More Thoughts on Microsoft’s Version Targeting

Thursday, January 24, 2008

In the brouhaha over Microsoft’s proposal that IE8 render pages like IE7 unless explicitly told not to, those defending the idea often said something like this:

The same people that don’t know about standards and design only for the current IE are the same people that MS is trying to avoid angering with this solution; they’re also the same people who wouldn’t know about the meta switch. If they do go ahead with this solution, it only makes sense to default to the older version.

The argument is that Microsoft is doing this for developers that don’t know any better—developers that were surprised that their sites broke when IE7 was released and will be surprised again when their site breaks in IE8. I’m having trouble buying that. Clearly, we’re not talking about everyone that builds a webpage but doesn’t know about standards. Your typical MySpace user doesn’t care if their webpage renders properly on their own browser, let alone anyone else’s. Those who work for small businesses don’t care much more, and even if they do their clients might not.

Which leaves us with developers for medium- and enterprise-level businesses. Now, I’d be surprised if Microsoft concerns itself with anything below the enterprise, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment. I have no trouble believing that there are many developers in medium and larger businesses that don’t know about standards. What I can’t imagine is that developers with the experience and education to get a job at that level: a) didn’t know IE7 was coming out, or, b) didn’t know that it would be any different from IE6. Now these same developers are going to be surprised again when IE8 comes out? Somehow, somewhere, there may be developers that fit this description, but I do not believe they make up even a single percentage point of those working in medium or larger businesses.

So, again, who is Microsoft trying to protect? It seems to me, Microsoft tends to focus on large, corporate clients. Just look at who they talk about in their announcement of this proposal on the IEBlog

…my team ran a report on the top 200 web sites…

So is the problem that enterprise-level businesses have hired developers:

  • That know nothing about web standards,
  • Were surprised by IE7,
  • And will be surprised again by IE8?

I find that highly unlikely. It’s far more likely that these businesses run legacy Internet and/or intranet systems that they are unwilling to upgrade or unable to upgrade in any reasonable timeframe. The fact that, as I’m writing this, there are 929 job listings for COBOL programmers on should give you some idea of the speed of Corporate America.

So Microsoft is asking you, dear developer, to do extra work every time a new version of IE comes out, so that their corporate clients can continue to progress at the glacial pace they always have.

Hard to believe the community has reacted negatively to this, ain’t it?

Another important bit of information that came out of Tuesday’s discussions was that the HTML5 DOCTYPE will trigger IE8 to behave like IE8. John Resig explains the significance:

What’s nice about this new DOCTYPE, especially, is that all current browsers (IE, FF, Opera, Safari) will look at it and switch the content into standards mode - even though they don’t implement HTML5. This means that you could start writing your web pages using HTML5 today and have them last for a very, very, long time.

Given the choice between this and adding support for X-UA-Compatible, I’ll choose the DOCTYPE. It may be as much or more work, but it’s forward-compatible, and it’s not broken by design.