Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

WaSP IE8 Round Table Discussion

Category: Browsers, IE

The Microsoft proposal for browser version targeting in Internet Explorer 8 to default to IE7 behavior for all current DOCTYPEs has divided the web developer community. What implications would this have for web standards adoption? Would the web be in a state of damage if IE8 defaulted to standards mode? Some members of the Web Standards Project got together on a Saturday afternoon to discuss their concerns and possible solutions with Chris Wilson, the Platform Architect for IE8.

The transcript is available, and a lot of detailed questions and answers for Chris Wilson, Aaron Gustafson, Faruk Ates, Porter Glendinning, and others.

Chris started by explaining some of the history from his perspective:

I think that the way that we got to the idea that we needed some method of version targeting really was because of the experience that we had in IE7. Where…when I came back to the IE team to work on IE7, I carried with me, of course, a lot of context from IE6 and IE5.5 and all the previous releases that I had been a part of. Back in the IE5, 5.5 days, and all the way up through there actually, we had this very strong focus on compatibility.

The unfortunate side of that was that basically meant that we wouldn’t change anything because of compatibility. Right. We would presume that people would already be building on the things that we did. It really was pretty appropriate at the time. They depended on the behavior that we had.

When we did IE6, on the other hand, we actually looked at the DOCTYPE switch that Tantek had first put in Mac IE5. And we said, “Well, this will do it.” Right. We can use this as a way of switching on standards compliant behavior. And, you know, we won’t break compatibility with the stuff that is out there. So, that’s great. But, we won’t have to follow all the wackiness that we did before under standards mode. That helped us tremendously in IE6 because we could do the box model change that we did, and there were one or two other things I think that we did in IE6 to be more standards compliant. And we’d really been looking forward to doing a lot more on that with the next version of IE.

Then, you know, there was kind of a long pause between releases. The unfortunate thing then is, that between the time that we released IE6 and the time that we released IE7, the adoption of standards mode on the main part of the web grew tremendously.

Then Aaron and Porter started chatting:

Porter Glendinning: The issue that differentiates this upgrade from the last one, for me anyway is, is there is an easy fix this time. If I have a site that I don’t want to go and debug all of my DOM problems and all of my CSS problems, I can throw in this new header or this new meta tag and I can say, hey, drop me back to IE7 mode.

Back when the last upgrade happened, there was not that option. It was, go in and fix all your bugs was the option. And there was no other choice. So people spent a lot of time and a lot of money upgrading sites to work with IE7. And that is different now. They can go back in and add a simple meta tag or a simple header that then their site will continue to work the way it always worked.

And for me, I feel like, if that is too much effort than your site is effectively abandonware. Are we going let abandonware dictate where the web is going for the next ten years?

Aaron Gustafson: I do see that point. And I understand it. I think the one thing that I have a problem with is unfortunately most of those people don’t read. They may continue churning out sites, but they are not upgrading their skills. They are doing a disservice to their clients, of course by doing that, but, their clients, in many cases, may not know better.

Many other thoughts came out such as:

  • Faruk talking about making Microsoft IIS.next systems add a patch which simply adds the HTTP header to put IE8 in compatibility mode
  • And, his though to start offering IE8 as a beta with the default being the standards mode and then see what the reception from the community
  • Chris replied to a question about forcing modes in the browser and having them install side by side: “we can with IE8 you can tell it go into standards more, we’ve been looking at several things that allow people to, directly, in some part of the UI at least, toggle into standards mode, do sort of similar to what Opera does, tell it to toggle back into IE7 UA string and that sort of thing.”
  • Question: On a similar note, you have the UA string, but you also have conditional comments. Jina Bolton asked you about: when IE8 is in compatibility mode, and we have a conditional comment for IE7 and a conditional comment for IE8, how is it going to handle that situation? Answer: The version vector plan right now, have the version vector and the UA string reflect the real version of IE8 and see what compatibility that turn out to be.

A lot of information here.

Posted by Dion Almaer at 7:01 am
9 Comments

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3.2 rating from 12 votes

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Poor conditionals for user agents, standards mode not as default, betas with stated differences from finals at a low level… this is hardly a developer’s browser, more an exercise in PR colliding with engineers. Classic Microsoft all the way. At least they’re somewhat aware of what the major objections are, but even so, they could at least address some of them.

Comment by JamesHarrison — February 26, 2008

I’m guessing there are at least a few folks at Microsoft reading this blog, so here goes.

Please, for the sake of standards moving forward, make IE 8 default to the proper standards mode, instead of needing a string to enable it.

Include a switch that will allow folks to toggle into IE7 mode, and allow corporate clients to push updates that default to the old mode.

You’d get much love from the developer community for showing that you can listen, and not make our lives more difficult going forward.

Thanks!
A hopeful developer

Comment by Carbon43 — February 26, 2008

I don’t really understand why people are so pissed off about this, I agree, having it in standards by default would be optimal. There is way more people that make outdated websites than using standards, and if anything, the biggest benefit that comes from the opt-in is that the IE8 adoption rates will be MUCH higher (especially within businesses that have intranets coded for IE6) which will result in us no longer having to fix bugs in IE6. Not having to fix IE6 anymore is well worth an extra server header!

Comment by Andy Kant — February 26, 2008

I agree about the IE6 thing, if IE8 had a IE6 mode. It won’t. Just a IE8 mode, and a IE7 mode.

Comment by Steve Roussey — February 26, 2008

I was on the hate bandwagon on this issue at first, but I realized that, basically, the default-to-IE7-mode is probably the best case scenario. Basically, with IE7-default, we have to do exactly as much work as we’re doing now. With IE8-default, we’d have to, at the very least, add meta tags to any of our projects, or work to be compatible with yet another IE version. I mean, if we could trust that IE8 is going to be, as a baseline, rendering/behavior-compatible with Firefox 2, we’d be right in hoping for standards mode being the default. But let’s face it, we can’t trust that.

Comment by Trevor — February 26, 2008

Microsoft should just advertise “The best platform to run Firefox” or something along those lines and get out of the browser writing business, since they are obviously not, and never have been, actually _serious_ about providing a good browsing experience for both users and developers.

Comment by Andy — February 26, 2008

Question: On a similar note, you have the UA string, but you also have conditional comments. Jina Bolton asked you about: when IE8 is in compatibility mode, and we have a conditional comment for IE7 and a conditional comment for IE8, how is it going to handle that situation? Answer: The version vector plan right now, have the version vector and the UA string reflect the real version of IE8 and see what compatibility that turn out to be.

This has been my biggest concern, and this sounds (to me) to be the worst possible solution.

The IE guys told us to switch from hacks to conditional comments for IE7; I did so. By the sounds of things, hacks would have been IE8 compatible and conditional comments aren’t going to be executed.

This is infuriating. Every site I’ve developed since IE7 was in early beta will need an update.

Every.

Site.

Comment by Kit — February 26, 2008

“Then, you know, there was kind of a long pause between releases. The unfortunate thing then is, that between the time that we released IE6 and the time that we released IE7, the adoption of standards mode on the main part of the web grew tremendously.”

‘Unfortunate’ thing???

Comment by Gavin — February 27, 2008

I was so glad that Vista defaulted to running everything in 16-bit DOS Compatibility mode and you had to enable a switch on your app to have it take full advantage of your system. So much more convenient than all those software houses having to upgrade their applications to use the new APIs.
Oh, hang on, that was the other way round wasn’t it?

Comment by Andy Stevens — February 27, 2008

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