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Microsoft Cozies Up with WebKit to Push a New Standard for Touch

By Wesley Fenlon

Microsoft, Google, Mozilla and Opera are collaborating on a specification for touch in browsers that will hopefully lead to smooth cross-compatibility.

Before Firefox and Chrome managed to pull millions of Internet users away from Internet Explorer, supporting the old, busted browser that was IE6 caused web developers endless headaches. Things aren't so bad now--Internet Explorer has grown past those dark days of horrendous web standard support--but developers still have to contend with a vast array of desktop (and now mobile) browsers. Microsoft is actually leading a charge to make things better on the mobile side, trying to usher in a new standard for touch implementation in mobile browsers.

Get this: Even though we've been using touch-based smartphones for five years, there's no universally accepted World Wide Web Consortium standard for touch inputs. Ars Technica writes that Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Opera have been working to change that with a new spec called Pointer Events, which covers multi-touch as well as pen and mouse inputs.

Now here's the interesting part: Microsoft submitted a patch for Pointer Events, which is still in development. But the patch was for the WebKit rendering engine used by Chrome and Safari. Which browser doesn't use WebKit? Internet Explorer.

It's obviously in Microsoft's best interests, as it is in Mozilla's and Google's and Opera's, to help move web development along. But there's a second reason that Microsoft would like to see Pointer Events take off: Getting IE back in the game. Here's the skinny on Pointer Events and what Google and Apple have to say about it.

Pointer Events has a predecessor called Touch Events, but development stalled out thanks to Apple. The earlier W3C standard was based on the iPhone's Safari Touch API, and Apple wasn't interested in licensing or freely distributing that technology. So now WebKit, which powers the Android and iOS mobile browsers, gets all the attention. If Microsoft can help popularize Pointer Events, and help it become an integrated WebKit feature, they can likewise implement it in the mobile version of Interent Explorer and ease compatibility.

Ars Technica points out that Google, Mozilla and Opera all seem game to support Pointer Events. That just leaves Apple, who aren't so hot on the idea. An Apple WebKit developer criticized the spec, writing "In my opinion, the pointer events spec is a bad idea (at least, in its current state). I think adding it to WebKit would be hurting both the Web and WebKit." He also wrote that there's little reason for WebKit to support Pointer Events when only Microsoft is currently using it.

Another member of the discussion pointed out that Pointer Events' integration in IE 10 on Windows 8 makes the standard worth supporting, or else browser touch implementation will remain splintered. It looks like Microsoft has a fight on its hands, but hopefully the pushes from both sides will result in a stronger Pointer Events that everyone is happy with.