Round One – We Blinked and the Corporate Sector Won


Sewage Pump

It’s been a few days now since the release by Chris Wilson on the official Internet Explorer Blog and the subsequent follow up by Eric Meyer and Aaron Gustafson (as requested) showing support for and explaining in detail the introduction of the X-UA-Compatible Meta switch. Now the post to read here is the Microsoft one. That is primary to the whole deal, it explains somewhat why this was done.

What’s it all about.

Basically from Internet Explorer 8 there will be the provision of a meta tag. If you want to use the features of the rendering engine for IE 8 you have to insert this meta tag. If you don’t well your page will render as if it’s been developed for IE 7 (that’s the fall back).

Hence we are ending up with version control flagging for each web page. So you have to opt in to get the features like better standards support and the like from IE 8 and beyond by resetting this meta tag each time the browser changes.

So in web speak..
If DOC TYPE and X-UA-Compatible Meta Tag
Render as indicated by meta tag
elseif DOC TYPE
Render as IE 7 (Standards Mode)
Render in Quriks Mode

The Emotional Roller Coaster

I haven’t commented on this, besides on twitter and a few blogs around tracks. I have been basically letting my opinions settle.

  • When I first read about this I was outraged. “What are we going back to the dark days of the web”.
  • Then I was considering the footprint size of the resultant application, mainly due to different rendering engines, the patching problems and hack attack holes.
  • Like John Resig I was also considering the impact on JavaScript having to determine the rendering engine for the page.
  • Then there was the possible future death of web standards, the removal of the future proofing concept. That had very concerned.
  • Finally I ask who is going to control the registry of User Agent Acronyms that will be used? Will that be a free for all?

It was getting a little strange, a good number of the web community was lining up on opposite sides like Jeffery Zeldman and then Jeremy Keith, If Andy Clark had an operational blog I’m sure we would have been his 2 cents pence worth. Did they know something they are not telling use. Anger was subsiding to confusion. What was really happening?

Browser Wars – Not.

Well we know that the WaSP-Microsoft Task Force have been working on this for a while. The question does come up if this has so many problems, what where the alternatives, like. Is it possible that they where so bad, or that Microsoft just put a gun to the task force’s head and said “We are doing it with you or without you.” – I really hope this was not the case. I guess we will never know with a cloak of NDA around it all.

With the roll out of IE7, we in the web industry think it was a blessing (better than IE6 anyway). Not so in the Microsoft camp.

They are in the real world you see. They have clients with developers that don’t care about standards, about correct CSS, about cross browser compatibility. Yes they do exist. They are a majority, we are the minority. Yes we are very vocal, but we are small.

But IE 7 broke the corporate applications; it broke the implementations of ActiveX and Jscript The bringing of ActiveX and JScripting into line with standards compliance maybe a little harder than Microsoft wants to admit. It cost time and money to fix.

So if you major corporate customers complain about your implementation methods and demanding that the default playing field remains static. What are you going to do. Well if you want to stay in business, you are going to listen to these paying customers.

Then we have the web industry, do they in general pay for Microsoft products (beyond the operating systems) in general no.

So we have annoyed paying customers and on the other hand a minority of free loading noisy upstarts. This is business, money talks in this case. Web Standards lose to business reality. The opt-in stands so the corporate sector can opt-out by default.

As Lachlan Hardy says:

Microsoft doesn’t tell you it’s going to do something of this scale unless it means it.

What people are going to do

I’m consider it’s going to get to the point where you are sick of putting the meta tag in, so you just sniff the browser header, and insert the correct meta tag as the page renders via a backend script.

You have other problems as well like when you go to render generated content as expected in the current version of CSS, but you have to check first that page is going to be rendering as say IE8 otherwise its going to only render as IE7. So then IE8 is really IE7..okay? That is going to get very confusing. Maybe its a move to force people to stagnate.

Is it Good?

Is it going to be helpful? Well, yes, may make life for debugging a little easier and testing as well, as you can stimulate multiple browsers with one version of Internet Explorer. However this doesn’t take into account (at this stage) sub-versions of the render engine. .

Ian Hixie is recommending we all opt-out or put “IE7” in the meta tag, forcing the rendering engine to IE7. Nice, so the web stagnates. This is just what we don’t need at the moment.

We need to keep Microsoft at the table and educate like crazy these corporate sector developer cowboys. We need to get out there and get mentoring. We need to turn the corporate sector around.

It’s just one line of code but I can still see blood on the browsers over this one. Microsoft has been force to cave to the demands of their own monster.

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  1. Matthew Raymond

    I think you misunderstand Ian’s position. From a developer’s standpoint, forcing the rendering mode to IE7 is the only practical solution.

    First of all, understand that IE7 isn’t going anywhere. We’re going to have to write our markup to render and function acceptable in that browser for years to come. In fact, many of us still need to put in conditional comments and tweaks for IE6! As a result, people will still have to ensure that their pages render properly in IE7, even after IE8 comes out.

    At the same time, alternative browsers have gained enough market share that they can’t be ignored. Thus, designing to Standards + IE6/IE7 allows your web pages to be accessible to nearly the entire market.

    So what happens when IE8 comes out? Nothing. IE8 will treat all HTML 4.01 compliant pages like IE7 pages. So we just apply the Standards + IE6/IE7 technique just like before and we get IE8 for free. Sure it might not render quite as well in IE8 as other non-IE browsers, but it won’t be any worse than IE7. Similarly, you can code for HTML5 and pop in a element for IE7 rendering mode and not have to worry about how the page renders in IE8. Thus, any special markup for IE8 must be cost justified, which is difficult for a new-kid-on-the-block browser that renders IE7 content just fine.

    By contrast, alternate browsers have nothing to gain by implementing the new switch. By sticking with their Standards-only (with quirks mode) strategy, they force developers to write standards-compliant markup in order to effectively target them. Furthermore, they’re not in danger of loosing their current market share if they fail to support the switch, because their current user base finds their current support for web pages acceptable without an IE7-specific rendering mode.

    Since web developers have to write to standards anyway to target the growing number of alternative browser users, can use inexpensive standards-based improvements (such as the new types in Web Forms 2 or CSS3 rounded borders) with ease. So the standards-based content moves forward while stagnant IE7 fallback markup is fed to IE8 users via conditional comments.

    But won’t new pages developed for IE8 save the day? Not really. If you really wanted to go Microsoft-proprietary, you could use Silverlight instead, which works on pretty much any Mac or Windows browser (and some Linux systems when Moonlight is finished).

    Furthermore, people developing web pages that they test only on IE8+ will create pages that are gradually more standards compliant as each rendering mode improves upon the previous one. Thus, the extent of browser lock-in diminishes with each successive version of IE, and competitors will be easily be able to handle the new content generated for those new versions of IE.

    Then there’s “IE=Edge”. This feature is nice in that it allows you to target the most standards-compliant rendering mode, but until Internet Explorer renders standards-compliant pages as well as its competition, developers will still be forced to specially target each rendering mode. So if there’s still at least 10% of users on IE7 when IE9 comes out, do you really think web developers are going to target two extra rendering modes on top of the standards-compliant browsers they have to target to get the other 15% to 20% of the market right now that use something other than IE?

    So, Microsoft is in a trap of it’s own making. There’s little benefit in developing for the new IE8 rendering mode, each successive rendering mode is more compatible with the rendering of competitor’s browsers, and their most effective tool for vendor lock-in is a cross-browser plug-in. Microsoft has lost the browser war; they just don’t know it yet.

  2. […] was primarily in response the IE6 to IE7 corporate backlash. We all bitched and grumbled, Jeremy Keith got up on his soapbox. But basically we all go on with it, understanding (but not […]

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