IE team changes its mind on IE8 default behaviour

Just now the IE team announced that it's reversing its policy on the default behaviour of IE8, which shows that it has been paying close attention to the discussion of its versioning proposal. I admit that I hadn't expected this reversal, but I welcome it.

Back in January, when A List Apart announced the versioning switch, it was also announced that, left to itself, IE8 would use IE7 behaviour by default. Web developers could overrule this default and switch to IE8 behaviour by inserting the new <meta> versioning switch.

Today's decision reverses that behaviour: without a versioning switch IE8 will behave as IE8, although it will still be possible to switch it to IE7 behaviour, if desired.

Frankly, I hadn't seen this coming. I supported the previous system for two reasons:

  1. I didn't (and don't) think that adding a <meta> switch or similar mechanism is such a hardship.
  2. It seemed that Microsoft really needed the default-to-IE7 rule in order to allow the Intranets of its corporate clients to continue working undisturbed.

As of right now, the second reason has ceased to exist — and that's the bit that I didn't see coming.

Microsoft has decided to put the interests of web standards above the interests of the Intranets of its corporate clients.

I advise you to read the previous paragraph again. Even two years ago I had never expected to be able to write such a statement.

True, the versioning switch will allow anyone to adapt quickly: just set the switch to turn back the clock, and your website is saved.

Nonetheless, the IE team has done exactly what many standards-aware web developers wanted: it has put the onus on non-standardistas. If you want IE7 behaviour, fine, but you have to take action. If you just want standards and progressive enhancement, do nothing.

Isn't that something? The IE team is listening.

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 Joost Diepenmaat on 4 March 2008 | Permalink

I must say I'm pleasantly surprised.

With regards to your point 2: I always imagined it would be fairly easy for intranets to add a single meta tag to keep their out-dated stuff working (and in intranet situations, the pressure would also be there to do it quickly), while most serious sites out in the wild wild web already cater to browsers that are a lot more standards-compliant than IE7, so putting the onus on them to add some (outside-the-standard) tag just to get the best behaviour from IE8 and later seemed insulting.

Anyway, I'm smiling -> :-)

2 Posted by Alan Hogan on 4 March 2008 | Permalink

Absolutely amazing. This is doubtlessly fantastic news.

Yet, the part of me that has been hurt so many times by Microsoft Internet Explorer, together with the part of me aware of Microsoft's "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish" / back-room dealings / ex-parte Lindows suit is concerned that this is mostly a ploy to get OOXML to wrongfully pass ISO certification.

Here's hoping for best of intentions and a stellar & standards-based IE8!

3 Posted by Brian LePore on 4 March 2008 | Permalink

From the article on IEBlog:

"...this step clearly removes this question as a potential legal and regulatory issue."

Was this a comment by MS on the whole Opera antitrust complaint?

4 Posted by Sander Aarts on 4 March 2008 | Permalink

Very goog news!

Perhaps you can do some alternative arm wrestling then with Jeremy at Mix2008 as the default switch behaviour discussion will probably be off ;)

5 Posted by Craig Fairhurst on 4 March 2008 | Permalink

Interesting..

6 Posted by Luis Merino on 4 March 2008 | Permalink

Such nice news. This will be pushing forward the web development and the upcoming technologies even more than the late decision.

7 Posted by Jay on 4 March 2008 | Permalink

I think this is good news for people who believe in rules for web standardization !

8 Posted by Adam J. McIntyre on 4 March 2008 | Permalink

A big victory for standards-aware web developers and a dramatic change from Microsoft's usual practices.

I wonder, though, if they realized they could have their cake and eat it, too: flip standards on in IE8 by default, and release some kind of "critical update" to roll products like SharePoint back to IE-7 mode, letting them maintain corporate Intranets like PPK's second point.

On its face, this seems like a big victory for those of us in the web development community. But, my experience with MS tells me that there has to be more behind their decision than a sudden love for web standards.

9 Posted by Joost Diepenmaat on 4 March 2008 | Permalink

@Adam: "my experience with MS tells me that there has to be more behind their decision than a sudden love for web standards."

If you read the announcement, it seems that this change was made in part to head off potential legal problems. It's not unreasonable to assume it's related to Opera's anti-trust complaint and/or other European Union investigations.

10 Posted by Mondavi on 4 March 2008 | Permalink

Are these only two reasons for support the previous system ?

11 Posted by Jordan on 5 March 2008 | Permalink

When I read the original announcement that non-standard behaviour would be the default, I all but screamed at the monitor: "Why don't they do it the other way around?"

I'm heartened to see that they are pursuing the most obvious and logical path of implementing web standards as the standard behaviour, as well as providing an easy way out for people who don't appreciate the burden of rewriting their code every time Microsoft releases a product with an exotic new bug profile.

12 Posted by Steve on 6 March 2008 | Permalink

Can someone tell me the difference between strict mode and IE8's "standards mode"?

E.g. currently our sites are developed to strict mode and work fine with Safari, FF, IE7. Now it looks like we must enable a non-default mode in IE8?

13 Posted by Joost Diepenmaat on 6 March 2008 | Permalink

@Steve: IE8's strict mode should behave more like the standard says it should than IE7. Because this may break sites that are build assuming all kinds of IE7-specific bugs, there will be a non-standard META tag what can be used to switch IE8 to behave like IE7.

However, if you're already building sites to comply with the standards and use decent techniques to work around IE7's non-standardisms, IE8 should just work, and work better.

IOW: if your site currently works on IE7, Opera, Firefox and Safari, and it doesn't use any user-agent sniffing, chances are very high it will work correctly on IE8 too (no 100% guarantee, but you won't get that from any browser vendor).

14 Posted by Ver Noss on 6 March 2008 | Permalink

Opera's complaint seems to have played an important role in making Microsoft do the right thing.

You were highly critical of Opera's efforts at the time. Have you reconsidered your position?

15 Posted by Dusan Smolnikar on 6 March 2008 | Permalink

They finally convinced me why the previous decision was the right one and now they're changing their minds? Funny fellas.. :)

Also, I get this feeling that this new default won't go unaltered into the final release version. There are just too many websites breaking under it.

16 Posted by ppk on 6 March 2008 | Permalink

Re Opera:

No, I still hold the same position. I still think it's a bad idea to give the EC any kind of power over web standards.

And this whole story that the Opera suit "caused" the IE team to change its mind is only a theory right now; not a fact.

In fact, I don't see how the IE team decision impacts the lawsuit at all; the basic facts that Opera protests against are still in place.

17 Posted by Steve on 6 March 2008 | Permalink

@Joost: We do support FF and Safari in strict mode with almost no exceptions to IE7. I tested the same in IE8 and there were all kinds of new issues. Perhaps the cause is buggy beta code and not "standards" effort....but I doubt it.

18 Posted by Tom on 6 March 2008 | Permalink

I think it is a very smart move but wonder why anyone would use IE anyways when there are other great browsers like Firefox

19 Posted by Sascha Brossmann on 6 May 2008 | Permalink

@Tom: you should realise, that there are

a) large crowds of users out there who are plain happy if they just can “get into the internet” by which means ever and do not have the slightest idea about installing another browser (what? why? how?)

b) a large corporate and institutional base of installations where users do not have the least control about which software they get to use.