On second thought, IE8 will default to full Web standards

Should Microsoft choose for IE8 to follow the standards developers want or the ones they use? It's been a tough call, and late yesterday, the company reversed that call.

In a complete reversal of policy that will probably be reflected in later builds sent to private beta testers, the team building Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 has decided to make its Web standards-compliant mode -- the one reported to have passed the Acid2 standards compliance test -- the browser's default operating mode. The team made this choice apparently knowing full well that some existing Web pages -- those designed to work well with the majority browser rather than with written W3C standards -- may break.

"The technical challenge here is how can IE determine whether a site's content expects IE8's Standards mode or IE7's Standards mode?" wrote IE8 general manager Dean Hachamovitch this morning. "Given how many sites offer IE very different content today, which should IE8 default to?"


The problem is that IE8 will try harder, to borrow a phrase from Avis Rent-a-car, to comply with certain standards than did IE7; but at the same time, Web developers will typically write their sites to conform with the majority of deployed Web browsers, rather than some predetermined protocol.

Back in January, the IE8 team announced its decision at that time was to keep the Web as stable as possible. As platform architect Chris Wilson wrote then, the lesson his team had learned during the transition from IE6 to IE7 was "that 'Don't Break the Web' should really be translated to 'Don't change what developers expect IE to do for current pages that are already deployed."'

But since that time, Microsoft published a set of interoperability principles which it unilaterally pledged to follow for the development of all its software. Those principles actually do not mandate that Microsoft must follow any particular industry standard; the company remains free to deploy whatever standards it chooses. But they do say that when the company makes a choice to implement a standard in a "high-volume product," it will openly reveal to developers how it has chosen to do so.

And although Internet Explorer is not listed as one of the company's "high-volume products," Windows Vista and Windows Server are.

"Microsoft supports many standards promulgated by standards bodies in its products today," reads the latest Interoperability Principles document, published two weeks ago. "We will rely upon customer advice emerging from our Interoperability Executive Customer Council and our ongoing community and customer engagement efforts to help us prioritize which standards we should support in any given product release."

"In light of the Interoperability Principles, as well as feedback from the community, we're choosing differently," Hachamovitch wrote this morning. "Now, IE8 will show pages requesting 'Standards' mode in IE8's Standards mode."

For a page to explicitly request IE7's standards mode, Hachamovitch suggests that developers use a specific declaration of <META> tag, as explained by developer Aaron Gustafson in an article for A List Apart last January. Gustafson advises against use of the DOCTYPE attribute; instead, he offers an alternate attribute, which for the purposes Hachamovitch advises would be phrased like this: <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=7" />

54 Responses to On second thought, IE8 will default to full Web standards

  1. billweh says:

    Bully for them! It might sound like a no brainer to say "yes, you must be standards compliant", but they are also right in saying that a large majority of sites are written to support the idiosyncracies that IE7 and earlier all had.

    I think it's the right decision to make, this way we can focus on supporting a known entity and it will force other browers to be in standards compliance as well, and hopefully get us away from all of the hoops we have to jump through to support various versions of browsers.

    • margus says:

      Oh wait - version 8 is coming;
      WTF - didn't they get it right 7 times they tried previously?

      Should I now be happy & dance on my head because they finally decided {scratch that - FORCED} to comply with standards - plz M$ - I could care less of your hoopla about the product which you have to wait for years & will suck as bad as previous (ref. to Vista)

      • Everseeker says:

        {scratch that - FORCED} to comply with standards ....
        I've about had it with that talk... It's kinda like the EU Fineing MS billions of Euros....
        MS could look at the balance sheet - future profits vs. friggin huge Fines... and simply state that all licenses of it's products in the EU are hereby null and void....
        If MS pulled out of the EU 100% (NO ONE COULD BUY/Use ANY MS PRODUCT.....) The EU would fall on it's ass and you all know it...
        Ubantu/Firefox/ha!!! Think the swiss are gonna run their banks on open source code???

        It would probably last about..... 7-9 hours

      • pitdingo2 says:

        actually, financial institutions are very big users of open source software, particularly GNU/Linux. I have a friend who works in NYC at a very large financial company, and they have a _very_ large number of Red Hat Enterprise servers.

        Nice troll, though.

      • SlapShot says:

        "I have a friend"

        Yea, sure you do :)

      • PC_Tool says:



      • Oh this is too tempting to pass up...

        "I have a friend who works in NYC at a very large financial company"
        So that makes it you right and everyone else wrong? :)

        "Nice troll, though"
        Oh thats pure gold coming from you :)

      • PC_Tool says:

        [i]"Nice troll, though"[/i]

        Well, he would know...his vast personal experience and all.

      • morriscox says:

        "If MS pulled out of the EU 100% (NO ONE COULD BUY/Use ANY MS PRODUCT.....)"

        So you're saying that if MS pulled out of the EU, no one in the world could use any MS products? *plonk*

  2. dkratter says:

    I can already see people complaining about this. With Microsoft, its always damned if you do, damned if you don't.

    Yes, Microsoft broke standards in the past. Yes, web developers have come to depend on this brokenness. But moving forward, would we rather things remain broken, or to we look forward to this opportunity to have a major player like Microsoft come on board with standards?

    I say we applaud Microsoft's move towards standardization and hope that IE9/10/11 keep up that trend.

    • dhjdhj says:

      Or else recognize that Firefox won and drop IE development!

    • mstone says:

      dkratter wrote:
      >Yes, Microsoft broke standards in the past. Yes, web
      >developers have come to depend on this brokenness.

      Which leads me to believe that the developers who hated IE have the more work to fix deployed pages than those who depended on the special features offered by IE. I know I have bunches of pages that have javascript workarounds which will require fixing because they just sniff IE, not specific version numbers.

  3. interval1066 says:

    Must have been a really tough call for the heads at M$ to grit their collective teeth and embrace W3 standards rather than come up with a new, branded, and stupid technology, further diluting the technology pool.

  4. Trapper says:

    Uh .... I don't see anything that says MS is going to start coding to standards,. They are saying IE8 has more than one display mode. If IE8 has no instruction concerning which mode to use to open the page it will default to open it with the standards mode rather than MS's non-standard mode.

    In regards to complying to standards it says ... "the company remains free to deploy whatever standards it chooses. But they do say that when the company makes a choice to implement a standard in a "high-volume product," it will openly reveal to developers how it has chosen to do so."

    Don't get over excited. MS is still MS and continues with it's own philosophy in regards to intentionally being non-standard for profit and to eliminate competitors.

    MS isn't being nice. They are simply making it look like they are complying to legal mandates. It's questionable that they actually are. Time will tell.

    • PC_Tool says:


      Which part of "open it with the standards mode" implies it is not supporting standards?

      In fact, according to the article, it states most recent builds of IE8 pass ACID2.

      What more do you want?

    • mjm01010101 says:

      I don't see how you can take their statement and construe it as bad. IE8 will render in standards mode by default. That is a fantastic stance from a company that had no intentions to do any such thing for the past 10 years. Now when a site doesn't look good you can blame website developers instead of browsers.

      We now have an opportunity to really get back to basics: standards, that any browser can compete on a level playing field. Standards are good!

      This is frikkin' fantastic news, as the blog comments on MS's IE site prove.

  5. Scotch Moose says:

    Which W3C standard has the IE=7 meta tag?

    • PC_Tool says:

      AFAIK, you can put damn near anything you want in a META tag, which is kind of it's entire point of existence.

  6. cweber says:

    Microsoft now pays belatedly for their actions in the past, and it hurts them and web developers worldwide a lot more than it should have.

    Back in the mid 90s standards non-compliance was the norm for browsers. Towards the end of the decade and especially after 2000 the situation improved, and for the past 6 years most browsers have made giant strides toward full compliance with web standards. Microsoft's decision to leave IE5 and IE6 mostly non-compliant was a huge mistake and now comes back to haunt them. Web developers' and web tool developers' choice to primarily code to IE5/6 was also a huge mistake and now costs them dearly. However, nobody can claim the writing was not on the wall, so there's no excuse for whining now.

  7. AngryChineseDriver says:

    As long as IE is not open source, it will never be as good as browsers such as Firefox, so there's absolutely no reason to keep supporting M$.


    • PC_Tool says:


      Sorry, but it's the truth. IE may not be as good as FF, but that's got little to do with it's license model.

    • yountmj says:

      With misguided comments like that, you give people little incentive to take notice of your shameless plug.

  8. bourgeoisdude says:

    [i]Web developers will typically write their sites to conform with the majority of deployed Web browsers, rather than some predetermined protocol.[/i]

    And that is what so many trolls in forums here and abroad refuse to understand.

    As someone stated below, it truley is a damned if you do, damned if you don't type of situation. Many home users will complain after upgrading to IE8 because the pages that were designed to work with IE will no longer work the same way.

    • PC_Tool says:

      They coded it for IE. As I understand it, they need to add one simple line for IE8 to display it in "IE mode".

      If they are incapable of that, they deserve having their site drop to the dregs of internet search engines.

      • bourgeoisdude says:

        [i]As I understand it, they need to add one simple line for IE8 to display it in "IE mode".[/i]

        Ahh, that was not how I had understood it. In that case, this was definately the correct move.

  9. Peet42 says:

    "Web developers will typically write their sites to conform with the majority of deployed Web browsers, rather than some predetermined protocol."

    No, amateurs will do that; Web Developers will always write to the standards in place at the time, always attempting to make pages fail gracefully in non-standards-compliant browsers. That's why they earn so much.

  10. digitalpacman says:

    Send out world wide forced update to IE8 ^^ turn IE7 off disable browsing to any site besides windows.com's update for IE7 to IE8.

    Do it now, get it over with, we'll feel better in a year from now. Hail forced updates.

  11. Str3tch says:

    Its about time. Finally web developers can write markup without needing fixes for broken browsers. Of course IE5-6 are still out there but hopefully they will go the way of the dinosaurs. I use FF so I really dont care, but too many sites are written wrong to display in IE and break in FF.

  12. the artist says:

    People in the forum, make it clear to me:

    is this the standards compliant Internet Explorer the world has been waiting ever since?!

  13. Paul Skinner says:

    So can we clarify exactly what is going on here now.

    I see it as this:

    IE8 will default to standards mode (as long as you have a doctype)

    IE8 will switch to IE7 mode if you add the meta tag

    IE8 will switch to IE6 mode if you have no doctype or meta tag

    Can someone confirm this, please.

    • PC_Tool says:

      I believe IE8 default mode is standards, regardless of doctype, that was an IE7 thing.

      • Paul Skinner says:

        So how (if at all) does IE8 now render IE6 and lower?

        Add the meta tag but don't have a doctype?

        Or have they abandoned this completely and it's part of the article that I've somehow overlooked?

      • PC_Tool says:

        Meta tag (suggested) for non-standard (IE 7/6) sites, as I understand it.

        This is pretty much guessing now, they have not even gotten that far, I believe. This decision was just made. I don't think it's been implemented in the code as of yet.

    • AaronGustafson says:

      To clarify the behavior:

      IE8 will render any page with a valid, modern DOCTYPE in its new standards mode (following the DOCTYPE switch).

      Pages with invalid DOCTYPEs, old DOCTYPES (pre HTML 4, I believe), or no DOCTYPE will continue rendering in "Quirks Mode" (as they have since IE6.

      Using one of the two version targeting mechanisms (META or HTTP header), a developer can force IE8 to render the page as though it were IE7. This will continue in IE9 and so on, so you can always have your page render as though it was in IE7.

      IE6's standards mode is no longer available, the only available rendering modes as of IE8 are:

      1) IE8 Standards Mode
      2) IE7 Standards Mode
      3) Quirks Mode (which uses the incorrect border box model)

  14. extremely well says:

    The default IE8 behavior should actually be IE7 rendering... Obviously, anyone creating webpages after IE8 release will be able to add a meta-tag "compatible=IE8" (which Firefox will ignore) so new pages will be rendered in the new "standards-compliance" mode of IE8.

    That way the browser doesn't need to try to figure out if a page is IE7 (without having a META stating it is) or if it's IE8-standard. Many old pages are simply not gonna get the proposed META tag added to them... Hopefully MS-IE8 will have a user whitelist or even a centralized (on MS servers) whitelist of sites the browser needs to render in IE7 mode.

    • Paul Skinner says:

      "Many old pages are simply not gonna get the proposed META tag added to them..."

      Then stuff them.

      Basically, this move had to happen at some point, so Microsoft may as well get it out of the way now before the web gets even more complicated.

      • PC_Tool says:


        The web developers coding for IE quirks can add the tag if they need it. If they choose not to, and thus have their sites broken under *every* current browser as of IE8, that's their choice, and a pretty simple one in my mind.

  15. TenTonJim says:

    I applaud the IE team for making the decision to go in Standards Compliant Mode. Finally... whew! Shame on those that will have to go fix a bunch of their sites because of this, you should of had the foresight to see this coming and kept things closer to the vest, standards wise. My own site for instance, makes use of a fixed div header that stays in place when you scroll. I went to great lengths to make it validate. IE6 ignores the fixed header (does not understand the CSS), IE7 does understand and renders it. When IE7 came out I had to adjust 1 margin in the CSS just to make it "perfect" to me, it wasn't "broken" by any means. I did this without using any of those IE7 conditional statements. That would have been the easy fix, but not necessarily the proper fix. Personally I have been utilizing Mozilla browsers since 2000, but web developers have been tied at the hip to IE no matter what... so again, KUDOS to the IE team, bring on the Magic 8 Ball, IE8!

    Jim Summer
    Jacksonville Web Design
    Jacksonville, FL USA

    • Paul Skinner says:

      There's nothing wrong with using conditional comments, it may mean one very minor change to that bit of code (changing gt IE7 to just IE7) or other such variation.

      It's much simpler than redesigning hacks manually each time.

      If you're sane, you've put most of the head tags in a separate file and included them in so you only have to change that in one place.

      It shouldn't be broken in IE8 if you've used conditional comments properly.

  16. Sarg says:

    The links to the first public beta of IE8 are here if anyone is interested - they'll probably become live after the keynote speech from Dean at MIX08...


  17. DatabaseBen says:

    Actually, i seriously think that Microsoft misses the ball with their new developments. They seem to throw out the old and usher something that is new and not generally understood or ready to be excepted. Its like they force people and systems to "change"

    For example, with Office 2007 it should have had a button that would send all the new items into the background and provide the user with an Office 2003 and Office 97 feel and look and compatiability modes.

    The same with WinXP as it could have also allow the user to have the feel of win 95 or win-me, etc..if the user wanted. Likewise for Vista in that the user should have a choice to have the visual affects of win-xp, 95, etc, if the user chooses.

    I think this would apply to the ie's as well. They are welcome to develop the ie8, ie9, 10, etc. but if the user wants to use ie7, 6 or 5, then what is the big deal for microsoft to let a user click a button and select the style and compatiability mode.

    I know for a fact that ie6 is still the standard used by some government offices and communicating with them over the net with ie7 is not possible as of today. Moreover, many banks have to do some major overhauling before their secured systems are adapted to a different version of ie. Otherwise, people with ie8 will not be able to do online banking as before.

    Ultimately, i think many users can be enduced to purchase highly developed software if the can retain the basics that make people comfortable. And when the user is ready and time permits to learn the advanced features, then a simple click of the button should be all that is needed.

    Many people and systems do not have a button on themselves to "Accept Change" everytime Microsoft decides that its time.

    • PC_Tool says:

      Why add all of this backwards compatibility when people are already complaining about massive bloat? How does that make any sense??

      If you *like* the IE7 interface...use IE7. If you *like* the Office 2003 interface, use Office 2003. It's not like those applications have suddenly stopped working.

      There's this great "backwards compatibility tool" called VirtualBox. It allows you to use Windows 95 within XP if that's what you're looking for.

      The point of any new release is to move forward. If it looks and feels too much like "the old release", there will be no push to move to the new one. In the current market of sheep and mind-numbed zombies out there, functionality means squat compared to a "fresh new look".

      I mean, FFS, look at the iPod. Marketing and appearance made this thing go supernova. Functionally equivalent, cheaper devices, however uglier, have been available for ages, to little effect.

      That said, I'd hazard to guess most folks having issues with Office 2007's interface simply have not used it enough, or keep switching back and forth. Once you get used to it, it is incredibly intuitive. (Take it with whatever amount of salt you feel you need, I've heard it all countless times.)

    • morriscox says:

      Do you know why the Office 2007 interface came about? MS realized that a high percentage (I think it was about 90%) of requested features *already existed* in Office. The ribbon interface was meant to make the most used and requested features easier to get to.

      I agree with PC_Tool that if it looks the same, people will ask why they should bother buying it. Of course, if it looks different, they'll complain. Sheesh. Part of the reason I view the public in general as being fairly stupid. They cannot be bothered to actually think.

      If Office 2007 made the ribbon optional, most of the population would have disabled the ribbon and then kept on requesting the same old features that were already present.

      There are people that say that Microsoft should do away with compatibility in the name of progress. Others want Microsoft to support every program that ever existed. Can't have it both ways. Visualization helps, but not completely.

      People in general do not understand the differences between IE5 or IE6 or IE7 or IE8. They stick with the defaults.

      Whoever at those government offices was responsible for decreeing that IE6 was to be the standard for their website should be taken out back and beaten. Okay, that might be a bit too harsh. Decisions like that are made when people make decisions that they are ignorant about.

      99.9% of websites are poorly done. If we continue to tolerate shoddy code and design, we'll get it.

      Software does need to be easy to use and Microsoft really needs to think about their UI designs (they messed up on IE7). However, people also need to realize that technology doesn't stand still.

      • DatabaseBen says:

        well, i can't argue with some of the points you made because i realize them as well.

        like everything else in marketing, "you got to make them believe that those extra features are necessary and they can't live without them" - them being us cusumers.

        unfortunately, the ribbon is a distraction and unneeded because there were other alternatives like additional levels in the file menu or task panes on the side or better yet the ability to fully customize the file menu so that it is dedicated with respect to the users requirements.

        for those of who write letters, i doesn't take 10,000 features inside a software to write a letter and there are a lot of things i could do with out in the file menu. further i would prefer the file menu than the tool bars.

        honestly, i don't think carrying forward the older desktops would be bloatware or impossible for microsoft. i mean their software's are outrageously large anyways.

        for example if vista and office07 had the option to select older versions of the desktops available, then one user could log into vista and office 07 then log out. then when grandpa comes along and logs in to that computer he can have the window95 desktop and the office 95 desktop. the advanced features of vista and office07 would still be on the pc, just hidden from the user running the older desktops.

        don't really see about the big deal with microsoft developing this option into their new developments.

        of course the older software uses older architecture. however, i am not talking about carrying old code forward, just the visual representations that mimic the older versions.

        with no disrespect intended, older people and those of us who are not interested in high technology could still buy new computers with new software.

        the real convenience is to have the computer and software perform exactly the way the individual needs it to be, be it old, old fashion, disabled, etc....

  18. digitalpacman says:

    Just start fresh and clear out all that old code from the browser, make it slim line! Take less memory!

    If the web has to rehire their old developers to make their site IE8 compatible, I don't know anyone who would complain for the extra revenue ^^

    Come on microsoft you need to increase the world's GDP!

  19. Unatommer says:

    How nice would it be if the web could be browser agnostic? Use any browser that conforms to standards and you will get the same experience. No more switching to IE for a web page to work (not to mention how screwed Mac users are when something like that happens.)

    I believe this is a step in the right direction. If you actually do this, Microsoft, you will gain my respect in this aspect.

    • lfmmoura says:

      Actually, in most cases, Opera for Mac renders pages very well. I usually use Safari (I don't like Firefox neither Camino) but for those pages with problems, Opera seems to do the trick. :-)

  20. AaronGustafson says:

    Just to be clear, I never advocated for dropping the DOCTYPE (which, for clarity's sake, is not an attribute, but rather a declaration), I simply stated that the DOCTYPE switch (which is triggered by a valid, modern DOCTYPE) is fundamentally flawed. The version targeting mechanism put forth in IE8 gives developers much more explicit control over how their sites are rendered in a given browser.

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