Internet Explorer 8 and Standards

So the design world is all a-buzz with talk of IE8 passing the acid2 test. As a standards junkie, I had to see for myself, and yup... sure enough it seems to pass, but if I don't sound thrilled, let me explain why.

There are plenty of folk out there who would like to see IE die. I'd personally just like to see it standards compliant, but as this wonderful example so kindly points out, that will never happen. Now I know, I know, "But you just said it passed Acid2!"... yes I did, but if you've checked it against any site that does even a minimal amount of margining you'll see that the double-margin bug is still right there in plain sight for everyone to see. It's this sort of blatant disregard for the standards that makes me wondering if Microsoft is not just writing specific use case rendering so that they can say that they passed acid2.

When MS announced they were going to make IE7, we had many long debates in our offices about standards compliance and how that would affect IE. Ultimately, my personal stance was, and still is, that Microsoft can't afford to create a standards compliant browser. If IE were to comply to the same standards that the rest of the browser world is working toward, that would essentially eliminate all the sites out there that are "IE only". It's hard for me to even fathom that there are still "IE only" sites in the world, but as a web development company we know that there are many businesses that haven't updated their website in YEARS and in those cases and others, it's not uncommon to come across the "IE only" issue. The other place I run into this a lot is Korean websites. My wife is Korean and so she spends a fair amount of time on those sites and probably 75% of all the major ones are severely broken in any browser that's not IE.

All that to say this, if IE were suddenly standards compliant, the same way Firefox or Opera, or Safari are, then Microsoft would have to do one of two things. The first option would be to write some seriously hacky code to continue supporting all those old "IE only" sites and come up with some way of determining what constitutes an "IE only" site. The second, and more desirable option as a standards junky is that Microsoft would simply consider it the cost of progress and all those firms would need new websites. This however would probably be an epic-ly stupid move on Microsoft's part as they've got the world on a string right now, and they can force us into whatever mold they'd like.

If you're following the OOXML fiasco, this centers around Microsoft as well. Let me detail it a little for those of you who are unfamiliar. Essentially Microsoft managed to bully their own "standard" on the world for developers of products like the Microsoft Office Suite. Now I know what most of you are probably thinking "There's something other that Microsoft Office?". Yes there is. For those of you tired of paying expensive licensing for your Office Suite and the upgrades, why don't you head on over to Open Office. Open Office is a fantastic product that is free, and replaces Microsoft Office on virtually any platform you're running. But back to OOXML... Essentially this is typical Microsoft for you, they standardize internally on something that is contrary to all the other standards that the rest of the world is using (SVG, and other technologies have been created already for both graphs, and math calculations... instead of using these pre-existing, and already approved standards, Microsoft builds their own, and in most cases these are not as robust).

Now the web industry has a body called the "World Wide Web Consortium". If you've ever heard of the W3C, that's the same group. They help to establish these sort of standards so that everyone has the same goal. Microsoft and many other interested parties are actually part of the W3C, but rather than follow the standard, Microsoft generally ignores it, and thus we're back to IE8. The whole reason I bring up OOXML is that this is practically prophetic for what Microsoft will attempt in the browser market. Luckily there's a lot of really good standards already in place here, but based on market share alone, Microsoft can probably bully the rest of the world into whatever they'd like. The important part to keep in mind here is that this actually costs you, the customer, more money. We spend a lot of time troubleshooting Internet Explorer internally because it doesn't even approach standards compliancy, and that cost always gets passed on to our customers. Every web development company does this to some extent, we just recognize that Firefox is gaining more market-share every day, and this is somewhere between 10-30% of the market (depending upon who you believe), so we don't want to exclude its users from your site's traffic.

Anyway, the point is, Microsoft is better served by telling the world that they'll be standards compliant, all the while trying to bully people to use their in-house standard so that eventually, Internet Explorer IS the de-facto standard. This costs everyone more money both in the short term and the long term. Web companies will charge your higher prices because they have to test for IE and non-IE platforms (in fact, it's more problematic for us to get multiple versions of IE all displaying a site similarly), and Microsoft will charge you more because they can... it's called a monopoly, and it's always bad for consumers.

For those of you actually interested in not giving Microsoft this sort of power, I would suggest you start by switching to Open Office for you Office product, Firefox for your browser, and Thunderbird for your email client. You'll find all of these products are similar to their Microsoft equivalents (and Firefox and Thunderbird are superior in my personal opinion) and that they make your computer more secure, and ultimately easier to use. The same could be said by switching Operating Systems, although this is a significantly bigger commitment. While Apple is a closed source environment as well (and a joy to use), they at least seem to have a heart for the standards the rest of the world is embracing, and Linux/Unix as the other options has been using the mentioned software and others like it for ages.