Are IE8 and Web Standards Compatibility Compatible?

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During the five-year stretch between release of IE6 and IE7, the browser market changed -- and how -- along with user expectations for security and other usability features. Thanks to Mozilla's launch of Firefox in 2004, end users became aware that, yes, they really did like tabbed browsing and add-on downloads from a myriad of sources. So much so that Firefox has now nabbed over 15 percent of the browser market share, according to Net Applications stats.


The fact that two updates to Firefox were released before IE7 got out the door poured salt on Microsoft's wounds.


At the company's Mix07 Web developer conference this week, those hoping to hear that IE8 was on track, and maybe a few details on what to expect, are apparently being put off. And it's not just that IE execs aren't quite ready to commit to a release date.


What's more worrisome is that the IE development team is claiming that it is ready and willing to become more compliant with specific standards, like Cascading Style Sheets -- but is leaning toward asking site developers to opt into IE's standards mode, in effect agreeing that they'll be responsible should anything unfortunate happen to their sites' functionality in IE8, according to this InfoWorld piece report on the conference.


The truth is the Microsoft team is greasing the skids for an IE8 release that will follow version 3 of Firefox (due later this year). Security? Yes, we know users think it's important. Standards compliance? Yes, we know developers think it's important. But it'll be very difficult for us to modify our code to comply, so perhaps we can just do a partial job of it and let site admins figure out the last mile.


Just yesterday, after I screwed a project up and was attempting to propose a quick-and-dirty fix, my boss reminded me that the easiest solution is rarely the best solution, and perhaps the bit of pain associated with digging in and committing to a higher-quality fix is, shall we say, apropos.


The outcry over the lack of Web standards compatibility in IE7 should still be very fresh in the minds of the IE dev team. As much as they want to release a beta of IE8 as soon as possible, maybe their bosses should give them a similar admonition to take the time to solve the standards compatibility conundrum. It'll pay off in the long run.