Reasons for IE8’s Default Behavior

March 4, 2008

css / design / javascript / microsoft / programming / web standards

As I’ve been thinking about the new default behavior that Microsoft announced for IE8, it occurs to me that there are a lot of reasons for Microsoft’s decision. In light of these thoughts, I want to look at the reasons that I think are likely possibilities.

Standards as a whole

Microsoft, especially in the last year or two, has made a lot of moves toward standards, web and otherwise. They announced the Interoperability Principles. They announced the ASP.NET MVC Framework, which finally allows programmers to control the HTML generated by ASP.NET. IE8 will pass Acid2, and any number of other things.

While I’m not optimistic that any of this will cause Microsoft to act in any unexpected ways with respect to its attempts to acquire Yahoo, it is clear that a shift is occurring, to whatever extent.

Noise from the web standards community

Advocates of web standards have made a lot of noise about the original decision, and it is clear that Microsoft listened. Many people made logical arguments for why IE8, especially from a long-term perspective, should not default to IE7 behavior, while understanding that the option for IE7 behavior was a good thing.

Legal issues

It’s entirely possible that this is partly related to Microsoft’s various legal troubles, and that they are trying to appear as a better business citizen to help their case.

Future versions of IE

I think one of the most significant benefits, both from the perspective of future versions of IE, as well as future versions of Firefox, Opera, Safari, etc., is that the need for version targeting will probably become much less because IE8 is the default behavior. People who create sites that break in IE8 will, certainly, have the option of targeting IE7, but in order to do that they’ll have to learn that they can.

Most people who will run into the issue will probably not have the interest (or the time, possibly) to find out this kind of solution. The ones who do find out about the solution will find out that Microsoft doesn’t see it as the ideal solution, and will probably feel at least some pressure to learn proper ways of doing things. Thus, in a few years, it is entirely possible that versions of Internet Explorer that follow version 8 will be met with a majority of sites that do not break.

That’s not to say that the majority of sites will follow web standards. I’ve seen innumerable websites that didn’t break when IE7 came out, because they had such disregard for web standards that none of the changes affected them. I suspect we’ll have to deal with this for a long time. But that’s fine with me, as the future of web browsers can continue to look forward.