Standards Support in Internet Explorer 8 beta 1

When Microsoft’s best and brightest took the stage at MIX08 last week, we all knew we’d be hearing about Internet Explorer 8. If we were lucky, we might even get to see Internet Explorer 8 in action. But Microsoft took us all by surprise, releasing a public beta of the new browser for is to download immediately and try for ourselves!

Though it is still a work in progress, IE8 beta 1 already represents a huge leap forward in standards support. The new layout engine makes incredible strides in the area of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and for JavaScript developers there are significant gains in performance and compatibility with Document Object Model (DOM) standards.

For the first time since IE6’s release, Microsoft has even managed to leapfrog standards support provided by the other major browsers in some areas!

There are plenty of details available for interested developers. In CSS Improvements in Internet Explorer 8, Microsoft details the new style features in the browser:

  • support for data URIs, which let you embed small images directly within your style sheets for improved performance
  • much less buggy CSS floats, which has enabled Microsoft to abolish the hasLayout hack previously used to work around these bugs.
  • correct support for margin collapsing
  • support for generated content, including automatic counters, using :before and :after pseudo-elements.
  • support for the :focus pseudo-class
  • support for CSS outlines (borders that don’t affect layout)
  • orphan, widow, and page break control in print output
  • support for CSS tables, enabling much easier and more powerful page layout with CSS
  • and many more smaller improvements!

The addition of CSS tables support, as I predicted last issue, will radically simplify the process of page layout using CSS. I was pleased to see that my three-column layout example using CSS tables renders perfectly in IE8 beta 1.

In addition to the improvements already in beta 1, Microsoft has announced it plans to have full support for CSS 2.1 by the time Internet Explorer 8 is released! If it succeeds in this, it will be the first browser vendor to do so.

And these CSS improvements are just the tip of the iceberg. Improvements for developers in IE8 beta 1 can be seen in almost every part of the browser:

  • The IE Developer Toolbar has been greatly enhanced. Its CSS debugging and live editing features are now just about on par with the much-loved Firebug extension for Firefox. And the toolbar is now built into the browser by default!
  • JavaScript has gotten a big speed boost, and Microsoft has fixed the notorious circular reference memory leak.
  • The Document Object Model (DOM), the primary API used by JavaScript developers, is now much more standards compliant, bringing it up to the same level found in the other major browsers.
  • IE8 supports the W3C’s new Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) standard, enabling accessibility tools like screen readers to work with slick, JavaScript-powered user interface elements.

There simply isn’t room to give all the improvements in IE8 beta 1 their due in this space. If you want to get up to speed, the best place to start is the What’s New In Internet Explorer 8 article at MSDN.

It’s been a long time since Internet Explorer exceeded anyone’s expectations, but with IE8 beta 1 it has certainly done that and more. Now it’s up to all of us web developers to start playing with all these new features to discover what will be possible once Internet Explorer 8 hits the streets!