IE and standards

In an interesting post in the IE Blog, lead program manager Chris Wilson explains the current state of affairs in the touchy realm of "IE and standards support". It's an interesting read, and he makes a few cogent points. He also calls for specific requests about standards IE should support, and I'm happy to oblige.

First of all, I'm glad Microsoft employees have the courage to speak up on this touchy subject, while knowing that for each helpful comment they receive they'll have to wade through a few dozen rants from standards zealots. Microsoft's increased communication on these difficult points makes me hope the new Explorer will take the wishes of us web developers into account.

Two of Wilson's points are interesting enough to repeat:

  1. Explorer 3, 4, 5 and 6 were all leaders in CSS support at the moment they were released. This is commonly forgotten in the current Firefox-hurray hubbub, but it remains true. The problem is not that Explorer 6 is bad, it's that other browsers are better.
  2. More than any other browser, Explorer has a backward compatibility problem. Mozilla was a fresh start after the Netscape 4 disaster, Opera has always had a small user base, Safari is a completely new browser, but Explorer is being used on a tremendous scale, and countless people have written Explorer-specific implementations for, say, their corporate Intranet. These implementations should not be broken, hence the Explorer team should be careful lest mending one problem causes a new problem to spring up.

At the end of his entry, Wilson says:

Finally, I want you all to know that specific requests and descriptions of problems in the field help us tremendously in prioritizing what we need to do. There is some great work that has been done in harvesting the collective knowledge of the web development community, such as on quirksmode [hey, that's me!], meyerweb.com, CSSVault, glish and Position Is Everything. We pay a lot of attention to this kind of thoughtful insight into the biggest problems web developers face today. We'd like to encourage those facing real-world problems with the IE platform to participate in these kinds of efforts, so we can use this to help prioritize our development.

I'll take him up on that. Here is my personal top-five of CSS functionalities I'd like to see added to Explorer, in this order:

  1. min/max width/height. Because almost every time I create a site I wish for IE support for these properties. They come in very handily in any number of ways.
  2. :hover on other elements than links. Because of pure CSS menus and their ilk.
  3. position: fixed. Because it's such a nice effect, and because we need it to finally get rid of frames (including those on QuirksMode.org)
  4. The > selector and the + selector. Because they can provide a few finishing touches for any site. Besides, once they're supported by all browsers some clever soul will find a new, revolutionary way to use them.
  5. box-sizing. Because I'd like to set the box model through something else than a doctype.

(The float model could be in this list, too, but I'd like to spend some more thought on it before committing it to paper (well, the Web). I have the feeling IE's float model can sometimes be very useful, and maybe, just maybe, a choice of float models analogous to a choice of box models is a good idea. More on this later.)

If you want to help the IE team (as opposed to mindlessly bashing it with a herd of firefoxes), create your own list and put it on your blog. That'll help Wilson and his people to get their priorities straight.

Note: any list in the comments on this page will be removed. Post it on your blog, not on mine. Linking to your own list is allowed, though.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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1 Posted by Vladimir Stepanov on 10 March 2005 | Permalink

Sorry, I don't have a real blog, so just a humble suggestion. I personally find this thing extremely annoying:

text-align:center; versus margin:0 auto;

Feel free to erase this entry of course :-)

2 Posted by Rimantas on 10 March 2005 | Permalink

margin: auto works in IE6 in 'standards compliant' mode.
You just need apropriate DOCTYPE (and make sure it is the first thing in your file - no xml declaration, no empty lines).

3 Posted by Vladimir Stepanov on 10 March 2005 | Permalink

Yep, your right, it's the <?xml line. Weird...
Thanks for the hint.

4 Posted by lynn eriksen on 10 March 2005 | Permalink

I'd like box sizing as well, but I don't think the CSS3 spec for it is finalized.

http://www.w3.org/TR/2002/WD-css3-box-20021024/#the-box-width

5 Posted by Erik Arvidsson on 10 March 2005 | Permalink

box-sizing is a defacto standard that was introduced in IEMac and all browsers except IEWin supports it.

Other interesting defacto standards that used to be IE only includes innerHTML, offset*, scroll* and client*

6 Posted by John on 10 March 2005 | Permalink

I am at best a skilled amateur, but this is what I think they should add : http://web.njit.edu/~js84/wordpress/?p=24

7 Posted by ramin on 11 March 2005 | Permalink

Not sure if this is considered as part of the "standards", but how about proper PNG support with a working alpha channel? I would love to see that.

8 Posted by Jim on 11 March 2005 | Permalink

> That's not true, where did that come from?

Not from Chris Wilson - all he said was that Internet Explorer 3.0 was there first and that each subsequent version was better than the last. I think ppk read too much into it.

> More than any other browser, Explorer has a backward compatibility problem. Mozilla was a fresh start after the Netscape 4 disaster

WTF? The fresh start caused a hell of a lot of backward compatibility problems. You can't say they don't count just because the Mozilla developers decided a fresh start was more important.

9 Posted by Lee on 15 March 2005 | Permalink

In addition to your suggestions, I'd like to see support in IE for transparent png images without having to use MS filters. This is a decent enough work around for right now, but it seems if they have already addressed the issue, it should be easy to add. Also remember that no matter what gets added, we as developers will still be required to support v6 for a while to come... *sigh*