HTML Language Equals Javascript

Today marked the launch of Microsoft’s vaunted new MSN Search site. The new front-page design is so clean you could eat off it. With such a simple, spartan layout, you’d think the code would be museum-quality as well.

I am not one to bring out the firing squad for minor validation errors, but the very first line of MSN’s search page is pure folly:

<html language=”Javascript”>

Yes. I’m not kidding. HTML language equals javascript. And English equals C++. It took the MSN Search team exactly 7 characters to mess this up. I guess that’s what $100 million buys you these days.

Here is an archive link in case things have changed by the time you read this article.

If there was any doubt whether or not most major sites have caught the standards bug yet, the answer is clearly no. We love our MSNs and our Googles and our Yahoos but none have yet to exhibit any real effort with regard to designing with standards. As I’ve said in previous posts, it is more important to judge web sites on what they offer versus whether or not they validate, but spectacles like this show just how far some companies are from even making a decent effort. I will reserve overall judgment on the new MSN search site until I see how well it works for me, but this just doesn’t look like a great start.

History says that regardless of user experience or code quality, the new MSN search site will be relatively “popular” once it’s baked into every corner of the Windows environment. So the question is, with this power to pervade, does it really even matter how good the code is?

40 comments on “HTML Language Equals Javascript”. Leave your own?
  1. Devon says:

    Yeah, I think it matters. It’s just not a critical issue, since the site can function and look fine without the interfaces’ code being up to par.

  2. Dave Child says:

    I have just spent the last five minutes laughing my ass off at this. It’s one page. One important page. One front-end for a project that they hope will change how people will use the internet and win them the search wars. And they can’t even get the first line right. I fart in their general direction.

    The other thing is, of course, that the search engine itself doesn’t appear to be, at first glance, that good. To compete with Google, they’ll need better results (or underhand marketing), and they just don’t seem that much better.

  3. Farhan says:

    This post prompted the first real rant on my own blog. How can you compete with the google’s of the world when your product sucks. The answer, you’re Microsoft. You don’t need a good quality product to get the lion’s share of the market.

    Fact is, if quality product and service mattered Firefox, Opera, Safari, and even Netscape would all have far more users than IE, but the truth is the big giant in Redmond doesn’t need to churn out good quality services and products. They just churn out products and people use em. I have no idea why?!

  4. chuck says:

    Comical coincidence that you called it MSN’s new “front-page” design. Was that a Freudian Slip or what?

    This is just further proof that Microsoft is the Wal-mart of the internet: They’re big, they offer a vast array of services and they control the market share, but they are dirty and cluttered inside.

    Anyhow – great new site and great posts! Keep it up.

  5. zsepi says:

    good code is one thing, but accessibility is a more important one. and guess what? most of the content is generated by javascript.

  6. compuwiz7 says:

    Wow. You really have to wonder what state of mind the MSN team was in when they wrote that code.

    Wow. Good laugh, though.

  7. Quality of code does matter. Even from the standpoint of cost / bandwidth / accessibility, etc. I ran a home page redesign exercise in June and clearly showed how much they could’ve saved with a clean design. Tons! We’re talking terabytes per month and a much wider audience.

  8. Mike, I found a funny cork with MSN Search. Refresh the page a couple of times. The date at the top changes between June 30 and July 1, and the little bogus image on the bottom disappears. LOL!

  9. To the general puplic the code does not matter much, but to the engineers/developers of the page it should matter. Sometimes not every jot and tittle is caught, but when you do find a mistake like this it should be corrected. You only can get perfection if you correct your mistakes, i think Microsoft always fall short in following up with them.

  10. Rory Parle says:

    It took the MSN Search team exactly 7 characters to mess this up.

    Minor correction: it actually took them 11 characters to mess it up. Consider the possible line:

    <html lang="en">

    So the ‘u’ is the first out of place character.

  11. Vaughn Taylor says:

    I couldn’t help it – I had to take a stab at Microsoft so I composed this short message and attempted to submit it to >

    First line of code on your search page…

    Huh, that’s something I’ve never seen before! Since when is html = javascript? Try to validate this page if you will. If any company in the world should be following Web standards it should be Microsoft. Maybe you can make lead = gold for me?

    After submitting the message, I was taken to a page that said…

    “Sorry, the page you requested is not available.”


  12. Mike P. says:

    For what its worth, I’m getting different results from here:

    I think that this is a preview of the new engine. At least it doesn’t have <html language=”javascript”> in it…

  13. Eric says:

    Um, yes it does… looks like this:


    The code begins with html language=”javascript” still. Nice.

  14. Kevin Navia says:


    It has the same error here:

    They’re doing the simpleton thing too eh? With that information on the page, they could’ve find it perty easily. And where is the doctype? pfffbt!!!


  15. Mike, the preview and the MSN Search feed off of different databases. The preview has its own, while MSN Search is still Yahoo.

  16. Hans says:

    …And the worst part is that many people think that MSN is the web; i.e. if they want to go to Google, they’ll type in “” in the search field. They don’t know what the address bar is.

    You know that feeling you get when you realize half the world is doing what the emperor wants them to do? Panic.

  17. J.P. says:

    Um…at least the green url’s on the search results page are slightly different that Google (Google: #008000 | MSN: #009900).

  18. up says:

    Hans: yeah, i fixed something on someone’s winxp, and saw him type the address of his webmail in the search field, then clicking on the first result…

  19. Seb says:

    I especially like the following code:

    <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Cleaner, Simpler Results.</span>

    Hell, if you’re going to throw standards out the window, why not just use a <b> tag?

  20. Matt H says:

    I think this tops it:

    Sorry, no results were found containing “google”

  21. Rob Mientjes says:

    Hans: yeah, i fixed something on someone’s winxp, and saw him type the address of his webmail in the search field, then clicking on the first result…

    Good God! That is so ignorant and useless.
    Well, beats people downloading the MySearchWebToolBar for their searchings. Silly people roam the realms of IE.

  22. Mario Goebbels says:

    I think this tops it: Sorry, no results were found containing “google”

    Color me pink, poking “Google” into the tech preview lists as first link, and all 14 that follow point to the different subdomains like GoogleGroups, GIS, Google Toolbar and what not.

    Works quite fine for me, ignoring the bad HTML.

  23. Jim says:

    So the question is, with this power to pervade, does it really even matter how good the code is?

    There are three factors that make the quality of the code irrelevent, and all three are tied to the size of Microsoft.

    Firstly, Microsoft have way more resources available to throw at testing than the average company. They don’t have to guess at whether something will work, even if it’s an error, as they can test with pretty much any combination under the sun.

    Secondly, their high profile pretty much forces third-parties to work with them. If Mozilla screwed up rendering because of a mistake Microsoft made on the front page of, it wouldn’t matter who made the mistake, the pressure would be on Mozilla developers to work around it.

    Finally, their high profile means that many surfers will pretty much put up with anything they are fed, short of a completely blank page. As people have noted above, some people aren’t even aware you don’t have to go through to get to other pages. Even if they get a screwed up page, as long as they can bodge their way through, they’ll stick with it.

    Sadly, a lot of people point to companies like Microsoft and say “if they can get away with writing shoddy code, surely we can too”. What they forget is that they don’t have the resources or high profile of Microsoft.

  24. /T says:

    LOL! Just did a search for ‘Google’ at MSN and the results page comes up with the title: “MSN Search: google – More Useful Everyday”.

  25. kyle jones says:

    Hahahahahahahhahahaaha, javascript. that kills me!

  26. massless says:

    We love our MSNs and our Googles and our Yahoos but none have yet to exhibit any real effort with regard to designing with standards.

    A fair criticism but now its not entirely true. While (part of Google) doesn’t validate as XHTML…it’s awfully close. And a large effort has been placed to make its markup cleaner semantically. And seperates styles from content markup. And it emphasizes the importance of DOCTYPEs. And it degrades well on older browsers.

    However, if you’re simply restricting the scope of your criticism to the search properties of those products, then, hell yah, there’s big room for improvement in standards advocacy.

  27. Mike D. says:

    Massless: Your example is probably the sole exception to this criticism, and that is because of the genius work of one Doug Bowman. Blogger operates, for the most part, completely outside of the Google framework, and yes, they (through Doug) have done a fantastic job of “caring about code.”

    So yes, clearly Blogger is on the right track, but 95% of all other projects at Google, Yahoo, and MSN put little emphasis on the code. Again, I’m not judging them as a whole based on this… just making an observation.

  28. massless says:

    Blogger operates, for the most part, completely outside of the Google framework…

    and that is because of the genius work of one Doug Bowman…

    …and some others. :) And your first statement needs amending, Blogger is part of the Google codebase. There are even hooks in place for cross-product features. But, as is probably apparent, the move towards forward-thinking standards support in most of Google’s properties proceeds glacially. Some projects, however, can move a lot faster than others. However, there’s a lot of attention on standards here (and a near-unanimous appreciation for Gecko and Mozilla). I can’t speak for MS or Yahoo! but the scale of Google stuff and its worldwide, broadly-user-agent-compatible use makes UI change a sort of war of attrition.

    I like very much the attention being brought to bear on this. I think the answer to your question “does the code matter” with regards to standards in markup, styles, and scripting is something like…”yes, increasingly so”. But I suspect that the question of degree to which the Big Co’s can create de-facto standards will be an important one to re-address soon. For my part, I’m hoping to help make things open.

  29. Mike D. says:

    Chris, aka Massless:

    Thanks very much for speaking up about this, and I hope I don’t appear to be picking on Google. I’m not. As I mentioned in the original post, I judge sites based on their overall utility, and quality of code is just a part of this. The overall utility of Google is clearly above and beyond its competitors, and thus, my opinion of them is as such. And yes, you are also of course correct in that Doug isn’t the only one responsible for Blogger’s excellent code quality.

    Working at ESPN/Disney, I am all too familiar with the hurdles of making massive code revisions on huge sites. It doesn’t happen overnight and it takes everyone on board to “buy in” in order to really make it work. If you’ve got a few errors here and there, that stuff will eventually get taken care of, but the stuff on the new MSN Search page was just too ridiculous not to mention. Here’s a $100 million project, with only 2k of code on the front page, and they can’t even get that right. That shows a lack of caring and nothing more.

  30. Kilmo says:

    Well, just had to try this:
    Ask MSN search engine:
    How to write standard HTML
    W3C is in the forth place, with several very weird results before.

    Of course that Google gives W3C as the first result.

    Guess now we know why this is the case.

  31. Mike says:

    For the uninformed, what should the markup have been?

  32. scared of the standards mafia says:

    I hate to be the odd man out, but you know these errors aren’t in there out of pure stupidity.

    In the MSHTML DOM (released well before the first HTML DOM recomendation) all elements have a language property which identifies what language event handlers associated with the element will be written in. This property cascades down through the DOM unless overridden – so it’s sensible to put it at the top element.

    Since most MS web-related tools are written on top of MSHTML, it stands to reason that many of it’s features/bugs/quirks will filter down into things it’s used for, including the MSN redesign.

    The style attribute example you pointed out is also an example of this.

    I’m not defending MSHTML – I’ve railed on it many, many times, and I’m certainly not defending the MSN design: it’s a derivative waste of effort.

    But anybody that’s been this for any amount of time should have known what that language attribute was there for. To go on about it like it’s there out of sheer stupidity comes off, well, ignorant.

    my .02.

  33. Mike D. says:

    Hi Scared. Thanks for the post, but I ain’t buyin’ it. Nowhere in the link you provided does it say anything about using the language attribute this way. Furthermore, it says the attribute has been deprecated in HTML. And still further, it says that the default scripting engine in Internet Explorer is JScript (Javascript) so if it’s the default in the only browser they really care about, why even specify it???

    I do buy your explanation of perhaps *why* it was put in there, but I don’t buy why it is necessary or smart. Show me one situation which makes that line necessary and maybe I’ll change my mind.

  34. Huda says:

    I liked your website and the other comments. I found it veru useful to my course-BITE. I have one Q, how can we change the ul, bulleted list to another shape or style, in Dreamweaver or JavaScript ?

  35. jhonka says:

    Trashing Microsoft is cool.

    They’re so stupid.

    Compared to IE, Firefox is like steering a wheelbarrow full of cinderblocks.

  36. Springer says:

    I can’t belive this.
    Microsoft ;-)
    I have to assent jhonka.

  37. Ataxia says:

    HTML Language Equals Javascript

    In an amusing twist of reality, Mike Davidson has uncovered an amusing disregard for the web on the brand-new MSN Search site. In the very first line, no less. <html language=”javascript”> I know this makes me a total geek, but that… is hysteri…

  38. talk talk says:

    Microsoft stuff up yet again

    Funny… I never knew Javascript was a language HTML could be written in. Could it be that Microsoft are resting on their laurels?

  39. Microsoft sucks again

    You might not have noticed that MSN just gave its search portal a makeover. All very clean, crisp and Googlesque….

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