Sound and Fury
Well, the brouhaha over IE8’s planned “version targeting” continues apace. Despite the high amount of rage flaring up over the matter, both in the comments on Aaron’s article and on weblogs such as this one, some really thoughtful writing has come to the fore; my two favorite examples so far are Jeremy Keith’s excellent essay, and James Bennett’s analysis of how Microsoft’s legacy might be impacted by the switch. Both are excellent reads, and worth your time.
For myself, I’m still feeling uneasy about the whole thing. Not just because I think the purported reasoning’s flawed, but because I’ve been thinking about Microsoft’s refusal to “break the web.” Two quick thoughts, neither of which are especially well-formed:
By effectively locking future versions to a default rendering of IE7, Microsoft’s browser is taking a stance that none of its other software products do. In my mind, it’s analogous to the latest version of Word saving its files as Word 3.0-compatible by default.
If the main concern is really to preserve a means to access old or imperfect areas of the web, Microsoft should create its own browser archive, and make standalone versions of its Internet Explorer available for download. We know it’s able to be done, so why not relieve the burden from IE’s developers, and make old but officially sanctioned versions of the browser readily available?
I was chatting about this with Dan yesterday, as we walked through the cold streets of Boston, discussing browsers, beer, and conferences (more on that later). The more I thought about it, the more this “we won’t break the web” argument felt, well, wrong-headed. Since much of the breakage occurred because of the five-year gap between IE6 and IE7’s releases, I think Microsoft’s tack at this point should be showing its customers how to fix the web.
That’s not meant in an incendiary, “OMG MICROSOFT SUX!!!one!” way, mind. Rather, I’ve been thinking about Netscape DevEdge lately, and what a great resource it was in its day. Imagine if Microsoft published something similar: a repository on how to create killer websites, using standards-friendly best practices. And hell, if it shows how to wring a little extra standards-compliance out of Microsoft products at the same time, then all the better—I know I’d like to have such a resource to point clients to.
I realize that there’s a very real problem faced by IE’s beleaguered engineers, and creating a market-leading knowledgebase on standards-friendly development practices isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a priority for them. But if Microsoft took a more proactive role in demonstrating to its customers that it cared about standards, and the web at large, then I think it’d go a long way to assuaging some of the flames we’ve been seeing in the past couple days.
Maybe the IE team’s refusal to “break the web” is just a result of Microsoft’s compartmentalized product development model: Product Teams A and B are doing their best to create killer, standards-compliant products, while Product Teams X and 41 think spacer
<marquee> tags are Seriously Hot Shit™. With that kind of left hand vs. right hand approach, I could see how it’d be difficult to draw a line in the sand, and truly commit to bringing the browser forward. Maybe the lack of a company-wide, unified commitment to standards-compliance makes
X-UA-compatible our best option right now.
But at the end of the day, I just don’t know. To a certain extent, we’re all armchair philosophers, conjecturing about the very real issues facing IE’s developers from within and without. But whatever the motives, I just think Microsoft has missed a serious opportunity here. Rather than taking a leadership position, they’ve opted for a band-aid. Time will only tell if that’s going to be good enough for the web.