsers are fast. They take full advantage of the underlying platform to render graphics with the GPU, compile and execute JavaScript across multiple CPU cores, and ensure that web applications run as close as possible to the same speed as native applications.
  • "Modern browsers enable rich, immersive experiences that could hitherto only be delivered through a plug-in or native application. They can blend video, vector and raster graphics, audio, and text seamlessly without sacrificing performance.
  • "Modern browsers implement features when they are ready, providing predictable patterns that developers can rely on rather than suddenly breaking or removing specifications. They don't check off support based on a half-completed implementation written to pass a synthetic test, but validate against a test suite that confirms interoperability.
  • "Modern browsers do adopt standards at an early stage of readiness so developers can experiment and validate the specification, but clearly delineate unstable prototypes as such."

Sneath's post is as much an invitation to reply as Rouget's was, and for the pure purpose of entertainment, we hope that Mozilla will answer. The bottom line, however, is that neither Firefox nor IE9 benefit from this discussion. Neither Mozilla nor Microsoft knows what a modern browser really is, because the last time we checked, the user determines what a modern browser needs to do and what not. Both browsers have substantial weaknesses, and we have yet to see a piece of software that is perfect, which underlines the silly character of this discussion.

Mozilla, Microsoft -- both of you are discussing browsers that aren't available in final form yet. Why don't we get them out the door first and continue the discussions then? It seems that IE9 is due on March 14 and there is -- no surprises here -- no date for Firefox 4 yet. But it is clear that Mozilla can hardly sit still anymore, as it launched the website, which currently states "No."

Tim Sneath closes with these words: "To our friends at Mozilla, we admire your passion for the open Web, and we look forward to continued competition." That may be a bit of an overstatement, since Microsoft has simply refused to compete over the past seven years. Internet Explorer 7 and 8 could hardly be considered competitive Web browsers, but much more an attempt to ride the wave of success of old times. IE9 is the first truly competitive browser that Mozilla has to consider a threat from Microsoft to its market share -- even if Microsoft has already shot itself in the foot by not extending IE9 to Windows XP users.

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