Internet Explorer News Roundup

From the-little-browser-that-couldn’t department, there have been a few bits of Internet Explorer information in the news lately that I thought might interest the web developers among you.

First, on February 12th, Microsoft will release Internet Explorer 7 as an update roll-up for corporate users (via Windows Server Update Services). It has been a critical update through Automatic Updates for a while, but a lot of corporate users use WSUS to push out updates instead. Hopefully this will give IE 6 a good kick toward the grave. IE 7 isn’t exactly a walk through the park in terms of standards compliance, but it’s an order of magnitude better than IE 6.

If you were dump enough to accidentally purchased or designed a system that requires IE6’s quirky way of looking at the world, you can hit yourself with a shovel configure WSUS to ignore that update. If one of your users calls me complaining about PNG transparency, however, you will not be getting a Christmas card from me.

In other news, Microsoft is working on Internet Explorer 8 as we speak. Recently the IE team announced IE 8 could pass the Acid 2 test, which is a test of a browser’s ability to work with some specific features across several different web standards. If your browser is up to snuff, you get one of these:

ACID 2 Test

Ugly, huh? Well, if you’re a web developer, it’s a beautiful site. It means your days of putting IE hacks in all of your web sites will some day be history. When the IE team announced IE 8 had passed the Acid 2, there was general rejoicing.

As it turns out, the rejoicing was premature. IE 8 plans to essentially take the DOC tag under advisement. Instead of using it, Microsoft will require a meta tag switch to specifically tell IE 8 what rendering engine to use. If you want IE to use version 8 of the browser and all of its purported goodness, you have to add an additional tag to get it. If you don’t, IE 8 will degrade to IE 7 or (gulp) IE 6.

The kicker - with the meta tag, IE 8 does not pass the Acid 2 Test, as the meta tag Microsoft invented isn’t part of any W3C standard.

Here’s what Rachel Andrew had to say about it (from Microsoft Watch):

I believe that it will encourage the practice of developing for specific browsers. A practice we have tried to discourage since the days we all had to build two versions of our sites, one for Netscape and one for IE. It will also mean that the large number of developers who code solely for Internet Explorer and who, in the last couple of years, have been forced to update their methods due to IE 7 having better standards support can now code purely for a specific version of IE, thus leaving large chunks of the web frozen in time—not taking advantage of improvements that would benefit all of their users.

…if you have used a CSS feature currently unsupported in IE7, when IE 8 comes out—despite it supporting that feature—it won’t render your page with it as it will be rendering as IE 7. I know this sounds bizarre, but IE8 will only render your pages as IE 8 if you tell it to. There is the ability to set IE=edge so you get the terrifying unknown thing that is the latest version of the browser, but how many people will know or care enough to do this?

I tend to agree. I understand why they want to do it this way - IE 7 broke a lot of sites that were hacked to work exclusively with IE 6. I just think it’s poor reasoning. At some point you have to stop putting hacks on top of hacks to get sloppy, non-standard code to work. This flag not only allows bad developers to keep slinging the slop, limiting web browser interoperability, it also means anybody wanting the new rendering features in IE 8 will have to break standards compliance to do so.

It’s still early, so I’m still holding out hope Microsoft will decide on a different path before IE 8 rolls out.