I used to think that the saga was caused on purpose by Microsoft to sabotage the web, after all a truly open web conflicts with Microsoft business plan. But then i remember "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity".
So what's your take on the "dark years of the net". Was it dark? Is it still dark? etc.
Let me tell you a different story. In the late '90s, browsers were implementing tons of features, sometimes to satisfy actual needs, sometimes just to one-up their competitors. And so it happened that both the largest browser vendors at the time implemented CSS wrong. And made enough noise about CSS that people started to use it.
Any reasonable standards body, under these conditions, would have recognized that their definition of the CSS box model had been replaced by a de facto standard and amended their definition. This would have made 99% of the installed browsers compliant overnight. But the W3C feared that that would have set a precedent that would have taken the web away from them, by people actually implementing browsers (oh, the horror). Stupidity took over, and the CSS standard stayed as it was.
Fast forward a couple of years, the same thing happened. IE had won the war, it was at some ridiculous percentage, and Microsoft proposed VML. Again, the W3C decided they didn't care about vector graphics on the web, and decided to reject the solution already available on 99% of the installed browsers and go with SVG. Which is vastly equivalent, except that it forbade use of vector graphics for more than a decade. I don't know whether it was malice or stupidity; I bet it was both, with a pinch of the "stick it to the big guy" sentiment.
That's my take of the "dark years of the net": it was a political match that we all collectively lost, in terms of features that could have been and weren't, standards made incompatilbe on purpose, long hours lost fixing bugs.
Microsoft paid for (some of) its sins, the W3C didn't and it's unlikely it ever will. But the web will be a dark place until the W3C changes its ways and becomes what a standards body should be: a place where common sense trumps politics, good engineering practice trumps philosophy and the best interest of the end user (if not developers) is all that matters.
Never attribute to malice alone that which can be adequately explained by stupidity and malice and shortsightedness.
P.S.: FrontPage was "the web for the rest of us". It allowed you to put up a webpage without knowing a thing about HTML, CSS, JS. The result usually wasn't worth the effort, but that's what I think made the web truly open and accessible: the concept that the average Joe could actually buy a domain and put up his homepage with little more effort than it took to edit a regular document.
That's good engineering: making stuff that's good enough, stuff that works and enables everybody else to do something that would normally be beyond their reach. That was BASIC, that was DOS, that was FrontPage. Those who complain that "it's not semantic" are elitist boneheads that may be fit for academia, but shouldn't ever be allowed near something that's actually useful.