IE8 Version Targeting: Microsoft Considers Feedback

In the Tech Times #183 I covered Microsoft’s plans to support browser version targeting in IE8, which will default to rendering a web page the same as in IE7 unless Microsoft’s newly-proposed <meta> tag instructs the browser to render the page in the browser’s new “super standards” mode.

Also as previously mentioned, these plans have ignited a debate within the web standards community. While some leaders like Eric Myer and Jeffrey Zeldman have come to embrace Microsoft’s approach, many respected voices like Jeremy Keith continue to cry foul, particularly over Microsoft’s plan to forever render HTML 4.x documents as they appear in IE7 unless they contain the new X-UA-Compatible <meta> tag.

Far from clear cut, the issue continues to divide the community, and Microsoft is listening intently. Just a week ago, members of the Web Standards Project (some of whom were involved in working with Microsoft to develop its browser version targeting plan) got together with Microsoft’s Chris Wilson for a round-table discussion about the community’s reaction to the company’s plans for IE8, and some of the ideas that have been proposed to adjust those plans for the better.

The discussion is certainly worth a listen (or the transcript is worth a look) if you’re interested in the debate, but it all comes down Chris Wilson’s parting words:

“[…] we haven’t seen anything that would protect our user experience as well as what we’ve come up with, but we’re certainly trying to reduce the pain on web developers.”

So, at least for the time being, it sounds like Microsoft is standing firm on its plans for the “IE7 by default” behaviour that has so many people so upset.

But it’s not all bad news: the discussion did contain a few interesting tidbits that may hold some promise.

  • Aaron Gustafson made it clear that Internet Explorer’s version targeting feature will apply to JavaScript just as much as it will to CSS, which is enabling Microsoft to make some long-overdue improvements to its JavaScript standards compliance.

    For example, Internet Explorer’s implementation of document.getElementById has always selected elements by both the name and id attributes. Fixing this would completely break existing web applications that relied on Internet Explorer’s nonstandard JavaScript behavior if it weren’t for the planned version targeting feature.

  • According to Chris Wilson, the public beta of IE8 will include a feature that will let developers test the rendering of all sites in “super standards” mode. This will provide both developers and Microsoft the opportunity to gauge just how much breakage would be caused by IE8 defaulting to full standards mode.

  • Many incompatibilities that come with a new browser release, frustratingly, still just come down to the browser’s user agent string. Consequently, Microsoft is looking at providing a user-accessible option that will make IE8 announce itself as IE7 in the user agent string.

The hope is that the IE8 beta will make it clearer than the IE7 beta did when a compatibility issue is a result of IE8′s improved standards compliance. According to Wilson, many developers simply assumed that rendering issues with their sites in IE7 beta were bugs in the beta, and therefore didn’t bother fixing them until after IE7 was released.

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  • http://autisticcuckoo.net/ AutisticCuckoo

    we’re certainly trying to reduce the pain on web developers

    Unfortunately, they seem more anxious to reduce the pain for web developers who rely on non-standard, proprietary behaviour and bugs than for those of us who try to comply with the W3C standards, even though Microsoft is a W3C member.

    As Jeremy Keith says, by all means include a version targeting mechanism, but make it opt-out, not opt-in. If someone has to make a change, it should be those who develop non-standard sites and applications.

    Don’t punish people who try to do the right thing!

  • Nathan-Kelly

    I’m yet to listen to the discussion but I’ve been following this topic with great interest, I must say that I feel a little better in knowing the debate hasn’t come down to a final (an as I believe tragic decision) yet.

    I respect Chris W for his willingness to listen to the “massive” backlash against the X-UA-Compatible idea, I honestly believe we as a community can come up with a solution that not only secures all that the “web standards” community have worked so hard to achieve but also to help Microsoft maintain a high level of respect between “them and us”, all the while keeping their obligations for “existing content” under control.

    If ever there was a time for web developers to raise their opinions/ideas this is it. We all need to work together to provide a solution that is sustainable and mutually beneficial.

    Cheers.

  • akayani

    Why can they just use a conditional comment to force it for now and then dump off the need in a few years.

    I just don’t get the need for a new tag. I must be stupid!

    Yani

  • Sojan80

    Kevin,
    So what you’re basically saying is that they’re (MS) not actually considering feedback at all. Rather, they’ve made up their mind and there is nothing you, I, or the entirety of the web development community can do to change it. After all, they are Goliath. Or, as Zeldman put it, Caesar, and as we all know you MUST render under to Caesar what is Caesar’s. And the worst part of it all is you have to do that whether Caesar actually deserves it or not.

    Why is it I get the sinking feeling that this is another one of those instances where they (MS) could have made major inroads into working with the development community and just figured “screw that, we know more than they’ll ever know so why do we need them anyway? We know the future because we are the future.”

    I’ll give Chris Wilson this, he puts on a great show, but at the end of the day he didn’t create the problem everyone has with IE, nor does he (or MS) ever plan to listen to the thousands of developers who have asked, begged, and pleaded with MS to make standards mode the default rendering mode of IE8. In actual reality I highly doubt he loses a single minutes sleep over the problem.

    Then there’s the whole fallout over the User Agent string for IE8; which, if IE8 is going to by default just be IE7 with a new name, then the UA string it ought to send out is the IE7 UA String. Otherwise they should just support super duper standards mode right out of the box and run with an IE8 specific UA String and not the “modified” IE7 UA string they’ve been discussing.

    These problems they (MS) keep stating for why they can’t honestly and openly support the agreed upon standards everyone else follows.. “we need to backwards computability”, “don’t break the web” ad nauseum are ones I feel could personally be solved by MS released standalone versions of IE from IE5 through IEXXXXXX but, we all know they never will.

    So I just fail to see how MS is considering the feedback they’ve gotten at all. Even if you just did it as “That’s one vote for yes, one for no..” for every vote in favor of doing the version targeting I think you’d find more developers in favor of supporting standards mode by default then their current plan of version targeting.

  • Reed Fisher

    Microsoft can always be counted on to do the thing that is best for Microsoft’s myopic desire to own the world and destroy all other competing browsers without regard for the pain and suffering of all users. I refuse to use MS Internet Explorer for anything any more, and if I encounter an app that will only work in Internet Explorer, I find another source for whatever product or service that other app supplied. This has caused me to sever relationships with banks and online stores, but I consider it a very small price to pay! I also refuse to ever purchase anything Microsoft ever again! This is being written on a Mac in Firefox, and my new company is a Microsoft-free zone; only Mac, Unix, and Linux will be allowed, any employee bringing anything Microsoft into the company will be summarily fired (this is part of the employment agreement!).

  • nick

    Just a thought, but… Isn’t this going to teach people just starting out in web design/development for years to come, to make websites that they perceive to be “standards compliant”? I don’t even think a web design/development class in a school would touch on something like that, and even if they did, it would be so brief that most students wouldn’t even understand/catch it at the time it was presented to them.

  • Chaunce

    As far as I see it, Microsoft needs to listen to the developing community. We are ultimately the ones that suffer when they blanketly decide what is best for us developers. Because we inevitably end up spending months trying to figure out the new IE (Internet Exploder) model. What Microsoft really needs to do is default IE8 to IE8 and have the ability to version back through their proposed meta tag. Don’t punish those of us that build with standards and enable the lazy builders.

  • akayani

    That should have read…

    Why CAN’T they just use a conditional comment to force it for now and then dump off the need in a few years.

    MS assume that developers have targeted IE as being correct. But we know this never happened, even if it did why not stick with CC. EI8 nothing to change.

    They are just stupid enough to add this new code and remove CC as a bug and we will all be stuffed again. Sometimes it better to just do nothing and let everyone adjust to it.

    Sure if it just didn’t recognise IE as a condition comment unless it was IE8 it would be job done.

    If there were really this mass of pages that didn’t work as they were set up for IE 5, 6, or 7 only without being capable of viewing correctly in FF then surely we all would have noticed. Given I haven’t seen any web page fail in FF why go there?

    I do understand why they are doing this. But I question what happens when you target IE8 and then IE9, IE10, IE11 happen. How do you tell a page designed for IE10 what to do when rendered in IE8, assuming that the CSS is consistent and only the scripting changes you are still going to be stuffed.

    Yani

  • Dev.Kinney

    Wow, I certainly agree with you guys. Microsoft is primarily interested in supporting past versions as much as possible. But is this such a bad thing? In the days of Dos and Unix, nobody ever invisioned the coming ubiquity of the PC phenomenon much less the current web phenomenon.

    With simplicity, connectivity and sustainablity Microsoft has largely created this new real estate we call the World-Wide-Web. Whether standard or not, no current standards based browser renders text and images like Internet Explorer. And no other browser, standards or not, renders them as quickly.

    The standards community can best Microsoft only if they can build better software that folks can be sure will be supported and maintained. It can be done, fellows, so don’t give up.

  • Dev.Kinney

    Wow, I certainly agree with you guys. Microsoft is primarily interested in supporting past versions as much as possible. But is this such a bad thing? In the days of Dos and Unix, nobody ever invisioned the coming ubiquity of the PC phenomenon much less the current web phenomenon.

    With simplicity, connectivity and sustainability Microsoft has largely created this new real estate we call the World-Wide-Web. Whether standard or not, no current standards based browser renders text and images like Internet Explorer. And no other browser, standards or not, renders them as quickly.

    The standards community can best Microsoft only if they can build better software that folks can be sure will be supported and maintained. It can be done, fellows, so don’t give up.

  • DevKinney@devkinney.com

    Wow, I certainly agree with you guys. Microsoft is primarily interested in supporting past versions as much as possible. But is this such a bad thing? In the days of Dos and Unix, nobody ever envisioned the coming ubiquity of the PC phenomenon much less the current web phenomenon.

    With simplicity, connectivity and sustainability Microsoft has largely created this new real estate we call the World-Wide-Web. Whether standard or not, no current standards based browser renders text and images like Internet Explorer. And no other browser, standards or not, renders them as quickly.

    The standards community can best Microsoft only if they can build better software that folks can be sure will be supported and maintained. It can be done, fellows, so don’t give up.

  • akayani

    I read the interview last night. They really are assuming that web developers target IE and therefore all our pages are incorrect as is. I don’t think this is true. I think developers long ago started targeting FF and correcting for IE. For one there is a significant number of developers using Macs. And those of us on Windows… all I know are using FF.

    I wonder what you would see as browser stats if you looked at MS web logs in professional discussions about web authoring?

    Yani

  • Erik R

    I wanted to hate MS for having their cake and eating it too, but this only encourages more people to move up to xhtml rather than deal with excess browser incompatibility issues while Explorer-only devs will continue to wallow in their MS-only skill sets.

  • http://www.headbank.co.uk/ headbank

    This really is a no-win situation for standards-lovin’ devs. On the one hand, if IE8 strict-mode is opt-in as proposed, we have to fix all our pages by adding the meta tag. (OK, most of us have powertools at hand to make this a fairly simple task, but I digress.)

    Then again, if it’s opt-out — thus forcing all these alleged lazy MS-focused devs to deploy the meta-tag — then we probably still have to audit our pages to see which of our beloved old IE7/6/5 hacks are now defunct and/or harmful.

    We’ll have work to do either way (though, when you are talking about a major-version upgrade of IE, whoever doesn’t prepare themselves for that fact is a bit naïve to say the least!) — personally I’d feel better if the lazy MS-lovin’ devs finally had to do some as well.

    Looking to the future, I simply can’t see MS’s solution as being sustainable. If they keep saddling each new browser with a compatibility engine for each one of its ancestors, it’ll collapse under its own weight before long.

    If Chris Wilson & Co are listening: come on guys, grow a pair and have the courage to move forward. Vista made a few tough decisions wrt legacy-support, and while a few Joe Sixpacks out there are still moaning about that, it’s made your OS platform a whole lot better prepared for the future. Apply that same resolve to the browser and you’ll see more appreciation from the greater dev community than you’ve ever known or thought possible.

    To quote Starsky: “Do it. Do it.”

  • Mister

    Why is everyone crying “a foul”? The opt-in basis makes the best sense. Why? The NUMBER OF PAGES THAT CURRENTLY (AND IN THE FUTURE) DON’T COMPLY TO STANDARDS [OUTWEIGHT!!!!] those of us who do comply.

    This is a great idea. I don’t mind sticking in that little piece of meta for IE8.

  • akayani

    “The NUMBER OF PAGES THAT CURRENTLY (AND IN THE FUTURE) DON’T COMPLY TO STANDARDS [OUTWEIGHT!!!!] those of us who do comply.”

    If that were the case surely it would be obvious when you view the web using Fox or Safari or Opera.

    I’m certainly not seeing that.

    Yani

  • http://www.martin-fleming.co.uk AlphOmega

    To me arguing this new version targeting proposal from Microsoft is just a battle of principle. Whether people agree with it or not, in the real world, we will most likely have to end up adding an extra meta element into our web pages which wont break take any more effort than not.

  • Anonymous

    MS is just using their monopoly to create the internet on their terms. If they make IE Standards compliant, then web developers won’t have to make pages render differently for IE than for compliant browsers. If web pages render the same in all browsers, who in their right mind would choose IE? Thus by being different, they make the whole web follow their footsteps like little sheep following their shepherd. If IE was not a part of just about every OEM Operating System, they wouldn’t be able to muscle their way around that way. This kind of behavior should be reviewed by the Justice Department because it is evidence that MS has not changed their ways even after they have been caught abusing their monopoly.

  • Jeremiah

    Hi everyone,

    I have a site that does comply fully to 4.01 transitional and has been verified on w3.org and it still breaks like crazy in Ie8 beta 2. If Microsoft does make people like me make any more hair, i just might loose it. It sucks doing the standard complainces and having something break. My site does work and looks great in IE7 and all other browsers.

    If Microsoft does launch Ie8 with super standards mode as default i will never buy anything from Microsoft ever again.

  • akayani

    “If Microsoft does launch Ie8 with super standards mode as default i will never buy anything from Microsoft ever again.”

    Oh yea right. I’m sure they will miss the business.

    I think the best approach is to make sure you DO NOT use IE when logging onto any MS website. That shows in their web stats. If every professional that logged on to Technet used FF or one of the others that would put the wind up them.

    I gave up on the beta after B1 here is why…

    1. It was claimed to pass Acid 2 but failed to do so (lies).
    2. On my screens (1920X1200) everything was 20% too big. I could deal with that as a browser but every app that used a HTML interface for an install had buttons that were outside of the windowed area. And I was sick of tabbing to a button I couldn’t see to press enter and hope for the best.
    3. I still have to do CC for other versions of IE so using 7 saved me jumping machines.

    Good luck to MS and I hope they get it right but I won’t be using IE unless I’m checking or its use is defaulted to my their Visual Development tool installs. Why the hell would you?