Web Devout tidings

Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

Update on the job opportunities

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

As mentioned earlier, I was approached by both Microsoft and Mozilla with the possibility of a job with one of them. I’d like to give an update on the situation.

First of all, I really appreciate how Microsoft (specifically, Markus Mielke) hung out with me, sat in my IRC channel and chatted with me, and generally made me feel welcome throughout the last few weeks. Their sales pitch was also about the best pitch they could have made: if I really want Internet Explorer to improve, why not roll up my sleeves and play an active role in its development myself? I felt then and still feel today that I’d love to do what I can to help move Internet Explorer in the right direction.

However, as the discussion progressed, a few things started worrying me.

In order to work for Microsoft, I’d have to agree to not post or maintain any content particularly critical of Microsoft’s products. I already figured that the Internet Explorer is Dangerous page would have to be dumped or given an overhaul (and I actually do plan to eventually do a major rewrite of the page with better focus on what the core problems are rather than just “it’s fundamentally flawed”). But I’m no legal expert, and the loose wording they used put up a red flag in my mind, especially considering Microsoft’s extensive history of dishonesty and shady “gotcha” fine print in their agreements. There isn’t much I value more than freedom of speech, and if I receive a slightest hint that I may be unable to publicly express my true concerns on an issue, I have to take a step back and reevaluate the situation. I can’t risk Web Devout being sacrificed for a position that, in terms of how much influence I’ll actually end up having, is a bit of a gamble from where I stand.

Where I currently work, the only restrictions on my freedom of speech are for things like account passwords. The hours are flexible and the work is flexible. If I feel like making a blog for our organization, I make it, show it to my boss, and he says, “Cool, you should send links to everyone.” I love my job because I feel free. I only make $25,000 a year right now, but I’m fine with that. For now, all I need are a computer, Internet connection, food, bill repellent, and some money in reserve for emergencies. That’s enough.

I was never considering the Microsoft job for the money and benefits. Those are nice and all, but it wasn’t really a factor in my decision. From the beginning, my decision was going to be based on how much freedom I was willing to give up and how much that sacrifice would help me accomplish my goals. I want the Web to be a better place. I want web developers to have the right tools to make the most out of it. I definitely want Internet Explorer to be a better browser, but that’s just one piece in the big puzzle, and if working on that one piece would prevent me from working with the many other pieces I want to work with, then that’s a problem. How much of a difference would I really be able to make on the IE team? How much of a difference would I be able to make elsewhere if I had more freedom? I’ve been juggling these questions in my mind for the last few weeks.

I noticed something else. Somehow, I was under the impression that Microsoft had been improving over the last few years in regard to their role in the industry. Maybe it was just because they stopped being quite as aggressive for a few years and sort of sat on their laurels, I don’t know, but somehow I thought Microsoft was learning and improving, more openly embracing freedom of choice and standards, or at least not trying to fight it as much anymore. But the last few weeks have shot that idea dead in the water. Microsoft began sending out mass e-mails telling people to vote against the California state bill promoting ODF, instead telling them to push for Microsoft’s OOXML, using shameless flat-out lies like OOXML being better supported than ODF and being more application-agnostic (which anyone remotely familiar with the formats knows is B.S.). Microsoft began making up baseless nonsense about open source patent infringements for which they refused to provide any evidence. I’m hearing one story after another lately, and it’s really irritating. Microsoft gave me another reason to be concerned about taking a job with them: overall, Microsoft has continued to fight against the best interests of the computer industry, and they seem to be sparring against every application and technology that I personally like.

Then I thought about my future after Microsoft. I don’t want to work with Microsoft forever. I know that I’d have trouble adjusting to their culture, I don’t have any particular enthusiasm for their products (for the Web, sure, but not Microsoft’s products), and it’s generally not a company that I could feel proud or excited to work for. But once I decide to leave, then what? There aren’t many interesting companies in the area, and I wouldn’t have as good of a chance making positive connections with interesting companies as I might working for Mozilla. Big companies, maybe, but not as much interesting ones. Then, I have to consider any legal agreements Microsoft would require me to sign which would restrict what I can do after I leave the company. I recall a guy who left Microsoft for Google to manage the China operations, who was then forced to change jobs because of a previous contract he made with Microsoft. Like I said, I don’t have much of a mind for legal fine print, and I’m a bit paranoid about possibly putting myself into one of these types of situations. It’d be different if this were with a company that I really wanted to work for long-term, but Microsoft isn’t that company.

The bottom line is that I enjoy what I’m currently doing, I feel like I’m being productive toward a goal, and I have several doubts about what would become of my ability to achieve my goals if I were to work for Microsoft. I would love to chat with the IE developers and discuss what future directions would be in the Web’s best interest, but I’d much rather do that without the major legal bindings to Microsoft itself. I have no personal beefs with anyone at Microsoft; it’s just the overall company policies and history which worry me. In the end, I just wasn’t comfortable enough with the idea of working for them, so I declined.

Shifting back to Mozilla, I honestly don’t know what the status is, but I have a feeling it’s currently in limbo. I had a phone chat with someone who was considering me to do documentation work, but we agreed that some sort of development position would be better suited to my skills. He said someone from that end of the company was supposed to get in touch with me a week later, but I haven’t heard from them since. I really hope the message didn’t get lost in the spam filter; I just discovered that every single blog comment moderation notification was getting marked as spam without my knowledge, so I just approved a bazillion comments earlier today.

For now, I’m having fun at my current job, and I have some nice tools in the works for Web Devout. I’m also planning to, in the near future, get a lot of my source code cleaned up and open sourced under GPL licenses. I’ve already released the generic syntax highlighter script used on the webpage test system, and other tools like the log-scanning visitor statistics system, site crawler and search engine, and eventually the PHP-based SGML/XML parser will come later.

Tech Center Current blog

Friday, April 20th, 2007

If you’re interested in some more of my technology-related writings, I’ve recently been posting on Tech Center Current, the blog for the California Community Colleges Technology Center where I currently work. Most of the posts are less advanced and less industry-centric than I typically make here, and posts are divided into three different levels of technical familiarity, so it reaches to a wider audience. Although I may be going to work for either Microsoft or Mozilla in the near future, I’ll act as an invited expert on the Tech Center Current blog for a while after.

Job opportunities: an interesting dilemma

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

This week, I was approached with job opportunities from both Mozilla and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer team. It turns out this is a tougher decision than I thought it would be.

Anyone who knows me knows what I think of Internet Explorer. Let me briefly summarize what, in my mind, are the two biggest problems with Internet Explorer as a product and what I feel are the primary sources for those problems:

First in my mind is standards support. Internet Explorer has by far the worst standards support of any major web browser, period. Anyone serious in web development knows this. Over time, Microsoft has been accused of things like not caring about standards and what have you. But I don’t think that’s really the core issue. I honestly believe that the IE developers fully intend to follow standards whenever they’re available. IE’s nonstandard event model wasn’t the result of deliberately deviating from the standard; there was no event model standard when IE added support. A lot of the so-called “nonstandard behavior” with CSS properties is the result of bugs and design flaws that the IE developers intend to fix. The main problem isn’t that they don’t care.

What I believe is the primary cause of IE’s currently miserable situation with standards support is the fact that Microsoft disbanded the platform development team back in 2001, and thus, aside from security updates, IE layout engine development was completely abandoned for five years. Five years. Half a decade. Roughly half of Internet Explorer’s entire life to date was spent sitting idle. IE 6 wasn’t a bad browser when it first came out, but other browsers have now had twice the time IE had to add standards support, fix bugs, and generally snazz up their engines. Internet Explorer was simply neglected for too long.

The second main problem with Internet Explorer as a product is its security record. Every piece of software as complex as a web browser will have plenty of security problems. And naturally, if you have 80% or higher market share, there will be lots of people trying to pick apart your browser piece by piece. But this isn’t the main problem.

The main problem with IE’s security is the security response process. Internet Explorer simply takes too long to fix its vulnerabilities, and it leaves so many vulnerabilities unfixed. Internet Explorer has taken on average several times as long as Firefox to patch its known vulnerabilities. We just passed the fourth Patch Tuesday of the year, yet according to Secunia, 78% of IE 7’s known vulnerabilities are still unfixed. That isn’t even counting the several-year-old IE 6 vulnerabilities that were never fixed and probably still exist in IE 7. Microsoft says that this is all due to their quality assurance process, but I dunno… I’ve heard about as many cases of IE patch problems as Firefox patch problems. Too many issues are swept under the rug. It’s another case of neglect.

So here I am with an opportunity to help do something about this. I have a chance to help give IE attention where it needs it. Internet Explorer is used by around 75% to 80% of the Internet population. It is, in many or most cases, the single immediate factor holding back professional web developers from doing their jobs as quickly, correctly, and efficiently as they otherwise could.

Meanwhile, I may also have the opportunity to work for Mozilla. Mozilla is an entirely different situation. They have this groundwork laid out. They have an engine that is relatively very well in line with the standards. I have little doubt that the Gecko engine code is much more consistent, well-structured, and mature than the Trident code in Internet Explorer. Mozilla isn’t struggling to correct lots of broken foundation; it’s working to perfect its well-written engine and to develop the new groundwork for future standards.

Working with Internet Explorer would be working to bring a dated but important engine into the present, while working with Mozilla would be working to lead a modern but not-quite-as-prominent engine into the future. Both are very important tasks and both are tasks which I would much like to be a part of. But alas, there is only one of me, and I have to make a choice. I feel like I would better enjoy the work and atmosphere at Mozilla, but I might be able to drive a bigger near-future impact on the Web by working with Internet Explorer. If, in the end, both options are available to me, what should I do?

Tim Berners-Lee stresses importance of net neutrality

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, has been fighting for the idea of net neutrality, which he describes as the principle that “[i]f I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level.”

He has made two blog posts on the subject:

  1. Neutrality of the Net
  2. Net Neutrality: This is serious

The issue of net neutrality in the United States has largely turned into a partisan issue, with Democrats generally backing the idea and Republicans generally opposing it. Predictably, web service providers such as Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft have supported the idea while telecommunications companies have opposed it, effectively arguing that they are due additional earnings from websites that profit on their infastructure rather than getting a “free ride”, despite already paying the often higher bandwidth costs.

The absense of net neutrality legislation may allow for telecommunications companies to manipulate the transfer speed for websites because they haven’t paid a new additional fee, because they are considered a threat to the respective telecommunications company’s business model (for example, if the company has interests in a certain video purchasing site, it may forcefully reduce the performance of competing websites), or for other arbitrary reasons. Supporters of net neutrality argue that the absense of proper legislation would create a two-tiered Internet that would compromise freedom and innovation on the Web.

WaSP redesign

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

The Web Standards Project (WaSP) website has undergone a major redesign. This reflects the new energy that has been pumped into the project since web browser development began to accelerate in the last year or so. The WaSP group has been working closely with the Internet Explorer development team to push for improved standards support in Internet Explorer 7 and future versions, with notable success. The new website also features a comment system and trackback support.