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Joel's got it right; it's about browser-share, not designers

So you've heard about IE8 and how it implements standards mode, right? Unless you add a specific meta tag to your page that indicates to IE8 that it should render pages to its full capability (<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=8" />), it will render them as if it were IE7 instead. And it's set the web industry abuzz with wonder and discussion. Why would you upgrade a browser with new capabilities but have them turned off by default?

Jeffrey Zeldman says that Microsoft is just guaranteeing that future versions of IE (8 and onward) will work with the existing sites of "millions of small business owners, school teachers, pastors, coaches, and so on who create websites every day, armed with crappy software and little else." That could be true, but does Microsoft really care about those millions of small-time content creators? After all, they've never seemed to care too much about all of us professionals.

But I think that Joel Spoelsky put it best in today's article, Martian Headsets (a.k.a., pragmatists versus idealists). Joel points out that it's not the web designers, professional or not, that Microsoft is worried about: it's the end user. He argues that if end users were come down to their desktop computer in the morning after it's been automagically Microsoft Updated to IE8 in the middle of the night, and if IE8 were set to standards mode by default, then most of the sites people viewed would break. And who or what would these end users blame? The creators of the web site which looked so good and worked so well just the previous day? Nope.

They'd blame IE8. And perhaps, just perhaps, IE would lose some market share.

Now I think that makes sense as a reason for Microsoft to be cautious in how IE8 renders sites. They probably don't care too much about making life easy for professional developers-- after all, we all know how to add a meta tag to a site pretty easily, and who knows, some of use will make some money off of it. Microsoft probably doesn't even care about the small business owners and coaches who-- let's face it-- wield little money and even little influense in the technology industry. But I can't blame them for not wanting to "break the web" for users.

Look at Joel's article, it's well worth a read.

Comments (6)

I can see Joel's point but I still think at some point Microsoft is going to have to 'fix' the web. Are we going to continue these odd hacks and mode quirks until IE20??

@Jim: I agree with you-- Microsoft will have to change at some point, but I think that they're going to allow this "lag" in actual rendering versus ideal rendering for some time to come. They're going to play it safe by waiting for the majority of web sites to become standards-compliant before they allow IE to become standards compliant by default.

Actually MS said on 3/7 that IE 8's default rendering mode will be Standards Compliant mode. You can opt-in to IE7 mode. http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/archive/2008/03/07/internet-explorer-8-beta-1-for-developers-standards-highlights.aspx

@Sean: from what I can tell, it's the beta version specifically for developers that MS is referring to when is says that the default mode will be standards mode. But even that statement isn't complete: as the posting for March 6th says, the mode of the browser will be standards mode only if there's a DOCTYPE in the document that calls for standards mode, or if the document contains the aforementioned meta tag calling for standards mode. But I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of web sites don't have a standards-mode DOCTYPE declaration, and will therefore be rendered in IE8's "quirks" mode.

"And who or what would these end users blame? The creators of the web site which looked so good and worked so well just the previous day? Nope"

"They'd blame IE8."

not necessarily.

Firefox renders bad sites and shows warts'n'all. You can't help idiots who create a website that has images pointing to the authors "My Documents" folder...

Perhaps if people stopped using MSWord or Frontpage to make a site then we could rely on websites to have enough standards compliance.

Good quality, standards compliant websites should render perfectly by default - without hacks. Geez, the standards have been around long enough...

If there is a badly built site it'll show up like dogs balls compared to the rest - and so it should. That should be enough encouragement for authors to lift their game, not hide behind IE's quirks. Quality web authoring and design is not easy, just because someone can string some tags together isn't the same.

Microsoft made this mess by having quirks and broken box models in the first place. Now they're taking standards seriously? A bit late...

sorry, no pity for Microsoft or IE.

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