Published 16 years, 3 months past

Now here’s something I didn’t expect to see when I woke up this morning:

Microsoft Expands Support for Web Standards: Company outlines new approach to make standards-based rendering the default mode in Internet Explorer 8, will work with Web designers and content developers to help with standards behavior transition.”

Seriously, that’s the title and subhead of Microsoft’s latest press release.

About halfway through, there’s this from Ray Ozzie:

…we have decided to give top priority to support for these new Web standards. In keeping with the commitment we made in our Interoperability Principles of being even more transparent in how we support standards in our products, we will work with content publishers to ensure they fully understand the steps we are taking and will encourage them to use this beta period to update their sites to transition to the more current Web standards supported by IE8.

See also the IEblog entry Microsoft’s Interoperability Principles and IE8, where Dean Hachamovitch says:

Microsoft recently published a set of Interoperability Principles. Thinking about IE8’s behavior with these principles in mind, interpreting web content in the most standards compliant way possible is a better thing to do.

We think that acting in accordance with principles is important, and IE8’s default is a demonstration of the interoperability principles in action.

In other words, the IE team seems to have used recent Microsoft PR efforts to their, and our, advantage.

I’m relieved and glad on the one hand, and a little worried on the other.  It’s not like the issues I discussed, or Jeffrey wrote about, have gone away.  It’s just that the way in which they’re handled by IE has shifted—which in some ways is a huge difference.

I think what worries me most is the possibility that when the public beta hits, there will be enough incompatibility problems that pushback from other constiuencies forces a change back to the original behavior.  I hope not.  I hope that what will happen is that any problems that come up will be addressed by spreading the news far and wide that there’s a simple one-line fix for those sites.

I’m glad that IE will act as browsers have always done, and default to the latest and greatest in the absence of any explicit direction to the contrary.  I’m doubly glad that the IE team is willing to do that, even knowing what they have to handle.  And I’m triply glad that the proposal was made in public ahead of time, with plenty of opportunity for debate, so that we could have a chance to weigh in and affect the browser’s behavior.

Comments (47)

  1. Hooray! Um…That’s all I wanted to say.

  2. This is great news.Thanks for relaying it Eric. I have Reader pointed to the IEBlog, but don’t check the feed as often as I should (Tsk, Tsk me).

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  4. Thanks for this post – read your pointer on twitter and it’s really news that cheers me up :)
    Looks like we can move forward in a more positive direction now …

  5. I’m pleasantly stunned. Eric, can you speculate on what caused MSFT to make this subtle, but incredibly important change? I’m going to guess it was the furor over their previous announcement, but am I missing something there?

    Thanks for posting — caught the update on Twitter as well.

  6. Yay! That’s some great news… We won! ;_)

  7. The discussion of how to future proof web documents doesn’t belong in the hands of any one vendor because its a problem with all, but MS hadn’t come at it from my point of view as a publisher of web documents, the initial proposal was very much a business decision that seemed to be solving some specific vendor level problems.

    To your concern, I’d hope they don’t find a business cause to once again reverse course. Preventing that, I’d want to think that the answers to some of the questions raised by the community [how do you ID the browser in these modes, when will it end / can you ever end of life the “ie7web”, can you freeze to Ie8 vs. IE8.0.1] and the difficulty of implementing the desired default behavior without breaking other parts of the web are part of why the decision was made. If it was, those hurdles will do as much to prevent your feared re as the standards community and other educated authors.

  8. I have to say when I first heard about version targeting I was against the whole idea. After a while I warmed up to it, but hated the default behavior. I’m glad to see that they are reversing their position on this.

  9. Now here”s something I didn”t expect to see when I woke up this morning

    Bit of a hell-freezing-over moment, eh?

    In other words, the IE team seems to have used recent Microsoft PR efforts to their, and our, advantage.

    Well yes, but I don’t think this is primarily about PR — it’s about European competition law. The EC are serious about restricting anti-competitive behaviour, and I think Microsoft are genuinely worried. Their lawyer’s even quoted in the press release, saying that the new default “removes this question as a potential legal and regulatory issue”.

    Of course, the community reaction helped too.

  10. Score one for the standardistas! :)

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  12. I think this is a step in the right direction. I realize all too well, the issues that Jeffrey and you outlined still exist. However, I couldn’t get past the idea of “crippling” the web in order not to “break” it. I couldn’t comprehend how the web would be permitted to freely grow and improve, technologically, if that which is old remains the default.

    I personally feel that Microsoft is best positioned of all the browser manufacturers to educate and advocate for standards where the general public is concerned — based on market share. Explanations as to why some websites don’t look (or behave) the same when the browser is upgraded could go a long way to prompt different types of sites to keep up with the times — or how to “fix” it with a single line addition in a meta declaration.

    I really think this step is the for the best in the advancement of standards, overall. Those who have never head of them before, may now become aware that they exist and are beneficial. While not all folks maintaining websites will be as highly educated in the use of standard technologies as professional developers, nor will all those folks be able to implement them, there is a stronger chance that standards will be more widely acknowledged. How can that be bad in the long run?

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  14. I’m impressed that Microsoft has the kahones to change their flawed decision. I can only hope Ozzie and company will keep this new stance and gain more credibility in web standards.

  15. Fantastic (means ‘greatandunbelievable‘) reversal, I agree. I was struck too by the “regulatory issue” that IEBlog alluded to, and re: Jonathan’s comment above:

    Well yes, but I don”t think this is primarily about PR — it”s about European competition law.

    So does this mean that Opera’s drum-banging made a difference? I think most people wrote them off at the time as trying to redirect some eyeballs in their direction…

  16. I sort of see this like having your cake and eating it too. If users want to “freeze” their site in a certain version they can but people who are more knowledgeable can skip that step. For all those “mom and pop” websites that break, it’s a simple fix of adding the header tag and for the rest of us, we don’t have to do anything. I’m sure even the most standards aware developers will still find a kink or two with IE 8 but it will only be because they were working around IE 6 or 7.

  17. Eric what’s with the “1940” number under the date in my post?

  18. Jason, I think a lot of it has to do with the “Interoperability Principles” which were announced on February 21st. I think those made it possible to push the case for change internally and win. Because as just about nobody was willing to believe, the IE7 default wasn’t the first choice for the IE team. (If it were, they wouldn’t have made this change, but would instead have found a way to justify the IE7 default under the “Interoperability Principles” umbrella.)

    I certainly think that the community’s reaction played into this, and I suspect that the team cherry-picked some of the more cogent and concise objections to bolster the case. And certainly the fact that so many people opposed the default behavior would have influenced the team’s decisions: if the whole community had let loose a mighty “Amen!” and broken into songs of joyful praise, they’d probably have stuck to the IE7 default. (Not that anyone would have expected that, of course; I’m just sayin’.)

    Some have speculated here and elsewhere that the EU anti-trust investigations are a significant factor, and pieces of the press release and blog post certainly support that interpretation. I’m not sure that IE is so big a piece of the Microsoft ecosystem that its behavior would significantly affect legal actions by the EU, but I Am, as the kids say, Not A Lawyer. Nor have I read closely what’s been going on with the EU and Microsoft. So I could well be missing a Freedom-of-the-Seas-size boat there.

  19. That’s a timestamp, Neal.

  20. So, the ‘opt-in’ becomes an ‘opt-out’. Problem more or less solved.

    No all we need is a high degree of “standard compliance” in IE8, and I’m a lot more optimistic about that part too – now.

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  24. Chalk one up for the lawyers – never thought I would say that line!

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  26. I know it’s not the most popular thing to give Microsoft a lot of credit, but I believe that at least part of this is due to the fact that IE7 is already pretty darn good. The switch from 6 to 7 was painful because 6 was so incredibly out of date, 7 was a great leap forward, and thus the changes in Standards mode were huge. This time around I think there will simply be a lot less that will break.

    I’m willing to bet that surfing the web with their internal builds of 8, and seeing that almost everything that worked with 7 still looks fine, went a long way toward convincing them that this would be ok…

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  28. If they really want to support standards they need to support SVG. SVG will open up a whole new world of applications.

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  30. Great news indeed.

    I said it on Zeldman, I’ll say it here, and elsewhere: I’ll gladly give some time to educate mom ‘n pops, or even fix their sites. It’s just one line of code, and that’s if you can’t send the header through the server. I think this is a good chance to reach out, help, etc., and we should maybe get an effort together.


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  32. As I commented on WaSP, hooray! Yet another reason to look forward to the year 2013! </snark>

  33. The pushback will come anyway, regardless of this latest back flip. We saw it with IE6, IE7 and we’ll see it again with IE8. Several large organizations we deal with have resisted IE7 like the plague. When asked why and what evidence they have to oppose such an upgrade, the IT staff just shrug and say it’ll probably break everything and mumble something about Vista. This is a sentiment passed down the line from Microsoft, and its hard for these IT staff to shake it. But you’re right here Eric, it certainly won’t speed up adoption. And that is really the main stumbling block for the success of IE8.

    That said I prefer it this way round than the other :)

  34. I think M$ marketing department were finally made aware of the long term implications for their previous decision and the penny dropped. I’ve argued consistantly around the traps that opt-in would kill not only IE but, all the tag soup readers and generators in the M$ portfolio. Good to see that the big picture has finally been seen and understood.

    There has been alot of the ‘it doesn’t feel right’ posts in blogs about opt-in. Mostly, because the big picture about the opt-in implications are hard to articulate from the multi-perspective user/developer of the web. But at the end of the day, this gut feeling was the correct one and its good to see that the tech guys in M$ were able to put a constructive, well-thought out argument to marketing around the choices M$ has berfore it. Well done.

    Btw, has anyone heard from JZ lately, he seems to have gone a bit quite…

  35. Oops, did I say opt-in? That was naughty, I meant opt-out. Though I was thinking otp-in for standards.

  36. You mean besides his post and various followup comments yesterday on, David? Or did you have a different JZ in nind?

  37. 1 Giant step in the right direction. Hopefully the momentum sticks with them. Finally getting the message heh.

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  40. I think my favorite part of that post is part of Ray Ozzie’s quote:

    “…we have decided to give top priority to support for these new Web standards…”

    New Web standards – wow.

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