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Microsoft and IE8 default behaviour

Microsoft has changed its mind about the proposal to use a meta tag to trigger IE8 to use the standards rendering mode.

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A change of mind

Back in January like many others I blogged about Microsoft’s decision to use

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=8" />

to tell Internet Explorer 8 that the page should be rendered in Standards Mode. Although the community was divided my opinion was that it was not the right decision. I’m pleased therefore that Microsoft have reconsidered this decision and have announced that IE8 will render in Standards Mode by default. The justification is based on the newly announced Interoperability Principles (which I also welcome).

A difficult choice

I appreciate this must have been a difficult choice for Microsoft. The blog post touches on legal implications. Consider for example that a Blue Chip company finds that their website is broken in IE8 and call their lawyers. Personally I feel the transition to IE7 was well managed - warning was given, likely issues were documented, and a beta version was available for many months prior to the release. I feel a similar release schedule will negate any legal problems (although I’m no lawyer). Also having a common set of standards that all browsers refer to and use means that the legal environment will have more definition.

Moving forward

This is great news for developers who can concentrate on using standards and not browser specific implementations. The onus can now move onto developers rather than browser manufacturers. Eventually we should get to a stage where we are not even talking about standards any more. They will just be accepted. The challenge for IE8 will be to communicate the release and make a beta available at the earliest opportunity. Personally I would have no issue with a similar release schedule to IE7, which I felt was well documented and gave fair warning. By committing to standards Microsoft can now point to a set of rules and resolve themselves of responsibility for sites that are not created to render properly.

Why is this important?

Many of my colleagues ask me why I get so animated about this. It is just a rendering mode after all. Well it is, but it is also a small skirmish in the the battle to allow the web to be open, interoperable and free. With IE8 committing to render in standards mode it is very likely that sub-standard developers will have to improve their skills. This will have the result of more standards compliant sites being present on the web. By creating more standards-based sites on the web we have more chance future-proofing against new developments (and there will be many). Adhering to standards opens an opportunity that otherwise would not be available. For that reason alone I’m very pleased that Microsoft have reversed their decision.

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