Internet Explorer 8 to feature 'super' Web standards mode

If the next edition of the world's most distributed browser expects all Web sites to pass the Acid2 test, one of its key architects said yesterday, an unfortunate irony might be that many sites could break in that browser.

In one of the stranger admissions yet to come from a Microsoft developer, Internet Explorer 8 platform architect Chris Wilson acknowledged on his team's blog yesterday that one of the quandaries his team has faced to date is meeting the simultaneous challenges of embracing Web standards to a greater extent than ever before...while not breaking Web sites that tweaked themselves years ago to comply with IE6.

IE7 is currently equipped with a feature that is internally known as "quirks mode," which enables it to display sites that were tweaked for IE6's wayward notion of Web compatibility. It then also has a "standards mode" which addresses Microsoft's new efforts to do a U-turn and adopt standards promoted by the W3C and the Web Standards Project.

But even IE8 will go one step further, Wilson admitted. Therefore IE8 will be equipped for the first time with a third mode of support, which enables developers to address the browser, telling it that it's been engineered to support Web standards.

There's no name for this mode just yet, but some may consider it a kind of "super standards mode," invoked by way of a META tag embedded in the site's HEAD elements.

"Developers of many sites had worked around many of the shortcomings or outright errors in IE6, and now expected IE7 to work just like IE6," Wilson wrote. "Web developers expected us, for example, to maintain our model for how content overflows its box, even in 'standards mode,' even though it didn't follow the specification - because they'd already made their content work with our model. In many cases, these sites would have worked better if they had served IE7 the same content and stylesheets they were serving when visited with a non-IE browser, but they had 'fixed their content' for IE. Sites didn't work, and users experienced problems."

The current mood at Microsoft, he went on, is that the optimum state of affairs would be to write IE8 completely around Web standards, and then expect sites to do their share and follow those standards.

But in reality, sites have already been engineered not to break in IE -- the old version -- so it's now up to Microsoft to make certain those sites don't break while at the same time they move to a world they hope was more driven by something called "standards."

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