IE8 Version Targeting: Microsoft Considers Feedback

    Kevin Yank
    Kevin Yank

    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.