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IE 8: Compliance Fix or House of Cards?

Looks like things are heating up around the next version of Internet Explorer, expected to arrive in beta form in the first half of 2008. Back in December 2007, IE Group GM Dean Hachamovitch wrote in a blog posting that IE 8 had passed the Acid2 compatibility test. Microsoft has also made it known that developers will get details about the new browser at the MIX08 conference, scheduled to take place March 5 to 7 in Las Vegas.

Now, a small brouhaha has kicked up around a recent blog posting by IE Platform Architect Chris Wilson, who informed developers that IE 8 will implement a new, super-standards mode as a way to provide optimal standards compatibility in IE 8. The new mode, implemented using meta tags, joins the existing "Standards mode" and "Quirks mode" found in IE 7 to ensure proper rendering of existing Web pages -- even those turned for the compliance-challenged IE 5 and IE 6 browsers.

To Wilson's reasoning, the new mode will let developers strive for aggressive standards compliance (via super-standards mode) without having to worry about IE 8 immediately breaking existing pages. "We also think this approach allows developers to opt in to standards behavior on their own schedule and as it makes sense to them, instead of forcing developers into a responsive mode when a new version of IE has different behavior on their current pages," Wilson wrote.

But a lot of developers see this as Microsoft adding yet another layer of complexity.

"If you've learned anything in developing IE, it's that new versions don't encourage developers to use standards," wrote one poster, identified as jm. "They'll open their site in IE and see that their IE 5 code looks the same now. If it looks the same, then why change coding techniques? I thought IE 8 was about advancing the Web. I thought advancing the Web didn't include stuffing your head with useless meta tags."

Over on, poster potifar had this to say: "Gah, that's a horrible 'solution.' We'll never be able to get a free, open, standards-based Web if Microsoft [is] going to keep forcing us to use their weird hacks to get IE to work properly. I say make IE 8 properly standards-compliant by default, open up the development process and inform the Web developer crowd about what to expect, and solve the IE problem for good."

What do you think? Is Microsoft piling more cards on top of a shaky house of compliance? Or is this truly a way to let Web developers ease their sites away from the legacy of IE 5 and IE 6? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 01/24/2008

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