Programming - - By Wyatt Barnett

Microsoft & IE8: Let’s Move On and Make It Great

Writing about anything involving Microsoft or Internet Explorer here at SitePoint tends to stir up a bit of a hornets nest. With good reason—even I, Microsoft Shill that I am, cannot claim that Microsoft has had anything but an abysmal track record since 2000 insofar as browser innovation, security and especially web standards support. I can understand why a lot of SitePoint’s readers are disgusted with IE and Microsoft and are unwilling to, so to speak, trust Lucifer.

But that will be their loss—big changes are afoot. This ain’t your older brother’s IE, and this ain’t your older brother’s Microsoft. Microsoft itself realizes that, in this new connected era, anyone not supporting open standards is doomed to become irrelevant as ecosystems evolve around applications that are communicative, mungable, tweakable and hackable. Licensing exclusive desktop software is looking like a dead-end path. Ballmer and Ozzie flat-out stated that much at MIX08 this week.

I understand that many of us in the Web Development community are reluctant, at best, to believe Lucifer’s Representatives. But there is a lot of other evidence that an era of Glasnost is upon us. Talk is cheap but personnel moves are forever. Well, maybe not forever, but at least it is a problem that costs a few tens to hundreds of thousands to fix. The open standards, and openness advocates, in Microsoft seem to be winning. I don’t think it is an accident that Scott Guthrie, probably the most open and accessible Program Manager ever, has been elevated to Corporate Vice President and been placed in charge of the entire .NET platform. On less exalted levels, Microsoft has hired some of the most public and outspoken .NET open source folks around, namely Phil Haack (SubText’s benevolent dictator), Scott Hanselman (blogger/podcaster extraordinaire) and Rob Conery (SubSonic’s benevolent dictator) to help make ASP.NET even better and even more open. Outside of Microsoft, the way they are working with and embracing Miguel de Icaza’s Mono and Moonlight is almost astounding to the long-time watcher. I think these actions speak a lot louder than the marketing department’s words.

At this point you are probably saying “Gee, Wyatt, that is all fine and good, but what does this have to do with me as a [webby type of some sort]?” At this moment—quite a bit. Whether you like IE or not, you have to deal with the browser as it is going to be a very, very hefty proportion of your visitors. And a new version of this often and deservedly derided platform is in the pipeline. The difference is this is probably the first time that we, the webby community, can materially effect what comes out of the bowels of Microsoft. Don’t believe they are listening? Well, I remind you that we have already persuaded them to make a fundamental strategic change that does risk that long held “don’t break the existing web” fatwa that has held sway at MS for decades by choosing to set the standards mode as the default rendering model based on feedback from Standardistas like you.

Why do I believe this? Mainly because, below the overarching theme of “Microsoft is taking open standards very, very seriously” was a very strong undercurrent from the various project teams at Microsoft very badly want to know about your pain and how they can fix it. The power of openness has not been lost on these developers, many of whom grew up with open source apps all around them. And now they now have the clearance to listen.

Don’t forget the allegory of Netscape 5—creating a new rendering engine is a fairly risky endeavor that ended up leading to the demise of Netscape itself. The IE team is the first to admit that the new rendering engine is currently a bit buggy and quirky. But they are also the first to say only the wider world of web developers can make sure it ships with the solid behavior and standards compliance that we have been demanding for years. So stop bitching and take part in the IE8 Beta Feedback program today or live with the results.

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