IE8 Version Targeting

There's definitely a sizeable buzz in the web design community at the moment sparked by the latest news from the IE team regarding their new version targeting that will be built into IE8.

In short, IE8 will render web pages exactly the same as IE7 by default.

Yes, like me you probably had to read that a few times. There's no mistake. It does seem a strange departure from normal conventions but the IE team are not without their reasons and in my opinion, after reading through the opposing articles by Jeremy Keith and Jeffery Zeldman over at A List Apart, it's a good compromise to an awkward problem.

The problem stems from the legacy left by IE6, which first graced the web in 2001. IE6 was an awful browser, it lacked support for web standards and included many proprietary "innovations". By the time it was replaced with IE7 some 5 years later there was already an enormous number of websites built by professionals and amateurs alike that had only been tested in IE6 and hence were not web standards compliant. I'm sure such websites are still being made to this day as at the time of writing IE6 still holds a 38% stake of the overall web browser market. These websites exploited the various display nuances that IE6 included.

When IE7 was released it "broke the web", many company websites which displayed without fault in IE6 were displaying differently in IE7. Overall Microsoft received a lot of flack and for the average Joe who upgraded to IE7 and noticed his site was no longer displaying properly the customer experience was not a good one.

With IE8 Microsoft does not want to break the web, by implementing version targeting web standards savvy web designers and developers can choose to opt in and by adding an "X-UA-Compatible" meta tag to their pages or using a HTTP header their beautifully crafted mark-up can be displayed using the brand new IE8 rendering engine. While any old sites collecting dust in the backwaters of the internet, well they'll look just fine too.

But the decision by the IE team has not been without criticism; Jeremy Keith for one makes his position clear:

The proposed default behaviour for version targeting in Internet Explorer solves the problem of "breaking the web" in much the same way that decapitation solves the problem of headaches.

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Michael Walsh by Michael Walsh