According to a story in the Washington Post, the U.S. Copyright Office is about to launch a new web-based program to allow artists to register certain works for copyright protection. This is good. It was also reported that the new web site is going to require the use of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. This is bad.
Industry experts of all kinds have come forward to argue that the Copyright Office plan would be a very bad precedent and that the application process should work with any and all browsers. I would say it differently. Governments — and businesses, hospitals, universities, and all of us — should create content and applications for the web using open Internet standards. Open Internet standards are those developed collaboratively by a representative group of companies, organizations, and experts. It is open Internet standards that make the Internet work the same on all corners of the earth and make web content readable by anyone anywhere.
No doubt some will advance conspiracy theories that Microsoft is attempting to lock-up the Federal government with proprietary technology and then use the combined leverage to force all of us to use Internet Explorer. I do not subscribe to that. In most situations like these it comes down to paths of least resistance. It is easier to build an application for one browser, test it for one browser, and tell the users to just use one browser. But, does that make it right? No.
The web is for all of us. Some of us like Opera, some like Firefox, some like Internet Explorer, some like Safari, and some like various Linux browsers that are available. That’s ok. Competition is good. If it were not for Netscape, Microsoft would not have developed IE beyond it’s humble beginnings. If it was not for Opera and Firefox, Microsoft would not be developing IE 7. The competition will result in better and better browsers. The burden is on web content and application developers to use the open Internet standards and to do cross-browser testing. If the standards are followed, the testing should be simple. People should be able to use whatever browser they want — as long as their browser was built to support the open industry standards. The market will decide which ones they like best. We don’t all drive the same car or use the same kind of PC. There is no reason we should all be using the same browser.
Epilogue: One reason that I am involved with Opera Software is that they have a deep commitment to open industry standards. See story about their new browser.