By Wyatt Barnett

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

By Wyatt Barnett

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.

  • Php_penguin

    missing a p in the link to the Subtext Project

  • Php_penguin

    also, “weather” should be “whether” in the 4th paragraph – do you guys check these articles?

  • …Give it up man. I’ve tried to suggest corrections before, and it goes nowhere.

  • wwb_99

    @Wolf_22: Actually, I try to. Two noted issues fixed.

    @Php_Penguin: Thanks for the grammar lesson, but all the mistakes are my own. SitePoint just asks us to write, they don’t do editorial on the blogs before (or generally after) they are posted. Personally, I edit for content and clarity more than minor grammatical nonsense. I get enough of that at the day job.

  • well, Microsoft has traditionally had a constrictor’s embrace, so I am sceptic; to their credit, they did scrap the initial bad idea of non-standards-compliant-by-default, but I personally wouldn’t hold my hopes too high :P
    At least not until I see a good nice official virtualbox or vmware image for testing on other OS-es than Microsoft’s.

  • Chuck

    I hope IE8 does better. I hope even more that Opera, Safari, and Firefox gain in marketshares.

    MS is playing the browser game hard now. But we’ve seen once they get a stranglehold, they relax and dont care.

  • Thanks Wyatt. I take my words back.

  • wwb_99

    @m0n5t3r: that is actually an awesome idea. If I can find an appropriate party, I’ll definitely pass that along. Not sure how well it will fly, but it does make boatloads of sense.

    @Chuck: I can’t argue that you are not historically correct. But past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future performance. There are a lot of signs of change in the air–I don’t think MS thinks it could even approach the dominance of the early ’00s and definitely got the lesson about what not to do from that period.

    @Wolf_22: No worries man. We cool.

  • Jubarr

    They are doing this because they want us web developers/designers to stop telling all our family, friends, girlfriend and clients to switch to firefox…

  • totally agree with jubarr

  • Wolf_22

    Me too… ^ ^ ^

  • neildonald

    i’m a little fed up with the microsoft=bad; the_rest=good approach. Internet Explorer 7’s rendering of markup is the defacto standard which all web based applications must meet to been seen to work by a) coders b) users and most importantly c) who’s paying for the development. OK so Microsoft isn’t the most innovative browser developer but it shouldn’t get slated forever for the marquee tag! (remember netscape 4’s BLINK?) Having hand coded HTML for 8 or 9 years, i can honestly say it’s now easier than ever to write markup which is viewable with IE, FF, Opera, safari, konqueror etc, as well as being search engine friendly and viewable on mobile phones. like most developers I know I develop html and css using IE then hack/workaround for firefox. Sticking in the odd empty “clear: both” DIV to preserve formatting between browsers is hardly troublesome compared to the complete rewrites required for the gen 4 & 5 browsers.

  • wwb_99

    @Jubarr (and his followers): why does Microsoft care about that? They give away IE for free, so people using Firefox does not hurt the bottom line at all.

    @neildonald: Very good point. I started my web coding in the waning days of the version 4 and 5 browsers, and I remember the pain. If you stayed off the bleeding edge and did not push the CSS-P envelope too hard, you could get by OK with an occasional bit of presentational markup without hacking pages at all. I’ve honestly never served a page with a browser-specific hack or conditional stylesheet in my life. Otoh, I’ve been coding boring Line of Business stuff more than exciting, pretty public web apps in recent memory.

  • Jonathan

    @ neildonald: Most developers I know develop in Firefox first (using superb plugins like the Web Developer toolbar and Firebug). If it works in FF it will probably work in Safari and Opera too. Finally we do fixes for IE. BTW, there’s a reason microsoft=bad; the_rest=good; I’ve spent hours debugging CSS that other browsers handled that IE choked on. And the debugging in IE is atrocious.

    @Wyatt. Nice try but Microsoft’s shenanigans with OOXML make be doubtful that the leopards has changed its spots. I won’t give MS the benefit of the doubt. If they want to play nice with open standards then good on them; but I’ll wait to see their whether their actions match their words.

  • like most developers I know I develop html and css using IE then hack/workaround for firefox.

    You keep some odd company then because that’s completely backwards. :/

  • wwb_99

    @Jonathan: you have a good point about OOXML. But that can be read a few ways, one of which is that the whole debacle made Microsoft realize that you can either have open standards or not have open standards. Trying to play the middle and be kinda sorta open just don’t cut the mustard.

  • Gilzow

    like most developers I know I develop html and css using IE then hack/workaround for firefox.

    @neildonald – Funny, I dont know a single web developer that develops in IE first and then in the other browser. Everyone I know writes their standards-compliant code and tests in FF first. Then has to go back and break their code (or litter it with conditional IE comments) to get the IE family to get the code to display correctly. I’ve also been coding since the v4 and 5 days, and dont ever remember having to hack a browser except IE to get my pages to display correctly.

Get the latest in Front-end, once a week, for free.