Despite my snarky comment yesterday, I loves me some PR stunts, and I think Mozilla setting an official world record is a brilliant PR stunt. It's a great hook to convince journalists to write a story -- or even mention it on TV -- and that's one less story they'll write about shiny proprietary systems. That's not useless, and it's not stupid (and it's most certainly not the stupidest world record ever, a designation for which there is ample competition). Hurrah to the Mozilla marketing genius that thought it up and made it happen.
Unofficially, of course.
Not for nothing, but I've had my share of bad reviews in my professional career. Some I've taken well, and some I've taken... poorly. Some were my fault and others honestly weren't. There isn't a manager on Earth who hasn't had to give a bad review to somebody, sometime. It's always awkward and it's never fun and in the end you're left with a low score on a piece of paper and a sinking feeling in your chest.
And yet, if you rounded up all the managers in the world and shot them... no wait, that's not where I was going with this. If you rounded up all the managers in the world and got them drunk -- yes, I think that would work -- you got them drunk and you asked them one question, they'd all tell you the same thing: the score that they give and you get doesn't mean a damn thing. Oh, you'll fixate on the score, since it means no salary bump or no bonus or no promotion or -- jackpot! -- all three at the same time, but it truly, truly, truly doesn't mean a damn thing. The only thing that truly matters is the conversation that follows.
And it is in this context that I am somewhat embarrassed on behalf of the Mozilla Corporation. They certainly didn't ask for my opinion or my guilt-by-proxy, but they apparently haven't noticed that they ought to be embarrassed, so by God somebody needs to step up. I refer, of course, to the Acid 3 test cooked up by the inimitable Ian Hickson and his motley crew of meddling minions. The test gives a numerical score that purports to rank a browser's compatibility with a potpourri of well-established web standards. Of course any such test is guaranteed to be unfair to somebody, but this one was especially unfair to everybody since the makers intentionally sought out bugs in major browsers to highlight their incompatibilities.
That, by itself, is not the story. First there was the Acid test, then there was the Acid 2 test, and there will no doubt be an Acid 4 test and so on. The fact that the testmakers had to work so damn hard to find compatibility bugs to highlight speaks volumes by itself, but that is not the story either. The story is that two browser vendors -- Opera and Apple -- somehow got into a bit of a race over who could reach a perfect score first. This, on top of their already insane release schedules (Safari 3.1, Opera 9.5), shocked and awed the web standards community, who for the first time in recent memory were put in the enviable position of arguing about which browser had increased its standards compliance the most and the fastest.
The funny thing is, I don't even know who won. There were some inconsistencies about which builds passed what, and then they found some last-minute bugs in the tests themselves, and despite minute-by-minute updates on programming.reddit.com, I don't really know or care who "won" the race. But I'll tell you one thing: it sure as hell wasn't Mozilla, because they were too busy complaining that the tests were just designed to highlight bugs (duh)... and they didn't see any real worth in the feature tests (like downloadable web fonts, which is a five-digit Bugzilla bug that has been open since 2001)... and they felt they should get partial credit for still being ahead of Internet Explorer (new working slogan: "Firefox: We're Not Dead Last")... and anyway, they're really busy right now -- unlike the fine young minds at Apple and Opera, who, unbeknownst to their managers, have outsourced all their browser development to summer interns and are spending their newfound free time reenacting Roman toga parties. And oh, by the way, didn't you hear that the other guys cheated? Also, their toga parties are, like, totally inaccurate when viewed from a psycho-historical perspective.
C'mon, guys. It's not the score that matters, it's the followup. It's the conversation you have, the promises you make, the progress you show the next day and the day after that and the day after that. And bitching about an openly developed test suite whose ultimate goal was just to get people excited about web standards for a few minutes -- man, you should all be embarrassed with yourselves. But you're not, so here I am stepping up, publicly being embarrassed on your behalf. No need to thank me.
Update: once again, I explain myself better the next morning.