Drugs, Bugs, and IE8

Published 10 years, 6 months ago

If there’s a downside to becoming a cyborg, it’s the aftermath.  I’m not talking about the dystopian corporate-state shenanigans: those are fully expected.  No, it’s the painkillers that really suck.  They basically do their job, but at the cost of mental acuity.  That is not a trade I’m happy to make.  Granted, there were some interesting physical hallucinations that came along for the ride, but that’s nowhere near enough to balance the scales.

Here’s what I mean on that last part.  At one point yesterday, lying in bed as I had been all day, I decided it was about time to straighten out my legs, which were crossed at the ankles and starting to feel a little funny.  When I sent the relevant signals to my legs, nothing really happened.  Slowly I came to realize that nothing was happening because my legs weren’t actually crossed at all.  Furthermore, it gradually dawned on me that if the sensoria I’d been getting had been correct, it would have to mean that my legs were not only crossed at the ankles, but also attached to my body backwards.

So anyway, I thought I’d write up some of my observations (thus far) regarding IE8 beta 1.  What?

I’m going to say basically the same thing I said about the first betas of IE7: test and report, but don’t fix.  That is to say, you should absolutely grab it and run it across all your own sites, and all your common destinations.  Find out what’s different, broken, or just plain strange.

But don’t start searching for workarounds.  Not yet.  Submit bug reports, yes.  Boil down the problems you hit to basic test cases and submit those, if you like.  (I do like, but I’ve got kind of a history with that sort of thing.)  Just don’t think that beta 1 represents what we’ll face in the final release.

No, I don’t have some sort of inside track; never have.  That conclusion simply seems obvious to me just by looking at how this beta acts.  For example, there’s no support at all for :first-line and :first-letter.  That’s not just a glitch.  That’s a lack of support for a CSS feature that’s been present for three major releases.  I just can’t see that omission persisting to final release.

Another problem I noticed is evident here on the home page of meyerweb.  In the sidebar, each list item has a left margin and negative text indentation, creating a classic “outdent”.  Like so:

#extra .panel li {margin-left: 1em; text-indent: -1em;}

In each of those list items is a link of some kind, usually text.  The fun part is this: the hanging outdent part of that text isn’t clickable.  So the first couple of letters of each sidebar link are inactive.  They’re colored properly, but do nothing if you try to click them.  If you click on the active part of a link, the focus outline only draws around the active part.  And, for bonus yay, scrolling the page will wipe away any outdents that are offscreen.  So as you scroll down the page, you end up with all the sidebar links having their first few letters chopped off.  Whoops.

Again, that’s something I just can’t see going unaddressed in the final release.

In both these cases, flipping IE8 back to IE7 mode makes the weirdness go away.

I’ve seen more serious problems on the wider web.  Google Maps is currently busted beyond any hope of usefulness in IE8, as many have reported.  Also, I came across a site where loading the home page just locked up IE8 completely.  I had to force-quit and relaunch.  Every time I hit that page, lockup.

Flipping to IE7 mode allowed me to browse the site without any trouble at all.

These things, taken together, have really driven something home for me: there really is a new rendering engine in there.  I don’t just mean in the sense of fixing and adding enough things that the behavior is different.  I mean that I believe there’s truly a whole new engine under the hood of IE8.  And if the Acid 2 results and public statements of the IE team are to be believed, there’s a whole new standards-based rendering engine under that hood.

That’s kind of a big deal in any event.  The last time I remember a browser with an extended release history replacing its old, creaky, grown-over-time, crap-piled-on-crap engine with (what the browser team felt was) a new, improved one was the transition from Netscape 4.5 to Netscape 6.0.  And remember how well that went?  Yee haw.

I really shouldn’t be surprised about this.  Chris Wilson, for example, used the exact words “our new layout engine” during the WaSP roundtable (transcript).  I guess I’d been assuming that was verbal shorthand for “our much-improved version of our old layout engine”.  I guess I was wrong.

So I would personally argue that this release was mislabelled.  This is not a beta release.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s an alpha, even under the kinds of old-school naming conventions I prefer.  I’m not going to go around calling it that, because that would just be unnecessarily confusing, but it’s how I’m going to think of it.

Now I’m wondering just how long it will be until final release, given the kinds of distances one usually sees between alpha and final.

Unfortunately, I just took the 6pm set of painkillers, so I’ll be wondering at about one-third speed.


  1. I can tell you that the IE team is taking bug reports pretty seriously. At the MIX conference, there were at least 2 ocassions when I saw people demonstrating bugs to members of the IE team.

    To reiterate what Eric said: Please, for the sake of all of us who design and develop for the web, let the IE team know about everything. Don’t post it on your blog or some random forum, send it to the IE team and it will likely get some attention.

  2. I think you’re right about the completely new rendering engine. I heard that they finally killed hasLayout which seems to be the root of all their problems in one way or another.

    I sort of got fed up with using the beta, just for the fact that many sites didn’t render the same and I couldn’t use it as efficiently as I could IE7 so I just un-installed it and went back to 7 for the time being.

    I may install it again though, at least on another one of my PCs now that you’ve made me aware of the quick and easy toolbar for it.

  3. I’m hoping somebody comes up with a conspiracy theory that Microsoft is making the IE8 betas break sites on purpose just so web developers will ask for IE8 to default to IE7 mode. Oh wait, did I just do that?

  4. Sorry, James, but you’re late by at least a month. People were claiming exactly that before the beta was even released.

  5. My experiences with IE8 are on par with yours. There is definitely a new rendering engine in there.

    On a side note, I hope your recovery is speedy. Plan to show us some of your new cyborg skills at the CWSA meeting April 1.

  6. For how long it’ll take before they will/can release IE8 final, I’d guess at around a year.

    Will probably take a bit longer to bring IE’s new engine up at a reasonably stable and standard-compliant level though, so they, and we, can only gain from them keeping IE8 in (what they call) beta-state for as long as possible and keep on working on it.

  7. About the new rendering engine – it appears there is some as-yet unremoved remnants of hasLayout. I’m told that my IE in-page navigation test fails in the IE8 beta, and the previous work-arounds were always to force hasLayout.

  8. […] Drugs, Bugs, and IE8: A predictably good read from Eric Meyer, but I link to it mainly to have an excuse to echo the following point: There are a lot of beta browsers out there right now (one less, now that Safari 3 has shipped). If you’re testing your sites in them and something renders in any way other than what you were expecting, submit a bug report. Don’t change your code. […]

  9. I’m not going to submit bugs to microsoft; the IE team can also google on “IE7 bugs”.

  10. I gave up trying to help beta test IE versions when I submitted a bug that they ignored. It wasn’t anything complex and should have been fixed in IE6. When they came out with IE7, it created as many problems as it fixed. If IE8 doesn’t do things at least as well as older versions of decent browsers (e.g., Safari 2, FF 2, etc.), then the web is going to become a very frustrating place…

  11. @bruce,
    Is this related to the “Named anchor does not work in Standards mode links” issue listed on the IE8 release notes? http://support.microsoft.com/kb/949787

  12. To right Eric, IE8 is definitely an alpha. I will find it interesting to see what bugs are fixed and in which order when they do release the various beta versions. The parsing or non-parsing of commented selectors is worst than how IE5 treats them. It’s like some Pandora’s Box has been open. MS now has the challenge of fixing their broken alpha. I want to see no more hacks.

    I wish I had IE5?mac to test with. :-)

  13. @brian

    no that’s not quite the same bug; I’m talking about arbitrary elements identified with an id rather than the old-skool method of named anchors.

  14. If this Beta release of IE8 is considered to be more of an Alpha release, it may be the result that the release, in my view, occurred a couple weeks to a month, prematurely. It is obvious, that its release was to coincide with the MIX conference.

    I hope that the IE team can and will successfully resist any internal pressure that may result in a premature release of its final version.

    Too much is at stake and rests on the successful adoption of IE8.

  15. I’ve encountered similar bugs with IE7 (note that that’s seven, not eight!) in RTL documents. I had a site I was building in Hebrew, that had links with both English and Hebrew text mixed together. Under certain circumstances (no, I never did narrow it down), the majority of any given bi-directional link was unclickable – same exact issue you encountered in IE8.

    There were a ton of other bugs I encountered with IE7’s RTL / bidi implementation – so many, in fact, that I’m convinced that the RTL / bidi aspect wasn’t tested past the equivalent of an early alpha stage.

    Makes me wonder how much different the IE8 engine really is; it almost seems like they took portions of code from IE7 that they thought worked fine and dropped them into the “new” IE8 engine.

  16. I too am wondering if the new engine is still partly Trident (IE7). My wondering depends on the fact there is a “switch to IE7 rendering mode” in there.

    But why would they wreak havoc by trying to program yet another new engine? Surely WebKit or Gecko would have been easier to use. Oh wait, they want total control. Sorry, I forgot.

    Now Microsoft have just published an interesting document showing what CSS will work in IE8 Final, what currently works or doesn’t in IE8 Beta 1 and so on for previous versions back to IE5. Also what they aren’t planning to implement. The document is here:

    CSS Compatibility and Internet Explorer

    I mention it because your post here Eric says that first:letter and first:line haven’t been implemented in IE8 Beta 1. But according to Microsoft, they have – in all versions since IE5.5, including IE8 Beta 1! So who’s right?

  17. …why would they wreak havoc by trying to program yet another new engine? Surely WebKit or Gecko would have been easier to use. Oh wait, they want total control. Sorry, I forgot.

    Yeah, I said the same thing about Opera. And for that matter, why would the KHTML and WebKit guys bother with their own engine when Gecko would have been easier? Total control, of course. Damn those companies and their evil controlling ways!

  18. @Eric

    you wrote: “Damn those companies and their evil controlling ways!”

    I hope that was in humor. :-)

    BTW, Safari 3.1 [1] and Opera 9.5 are the most advance browsers in CSS support. They are battling it out to take the 100 out of 100 success in Acidtest3 [2]. I see that an new AcidTest4 involving a greater share of CSS3 is needed for these browsers. An Opera lab alpha now supports hsla color. If this is implement soon then there will be Safari 3.1 and Opera battling for the lead. Gecko 1.9 which is getting left behind greatly and IE8 which is struggling with CSS2.1 compliance.

    An interesting year it will be!

    [1] Safari 3.1 pushes CSS3 support forward

    [2] Opera overtakes Safari in Acid3 race, reaches 100%

  19. @Chris Hector

    You write: “I too am wondering if the new engine is still partly Trident (IE7). My wondering depends on the fact there is a “switch to IE7 rendering mode” in there.”

    You may have already seen this page on trident rendering bands but viewing this page in IE8 reveals the trident of old. Scary…

  20. […] thus far to be very, very promising…”. He does actually mention that he’s “never had any inside track” from the IE guys, and granted, his comments did come before MS released a document outlining […]

  21. IE8 internal links (same page) are acting very strange. Has anyone else had this issue?

Leave a Comment

Management reserves the right to edit or remove any comment, especially when abusive or irrelevant to the topic at hand. HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strong> <pre class=""> <kbd>


Comment Preview

If you're satisfied with what you've written, then go ahead...