A group of software developers called the Web Standards Project are calling Microsoft to task for the upcoming release of Internet Explorer 5.5, which it says doesn't comply with the very Web standards that the company has promised to support. Internet Explorer 5.5, which will publicly ship in late May and be bundled with Windows Me, which is due in June, is the most proprietary version of IE ever created, the group says. And indeed, I've noted in my own preliminary review and recent public Beta article that this release focuses too heavily on developer improvements for what is purportedly a point release to IE 5.0.

"We are incensed by Microsoft's arrogance, and perplexed by its schizophrenic decision to support standards on one platform while undercutting them on another," said Web Standards Project group leader Jeffrey Zeldman, who notes that the changes in IE 5.5 focus almost solely on "proprietary technologies that are certain to fragment the already-troubled Web space." It's a throwback to the days of Netscape's dominance, when the company's overwhelming marketshare compelled it to add whatever features it wanted, to the detriment of standards compliance. Now, with Microsoft in the driver's seat, the situation is continued; only the name has changed.

Specifically, the Web Standards Project is "outraged" by Microsoft's lack of support for the core "Document Object Model" (DOM) Level 1 and CSS1, which IE only partially supports. And because Microsoft's market leading browser uses a slew of proprietary technology, many developers will be lured into creating documents that are only supported on IE. Inherently, this is the problem with Windows/IE integration: Because Microsoft is relying on IE to supply the next generation Windows user interface, it is warping the product to provide more functionality in this area, functionality that doesn't make sense over the Web. Thus, IE is becoming more and more proprietary with each subsequent release.

"The Web community has waited for more than four years for Microsoft to fulfill their long-standing pledge to fully adhere to W3C-issued Recommendations," says Web Standards Project member Sally Khudairi. "The collective patience of both users and developers is running out: Why should anyone settle for Web pages that work on only one browser, on one platform and on a limited set of devices?"

Microsoft's unexpected response was somewhat arrogant: The company says that it never promised to support all of the standards adopted by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), the industry group responsible for these Web standards. Consumer Windows group product manager Shawn Sanford refers to Internet Explorer as the "most compliant" browser on the market; apparently he hasn't see Netscape 6 yet, which embraces standards in a way that all Web products should aspire to.

For more information about the Web Standards Project, please visit its Web site