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Microsoft, IE8, and the META-madness - Page 3
Written by Gizmo   
Wednesday, 23 January 2008 22:23
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Eric Meyer, Aaron Gustafson, Jeffrey Zeldman, and others appear to be of the opinion that, while this isn't an ideal strategy, it is an acceptable compromise if it keeps MS on the track of improving its standards compliance in IE.  I have a great deal of respect for Eric Meyer professionally, so I have to give his opinion considerable weight.  Ultimately, though, I just think they are just plain wrong.

Many others who know a great deal more about how standards compliant browsers are supposed to behave than I do have brought up a great many good points about the potential problems this brings with it, so I'll list just a few of them here:

  • Let's say you have a page that specifies IE7 modes.  Does that mean you get all the security bugs with IE7 as well?
  • What if you have a page that specifies IE8, but loads an IFRAME containing a page that specifies IE7.  How does this affect the DOM?  Could you use this as an attack vector?  It's been argued that this is a far-fetched scenario, but hackers make their living exploiting far-fetched scenarios.
  • If you specify IE7 as your browser, are you then limited to the version of javascript that came with that version of browser?
  • What if there was a patch to the rendering engine in the browser version that you are targeting, and you need that patch.  Do you now have to specify subversions too?
  • How many engine versions do you realistically have to support?  This item in particular could adversely affect alternative browsers.  Since MS can hide a lot of IE's code in the OS, the penalties to MS for shipping multiple rendering engines would be much less than for, say, Opera or FireFox.
  • What about the impact on mobile devices, which typically have few resources (less memory, slow CPU, less storage, slower bandwidth) than desktop machines?
  • IE 8 passes the 'acid 2' test...or does it.  Turns out, it only passes acid 2 when in 'standards' mode, which can only be triggered if the page includes the <meta> tag mentioned above, or the server sends an http-equiv header.  Either way, that's not compliant with the standards.
  • What happens to the web standards?  This problem primarilly exists because lazy and/or clueless developers misused a tag that was intended to switch between 'quirks' and 'standards' mode until the web moved to being entirely standards oriented.  That hasn't happened. The problem is further compounded by Microsoft's own proclivity for making tools that work well only with their particular browser.   What makes us think things will be different this time around?

As I said previously, in the long run, I think this will be a bad move, not just for the web, but for MS as well.  If this is implemented, MS will be saddled with maintaining rendering engines and code bases for products back to the beginning of the millenium.  With Microsoft's abyssmal performance in getting Vista out the door, working, on time, I can't see the extra resources needed to maintain multiple rendering engines in IE being a good thing for MS.

Ultimately, this is a Microsoft problem, and it needs to be a Microsoft solution, not a web one.  I would think that the best thing for MS to do, if they really want to pursue this, would be to have a 'compatability switch' in the browser, where the user could say 'Render this site like IE6'.  That would satisfy the compatibility requirements, cause minimal pain to the users, motivate developers to build sites that are more standards compliant, and not punish existing sites that are trying to follow the standards already.

Tell us what you think!  Comment in the forums!

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