New W3C CEO Is the Web's Top Diplomat

As new CEO of the World Wide Web Consortium, former Novell CTO Jeff Jaffe has many real and potential conflicts to address.

In becoming CEO of the World Wide Web Consortium, Dr. Jeff Jaffe brings a resume filled with jobs that required building partnerships and finding consensus. Such business and personal skills will be critical for success in Jaffe's new job heading a standards body.

After all, the W3C still has Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who conceived the World Wide Web, as its technology guiding light. Jaffe, until recently Novell CTO, brings big company management and negotiating experience.

"My most immediate priority is to preserve and enhance the W3C culture of having an open consensus-based process," Jaffe said in a blog post, marking his first day at W3C on Monday. "This works well today, but I also need an effective and open high-bandwidth communications path with the large, diverse, and global set of stakeholders of the W3C."

Jaffe, who has also previously worked for Lucent Technologies' Bell Laboratories, and IBM, has spent years building partnerships with friends, competitors, and customers.

We've delivered great products," Jaffe said in his last Novell CTO blog post, Jan. 29. "Breakout moves. The right partnerships in the industry. If I look at where my time has been spent-a huge fraction has been cultivating significant partnerships; notably with Microsoft, SAP, and IBM."

Getting an increasingly less relevant Novell aligned with competitors and giants like Microsoft, SAP, and IBM, was no mean feat. Especially since the Novell partnership appears to benefit both it and Microsoft in fair measure, which is a rare achievement.

In that way, Jaffe followed in the footsteps of legendary Novell CEO Ray Noorda, who died in 2006. Noorda introduced the concept--if not the practice--of "co-op-petition" in which technology companies sometimes compete with one another and other times cooperate to achieve mutually important goals.

Jaffe accomplished a successful Novell/Microsoft relationship despite old hostilities between the two firms. Noorda spent years, even after leaving Novell in 1994, creating strategies, some in the form of legal challenges, to battle his arch enemy. The ongoing litigation involving SCO and Unix is part of Noorda's legacy.

Jaffe will need all his diplomatic skills to successfully run the W3C, where the CEO position was previously vacant. HTML5 development is ongoing and the group is heavily involved in mobile Web issues, too.

HTML5 is the next version of HTML, the Hypertext Markup Language that is the underpinning of the Web and which was developed by Berners-Lee.

Key to HTML5 is an attempt to end the Web's reliance on plug-in technologies, such as Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, and JavaFX. Each, however, is supported by a major company with significant interests to protect and, potentially, for Jaffe to deal with.

Development of HTML5 is expected to continue for years, although parts of it could soon begin appearing in browsers, whose developers are another constituency for Jaffe to work with. Google is a major HTML5 supporter.

W3C, which brings together companies of all sizes as well as other Web stakeholders, benefits from the tremendous respect accorded Berners-Lee, but turning that respect into standards and action will be Jaffe's mission.

As the Web continues to expand and traditional influencers, such as the U.S government, have waned, the W3C's role may become more critical to maintaining the Web as an important--and evolving--part of daily life.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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