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Running To Stand Still

By on Feb 5, 2008 in Web Design, Web Engineering

This week, much to the consternation of web developers everywhere, Microsoft unexpectedly announced that their forthcoming version of Internet Explorer (8), will introduce the use of meta elements or HTTP headers, or a combination of both, allowing developers to tell Internet Explorer to behave as a specific version, “quirks” and all.

After years of suffering complaints over Internet Explorer’s horrendous web standards implementation, and the disappointment of developers and users over Internet Explorer 7’s standards shortcomings, Microsoft has finally decided to rewrite IE 8’s rendering engine following the CSS 2.1 spec as closely as possible. However, in order to keep compatibility for websites and intranets written to accommodate the poor standards support in IE6/7, Microsoft has come up with a retroactive solution which forces developers to partially shoulder the burden of not “breaking the web”, as Chris Wilson, Platform Architect for Internet Explorer insists that Microsoft cannot allow to happen.

There’s now great debate as to whether it’s good or bad for web development and the web itself. Personally I’m not happy with the idea of having to include extra markup just to make websites render in a standards compliant mode. The DOCTYPE (and validated markup and css) already serves this purpose for all standards compliant browsers quite well. I also find that I agree with the perspective of some, that these initiatives are a clear indication that Microsoft, in having to play catch up to the web standards implementations available in competing browsers for years, is in effect “running to stand still”, or to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, they’re having to run as fast as they can, just to stay where they are.

It’s also interesting to note that Microsoft’s latest web application platform, Silverlight is available for both Windows and Mac and as a plug in for Firefox and Safari on both platforms. Five years ago, when IE’s marketshare and mindshare dominated as it does no longer, Silverlight would’ve certainly been Windows and IE only.

So, while it’s certainly a positive development that Microsoft has found some web standards “religion,” it seems apparent that culturally, they are still incapable of truly embracing open standards. And because of their legacy mistakes, they must instead write their own compromised solutions to problems that have already been solved collectively by a web development industry which no longer has any need to be held back by accommodating Internet Explorer’s failings.

The short version of this is that, along with it’s approach to almost every facet of it’s business (which I’ll elaborate on in another forthcoming post) Microsoft has painted itself into quite the proverbial corner. It sure is never a dull moment in the web development world!

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