ECIS Accuses Microsoft of Plotting HTML Hijack

An industry coalition that has represented competitors of Microsoft in European markets before the European Commission stepped up its public relations offensive this morning, this time accusing Microsoft of scheming to upset HTML's place in the fabric of the Internet with XAML, an XML-based layout lexicon for network applications.

In a prepared statement this morning, ECIS Chairman Simon Awde connected XAML with Windows Vista, the system that will next week be the predominant deployment system for Windows Presentation Foundation. XAML can be used to lay out pages and controls for programs that WPF produces using the .NET Framework.

"Vista is the first step in Microsoft's strategy to extend its market dominance to the Internet," the statement quotes Awde as saying. The statement then goes on to say, "For example, Microsoft's 'XAML' markup language, positioned to replace HTML (the current industry standard for publishing language on the Internet), is designed from the ground up to be dependent on Windows, and thus is not cross-platform by nature."

The statement does not mention that XAML is an XML implementation.

Indeed, XAML (pronounced "zammel") will become the preferred method for implementing applications front-ends in Windows, with more direct support forthcoming in the next version of Visual Studio - current editions support it with patches and updates. And while Microsoft was expected as far back as 2004 to submit XAML to the ECMA organization, which last year approved its Office Open XML document format as an international standard, since that time, there's been no detectable international standardization activity on the XAML front.

The reason for that may be different that you might expect. The W3C has been working to develop its own XML-based forms lexicon for the Web called XForms, the latest recommendation for which was published last year. But besides XForms, the Open XUL Alliance in 2005 counted no fewer than 21 active commercial implementations of XML-based layout lexicons, XAML being just one of them.

If Microsoft were to campaign for ECMA or another organization to push XAML as an international standard, others might pose this question: All things being equal (ignoring the fact that Microsoft often isn't, or at least, doesn't play like it is), what would make XAML any more deserving of standardization and accreditation than, say, Macromedia's (Adobe's) MXML layout lexicon being developed for Flash?

Indeed, throughout XAML's developmental history, Microsoft's own people have argued that the lexicon cannot possibly replace HTML. In a 2005 video, XAML architect Chris Anderson demonstrates that XAML is different from CSS, the stylesheet lexicon used within HTML Web pages, because it does not specify the tools with which controls are bound; instead, it leaves those definitions to the developer, and thus conceivably to the market.

In a much more explicit explanation, Microsoft developer Chad Hower lists and enumerates the features XAML lacks in a side-by-side comparison with HTML. Among the items Hower mentions: XAML has no provisions for submitting the contents of forms - no counterpart to the FORM element in HTML; XAML has no way to embed a scripting language; and perhaps the most striking differentiation, XAML has no provisions for hyperlinking to other documents.

Or perhaps this is the clincher: Hower actually argues that XAML cannot replace HTML because XAML is not yet cross-platform. From his perspective, Hower conceded that many sites are designed for Internet Explorer only, so for at least a chunk of Internet users, Windows-only support is acceptable. But not for everyone.

Nonetheless, from ECIS' perspective, the lone enemy is at the gate: "With XAML and OOXML," stated ECIS attorney Thomas Vinje, "Microsoft seeks to impose its own Windows-dependent standards and displace existing open cross-platform standards which have wide industry acceptance, permit open competition and promote competition-driven innovation. The end result will be the continued absence of any real consumer choice, years of waiting for Microsoft to improve - or even debug - its monopoly products, and of course high prices."

Among the companies that ECIS represents in arguments before the EC is IBM, which is one of the principal sponsors of the XForms effort before the W3C. XForms is - or would be - one part of XUL, Mozilla's own long campaign to implement XML in Web standards, first implemented in the Netscape 6.0 browser in 2000.

Daniel Glazman is [CORRECTION] a member of the CSS Working Group, also currently a Mozilla developer, and the creator of the Nvu Web editor application. In late 2005, after the W3C announced its next step in the XUL campaign - the standardization of an HTTP request format using XML - Glazman argued on his personal blog that such a step may have been too long in coming.

"With dozens of Mozilla milestones in the wild, and almost in sync with [Internet Explorer 7], the W3C finally discovers the whole browser world uses XML-based UI languages," Glazman wrote. Citing a W3C document, he continued, "The future W3C format will 'be based on an existing application/UI format, such as Mozilla's XUL, Microsoft's XAML, Macromedia's MXML or Laszlo Systems' LZX, provided the owners of the format are willing to contribute.' OK, but how the hell are Mozilla and Microsoft going to implement that? Moving from their own format to that one? Seriously?...It's late guys, too late, far too late."

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