Internet Explorer 8 standards-compliant by default

Dean Hachamovitch on the IEBlog:

We’ve decided that IE8 will, by default, interpret web content in the most standards compliant way it can. This decision is a change from what we’ve posted previously.

This is really good news. The previous decision that IE8 would be IE7 unless you specifically told it to be IE8 was one that I was really quite unhappy with; it ignited discussion all over the web developer world. The reason that this is really good news isn’t because IE8 will be IE8 by default (although that’s exactly what was wanted): it’s really good news because this is an example (the first example?) of Microsoft being prepared to break backwards compatibility in order to do it right. It’s an example of trying to take people who are doing things wrong and help them to move into a world of doing it right, rather than bending over backwards to help those doing it wrong and punishing those doing it right. That’s been Microsoft policy up to now, and I’ve always felt it to be penny-wise and pound-foolish; it keeps everyone working, but inhibits progress. This is a fundamental change in policy, based on the new Microsoft interoperability promise. And that’s a brave move by Microsoft. The IE team are to be congratulated, because making IE8 default to being as standards-compliant as possible is going to make the web better; it’ll be easier to build web sites and web applications that work across browsers, and those applications will be able to do more things. That’s bad for lock-in, but it’s good for the web as a whole, and that’s important. Dean Hachamovitch again:

Shorter term, leading up not just to IE8’s release but broader IE8 adoption, this choice creates a clear call to action to site developers to make sure their web content works well in IE.

What we need to do that is beta releases of IE8 that can be installed alongside previous IE releases. Nobody who’s an IE user wants to replace their system browser with a beta, because betas break — that’s the point of betas — but we do all want to test with them. Allow IE8 to be installed in some form of “standalone” mode in an official, supported, way. The IE team have said in the past that the existing standalone mode is not supported, but if we could have a supported standalone mode then testing is much more likely to happen, and testing is what we need here. (Note: “create a whole new Windows installation in a virtual machine and test IE8 there” is not really what I’m talking about here.) Working with the WINE team to allow IE8 to run under Wine would be pretty helpful, too, especially given that this change in IE’s direction is being driven by a promise of interoperability. This bodes well for IE passing the newly-released Acid 3 test, too. Hixie describes how the WebKit team are flying ahead on Acid3 support, just as they did with Acid 2; since Opera are pretty good at supporting recent standards, and the IE team are not only prepared to make serious standards-based decisions but have already committed to passing Acid 3, the Mozilla team might end up being last to pass, which would be a headline they don’t want. In short: well done IE team. Now let’s see IE8 kick some arse.

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