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Microsoft and Standards

2006-10-30 18:50:59.515554+00 by ebradway 8 comments

I've been having an interesting discussion with my PhD advisor about Firefox vs. IE. She recently made a web page for her students that included a series of PDF files. She made some of the URLs with slashes (/) delimiting directories and some with backslashes (\). The PDFs would all load fine in Internet Explorer but not Firefox.

I did some research and found out that Microsoft deviated from the W3C standard for a URL (see RFC 1738) and translated the backslashes as directory delimiters. I also looked into the history of the backslash in DOS. Evidently, DOS (and Windows) could always use the slash as a directory delimiter. So, even DOS 2.0 could parse a slash used for a directory independet of a slash used for other purposes - allowing both slash and backslash as the delimiter. It stands to reason that a URL parser should be able to do the same.

It was my opinion that Microsoft was purturbing the standard to force more people to use their software. My advisor queried "why doesn't the W3C standard allow \ or /?" There is absolutely no reason the W3C standard for URLs couldn't allow either delimiter. It would then make it easier for people who only ever used Microsoft (and the \ delimeter) to successfully publish on the web. So, is Microsoft perturbing the standard to restrict use by their users or is the W3C maintaining a standard that alienates people from publishing on the internet?

[ related topics: Humor Microsoft Software Engineering moron Net Culture Community ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-10-30 20:04:21.55722+00 by: meuon [edit history]

Yes to both.

You missed my religious zealot nuclear meltdown rant where I went postal on some big money suits last week, regarding spaces, slashes and special characters as file/directory names in web applications.

and backslashes.. are.. escapes in so many places and languages.. heck, I can't even get MSIE to recognize & apos; as an apostrophe.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-10-30 20:04:47.795829+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

both and neither.

MS never wrote to open standards. I'm sure many programmers kept typing the backslash and just decided to accept it.

Meanwhile, FF and w3c are standards nazis. They /could/ allow the backslash, but the only reason to do that would be users. That doesn't make sense when you're designing clean standards. And FF has struggled with the mindset of forcing users to adapt to the software vs. adapting the software to the users.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-10-31 04:18:41.824683+00 by: ebradway

I frequently help other grad students with course notes that don't seem to work on the course website because they used a space or something in the filename.

Sure, standards are nice but it IS possible to write parsers that can handle spaces and different delimiters. Isn't the idea to use the computer to facilitate communication, not hem or hamper it?

#Comment Re: made: 2006-11-01 00:11:36.263306+00 by: Dan Lyke

I think it's all part of a continuum, we could require that RFC822[Wiki] have a set of heuristics to allow mm/dd/yy, dd.mm.yy, yyyy-mm-dd as well as the old traditional [ day "," ] dd? Month yy date spec, but pretty soon you start to dive into places where things get ambiguous.

It's been a long time since I've read the HTTP RFC up-close, but I have a vague memory that, in fact, "\" is a regular character and it's quite possible to create a valid URL that IE can't visit.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-11-02 06:53:15.064639+00 by: Jerry Kindall [edit history]

The components of a URL are not directories.

To repeat: The components of a URL are not directories.

The way an underlying operating system delimits directories in paths therefore has nothing whatsoever to do with URLs.

Also, we were never meant to have to type or otherwise deal with URLs, but that's another rant.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-11-03 06:54:34.230949+00 by: ebradway

Jerry - I agree and understand that "the components of an URL are not directories"


For many people who desire to share information via the internet, URLs maps to directories. Period. End of story. And for many of these people a directory is delimited by a "\".

So we can either jump up and down and create RFCs that prevent people from using the technology or we accept that the world is imperfect and save the sorry souls at tech support alot of headache.

TS: "Here's your problem. You are using blackslashes instead of slashes in your URL"

lUSER: "Are you saying my cousin Earl is the Slasher?"

TS: "No... An URL is a acronym for Uniform Resource Locator..."

lUSER: "I'm sorry, I still don't understand. I have slashes in front and in back of things..."

TS: "No... Those are blackslashes you have... not slashes..."

lUSER: "But that's how my computer says the file can be found... My nephew told me how the web works."

TS: "This is a different kind of computer. It uses slashes that go the other way."

lUSER: "Well... That's kind of silly. If most of the world uses slashes one way, why does the URL have to go the other way?"

TS: "Actually, most of the Internet uses Unix. And the people who decided how the Internet should work use Unix. So the slashes go forward."

lUSER: "But I don't use Unix and no one I give a darn about uses Unix on their computer."

TS: "Well... It's the standard and if everyone doesn't follow the standard, then no one can communicate."

lUSER: "I don't think we are communicating ourselves..."

#Comment Re: made: 2006-11-03 14:29:29.654432+00 by: Dan Lyke

I think it's perfectly reasonable to explain to the world that Microsoft doesn't play well with others and breaks things.

But, then, I also think it's reasonable that we stop giving Microsoft all of this free tech support and start telling people that if they want free help they need to run a real operating system. I've spent quite a bit of time on the phone with my dad rececntly talking him through some places where Windows has lost a lot of data, and I'm not being very subtle at all about telling him that he needs to switch.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-11-06 03:59:30.95631+00 by: concept14

If you can invent a URL that AOL can't visit, you'll be my hero.