Unintentionally Blank

Phil Nash on the Internet, Web Standards and Accessibility

IE8 Version Targeting Final Thoughts: It's About The Users

Jan 31, 2008

by Phil Nash

The debate still rages regarding Microsoft's decision to allow web developers to target which version of IE they want to render their pages in. I have made my thoughts known and follwed up when I learned more. As I have spent some time away from the computer and had time to reflect, I just wanted to make my final thoughts known on the subject.

A Quick Correction

In my last post I referred to "lazy developers" being those that wouldn't necessarily want to, or know how to, fix their sites if a new browser release broke them. Zeldman put this in a much better way with "the second-grade teacher defense" and I concede that, due to poor writing by myself, I was horribly off the mark and I hope I didn't offend anyone. Rather than those who cannot be bothered, it is those who create websites for themselves and their close communities, teams or families, those who don't know what a web standard is or what the difference between Internet Explorer and Firefox in terms of rendering is, those who certainly don't have a copy of Zeldman's book at home to consult that will be affected. Rather than their sites falling apart at the mere mention of a new version of IE, they will have some stability and IE users around the world will not suffer when they "upgrade" their browser.

Users, Users, Users

That last point above really is the crux of the issue. Perhaps releasing the information on A List Apart to a bunch of web standards fanatics wasn't the best of ideas, since the first thing you ask is, "What's in it for me?"

For everyone who reads A List Apart, there is potentially nothing of any use in the version targeting, especially since we can sidestep the version lock in using the "edge" keyword or unknown DOCTYPES, like HTML5. The real benefit is to users, and Microsoft has a lot of them. The thing is, if a new version of IE breaks a website, any user of that site who upgrades sees or is unable to use that broken site. I had a great conversation about this in the comments of Joe Dolson's post on the matter, which is worth reading too.

Software Issues

The final concerns I have about the matter are based around IE itself. Carrying rendering engines and legacy code, maintaining and patching them but retaining the same bugs is all going to be incredibly hard to do and Microsoft have their work cut out for them for the future now. I only wonder whether this plan is meant to fail eventually, once Microsoft has had some breathing space and managed to finally catch up with implementing the standards that we have already. Then the consideration is whether someone invents another switch or whether there should be one final hit, one more "breaking the web", before we can view IE as an equal with the other browsers and we never have to switch anything again.

In Conclusion

This is the last I have to say on this issue for now, unless something truly groundbreaking comes along. I don't mind the switch, I hope it keeps the web intact for those that need it while I look forward to seeing IE support more and more standards, from Acid2 to, hopefully, CSS3.

Finally, I just wish the news had been broken using lemurs. I think there would have been a lot less hassle and everyone would have understood much quicker. Maybe something to think about for the A List Apart editors!

Unintentionally Blank is Phil Nash's thoughts on web development from 2006-2008. Any code or opinions may be out of date.