Microsoft reverses version targeting default

Yesterday, before publicly announcing it, developers from Microsoft called me and others to let us know that IE8’s version targeting will now work the same way other browsers work, i.e. advanced standards support will be on by default. Some people will say Microsoft caved; others, that they listened to public opinion; some may even buy the company’s own explanation, which is that, given a company-wide reorientation away from proprietary winner-take-all competitiveness and toward interoperability, “web standards by default” takes precedence over “supporting all those badly made websites that were created specifically to work in IE.”


Beyond DOCTYPE: Web Standards, Forward Compatibility, and IE8
“Having the ability to lock your site to a particular browser version is fantastic for ensuring that your site will be usable well into the future, but does it undermine the concept of progressive enhancement?” – Aaron Gustafson, A List Apart Issue No. 251, January 21, 2008.
From Switches to Targets: A Standardista’s Journey
“We say forward-compatible development is the mark of a professional because that’s what the profession demands. With the advent of version targeting, that need may simply evaporate, rendered not wrong but moot.” – Eric Meyer, A List Apart Issue No. 251, January 21, 2008.
They Shoot Browsers, Don’t They?
“Standards-aware developers, by their very nature, will object to adding a line of unnecessary markup to their documents just to get one single browser to behave as it should by default.” – Jeremy Keith, A List Apart Issue No. 253, February 19, 2008.
Version Targeting: Threat or Menace?
“Version targeting shakes our browser-agnostic faith. Its default behavior runs counter to our expectations, and seems wrong. Yet to offer true DOM support without bringing JScript-authored sites to their knees, version targeting must work the way Microsoft proposes.” – Jeffrey Zeldman, A List Apart Issue No. 253, February 19, 2008.
WaSP Round Table: IE8’s Default Version Targeting Behavior
“On 16 February, Web Standards Project Members Faruk Ateş, Porter Glendinning, and I got together with Chris Wilson, Platform Architect for Internet Explorer to talk about IE8’s proposed default version targeting behavior of having to opt-in to the browser’s new standards mode.” – Aaron Gustafson, The Web Standards Project, February 24, 2008.
Microsoft’s Interoperability Principles and IE8
“We’ve decided that IE8 will, by default, interpret web content in the most standards compliant way it can. This decision is a change from what we’ve posted previously.” – The IE Blog, March 3rd, 2008.
Microsoft Expands Support for Web Standards
“In keeping with the commitment we made in our Interoperability Principles of being even more transparent in how we support standards in our products, we will work with content publishers to ensure they fully understand the steps we are taking and will encourage them to use this beta period to update their sites to transition to the more current Web standards supported by IE8.” –, March 3rd, 2008.
Microsoft rethinks IE8’s default behavior
“This was a very complex issue and I fully understood and had come to accept Microsoft’s earlier decision to break with convention and not automatically opt sites in to the new engine, but I have to say I’m glad they’ve reversed that decision. In the end, this does put more pressure on them to get the word out about how version targeting can prevent a recurrence of the issues that came about when IE7 released, but, personally, I feel their product (and the web at large) is better for it. ” – Aaron Gusatfson, The Web Standards Project, March 3rd, 2008.

[tags]IE8, versiontargeting, webstandards, alistapart, WaSP[/tags]

59 thoughts on “Microsoft reverses version targeting default

  1. I’m going to say they caved. Placing the responsibility onto the group less likely to understand or care about web standards seems a disservice to their customers (who are not the developers who read this blog).

  2. I’m happy that version targeting will still be implemented. I believe this is the best way forward so that it won’t hamper progress to much.

    It’s not so much the they’ve altered their position it’s the wholehearted commitment to Web Standards that has knocked me over:

    “… we have decided to give top priority to support for these new Web standards”.

  3. At the moment I don’t care why they did what they did, as long as the trend continues I’m happy. Kudos to Microsoft and the IE8 team.

    Now, can we all wish for IE8 standalone? I don’t fancy running yet another VirtualPC just to test one more version of IE ;)

  4. I think the furore created by designers and developers over version targeting was making it difficult for Microsoft to wear its new, recently acquired “interoperability and open standards” hat, so they essentially threw the screaming hordes a bone.

    This arrangement is much better, but it still doesn’t address my broader concerns about version targeting, particularly with respect to differing DOMs playing with each other and the security problems that might create; however, I have learned the hard way that getting Microsoft to change course on anything is an event worthy of celebration.

  5. You argued against the idea of advanced standards support as a default.

    How do you feel about Microsoft reversing their decision?

  6. You argued against the idea of advanced standards support as a default.

    I explained why an opt-in was the logical default, given Microsoft’s customer base. I considered it an acceptable “cost” of getting Microsoft to continue upgrading its web standards support.

    But of course I feel fine about Microsoft deciding to behave more like Firefox, Opera, and Safari (that is, making upgraded standards support the default). My sites won’t break in IE8.

  7. I’d like to think that it was the developers and designers that influenced this, but I’m sure recent legal battles over web standards in the EU have had some impact on their decision too.

    With the current situation, Microsoft can tell people who care about standards that they switched to accomodate them and they can tell business owners that they did it to prevent future lawsuits.

    Either way, this rocks.

  8. I strongly defended the previous default for IE8’s version targeting, and I did so because I respect a company’s decision to look after its own financial interests.

    Regardless of what you believe to be Microsoft’s true motivation here, one thing is certain: for whatever reason, they now believe that the new default is better for their financial interests. They now believe that a browser that encourages standards-compliant coding is better for their financial interests.

    Everyone should be happy about that.

    As an interesting side-thought, I’d be interested to find out how much of a role IE7 had in this discussion. If it weren’t for the hubub caused by IE7, Microsoft’s plans for IE8 would require taking a bigger leap from non-standard code to standards-based, since IE6 was so horrendous.

  9. Finally.

    Now, if only we didn’t have to worry about supporting an entirely different “standards mode” with IE7. I guess that’s what version targeting is for, but I still wish there was a magic bullet to make up for the ignorance that is IE7…

  10. I’m sure recent legal battles over web standards in the EU have had some impact on their decision too.

    That is a reasonable inference. Crossed my mind as well.

    They now believe that a browser that encourages standards-compliant coding is better for their financial interests.

    It seems so. If it keeps up, then the project some web friends and I started ten years ago will truly have succeeded.

  11. Caved or not, either way a step forward. My opinion of Microsoft also took a step forward.

    Financial interest reasoning is fine with me. Proper web design and developing play a major role with the future of anyone’s website. So many people have websites that are barely a year old that will need a complete overhaul in the near future due to the lack of professional discipline or ignorance for web standards. This is the case no matter what move Microsoft decides to make. You can’t fix every website out there made by someone’s husband, uncle or people who just don’t care with just a new version of a browser. What you can do, though, is help the future financial interests by working with the standards so that it forces people to make websites right. It’s like a code of conduct. If you can’t play nice, you should think seriously as to whether you should be playing at all.

    Just my two cents.

  12. @Christopher:
    As for your statement,

    “Placing the responsibility onto the group less likely to understand or care about web standards…”

    Doesn’t really hold up IMHO. It similar to saying that it’s okay for a “group” of architects or engineers to ignore building codes because they are ignorant of the existance of those building codes. Granted, people aren’t necessarily in risk of death when web designers/developers don’t follow the standards provided to us, but the principle still holds. if you’re going to create content for the web you should understand the requirements & standards of the medium you’re using. Not excusing yourself or your group because of ignorance.

  13. @David Paul Ellenwood:

    Amateurs don’t design houses and hospitals, but they do create millions of websites. Ignorance of web standards, usability, accessibility, good design principles, good writing, etc. etc. is the norm, not the exception. Our *profession* is filled with informed designers and developers who care passionately about web standards. But for budgetary and other reasons, many sites are not built by professionals.

    Then, too, there is a class of professional that does not care about best practices.

    Microsoft had both these groups in mind when it created the original default.

  14. In this case, it doesn’t matter whether they caved, listened to public opinion or are completely changing their priorities. What matters is that they’ve made the right decision. I really look forward to no longer having to make alternate CSS declarations for IE.

  15. Very good news. Support for genuine standards benefits professionals and amateurs alike – both developers/publishers and end-users/consumers.

  16. All’s well that ends well, I think. And it hasn’t ended until that IE8 beta ships – but there’s a lot of encouraging signs. Kudos to Mr Wilson and the IE8 team.

  17. This certainly is a welcome change. I’ve grown to accept the idea of version targeting even though there seem to be a lot of unanswered questions (the DOM and security issues that Simon mentioned in addition to overall bloat in future versions of the browser as they shoehorn in support for previous rendering engines). Still, I’m glad to see that the default behavior has been changed to a far more standards-friendly option.

  18. This is a good news for web geeks and I’m very glad that many web developers in my country (that may be over 70% didn’t know what is “Web Standards”) will wake up and improve more attended to learn and design or develop their site with Web Standards.

  19. Darm, you beat me to it! I just received an email from a friend at Microsoft this morning… I’m very happy about the reversal. And I think it shows they care. :)

  20. I have to confess I’m a little confused about all the IE7/IE8 talk going on right now – even after reading through most of the linked articles in the Daily Report and ALA. By the end of the week, after I’ve had time to digest it all, I’m sure it will sink in ; ) All I can say is I’m glad there are people out there who care enough to openly discuss and advocate on my behalf.

    When I say “on my behalf” what I really mean are the “millions of small business owners, school teachers, pastors, coaches, and so on who create websites every day”. Some of us try to keep abreast of the latest developments but unless one works exclusively in the field it’s hard to stay on top of every-single-little-change. I do my best but clearly it’s not enough.

    Last week I finally down loaded IE7 for testing purposes. I was bowled over when a site I’m currently working on blew sideways when opened in IE7. The site held tight in all the other major browsers, including IE6, just not IE7. It took me the better part of an afternoon to figure out what was causing the problem. The culprit [display:table]. I shudder at the thought of debugging a more complex layout… all in the name of accommodating a new browser.

    So, to all you very smart people out there who care about such things, Thank You. Thank You for looking out for me and the millions of other people who enjoy building websites.

  21. I’ll echo what I’ve mentioned elsewhere: In effect Microsoft has agreed to help shoulder the burden that comes with progress. Microsoft will likely get a tremendous amount of email about how people’s sites break in IE8. They’ll set up a form letter that says “Place the following line in the head of your page to fix it…” and the problem will be solved one case at a time.. Microsoft seems to have decided that repeating this process many thousands of times is a sacrifice worth making in the interest of advancing their interoperability initiative (or other motivations.) Now that they’ve made the decision, I don’t see the sense in web developers taking any other stance.

  22. Great news. I think the initial switch will be very difficult (for some) but the end result, years down the road, will be a much better web.

  23. I considered it an acceptable “cost” of getting Microsoft to continue upgrading its web standards support.

    Is this the same Zeldman writting? Because this is what you said before:

    I see Microsoft’s default as logical because I am a web designer. That means I design for users, and run scenarios to try to understand what those users need.

    You repeatedly mentioned that this default was the only reasonable option, from “users need” now you call it an “acceptable cost”? Come on… You could at least take it like a man and, if not appologies, at leat admit your error. Considering you track record, everyone would be more than happy to forget about it. But your attempt at playing down your previously very vocal position on this subject is a little too much the swallow…

    Anyway, it’s great news. Although you made a fool out of yourself, in the end, everyone wins, and we can all make Standards compliant sites together again. :)

  24. @David Paul Ellenwood:

    Amateurs don’t design houses and hospitals, but they do create millions of websites.

    Though I’m ecstatic that the default behavior has been reversed, I am concerned about the amateur enthusiast. Most of us probably rose from their ranks, and it’s their sites which add so much flavor to the Web.

    Is there any way we could set up some sort of help system. I’d gladly volunteer time to help educate, or heck, even do the legwork of fixing the sites (it’s just adding one line of code/page, and that’s if you can’t pass the header through the server). Maybe some aforementioned project could help….

    @Simon Jessey

    …but it still doesn’t address my broader concerns about version targeting, particularly with respect to differing DOMs playing with each other and the security problems that might create…

    If Microsoft doesn’t extend version-tracking to new DOCTYPES (the HTML5 Doctype, for instance), they could effectively phase version tracking’s extension out after a while. I think that’s the only thing MS can do to make things even better than they are, and I’d like to know how other people feel about this, too.

  25. MinimalDesign-

    What are you trying to prove?

    The earlier default does make sense from a usability standpoint—the browser would display existing pages the way in which they are expected to: correctly.

    Don’t tell someone to “take it like a man” while you yourself are behaving like a child. Are you opposed to civil discourse?

  26. @minimal design

    Look, this is very simple: Microsoft’s reversal of the default doesn’t invalidate the logic behind their former choice, it just means their priorities have changed — and the whole default argument has been about priorities all along.

  27. Good on you, Microsoft. Smear yourselves with good. But let me be Joe-Cynical-Six-Pack:

    1) It’ll take some time to get everyone on board the IE 8 Bus.
    2) At any time Microsoft may find a way to start the whole confounded thing all over again.

    No, we may not have seen the last that old I’ll-Float-That-When-I-Wanna IE franchise.

    The End…………..?

  28. If Microsoft wants to make a decision in this regard that impresses me, they will force all IE6 users to upgrade. IMO, version targeting is only relevant because of that archaic piece.

  29. Um, Microsoft has made some mistakes with IE7 and now IE8 it looks like some more. I haven’t been on many sites at all that seem to be completely IE7 compliant. I know you can turn off the “do you wish to debug” messages, but it is interesting how many bugs there are out there. The problem is not in the browser forcing people to design compatible websites but the websites forcing the browsers to be incompatible. I find firefox very appealing now. IE8 doesn’t need options, it needs to detect and fix errors before rendering the page.

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  30. Now it is up to us, the standards aware web developers, to help those who have based their entire workflow in IE-only to join us. Microsoft is (truly) on our side now, so it’s about time we aid them. MS will do their best to tell their world of developers about the change, but it is important that “we” are polite against them when they asks us for help.

    My biggest question is this: How will they release IE8? It must be made in such manner so that as many users as possible should find it reasonable to upgrade from IE5-7, willingly and gladly. The release if IE7 was a worst case example, where many users chosed to kep IE6. I hope they learned something from it.

  31. This is excellent news all round. I was in the minority who was happy to accept version target as a compromise (although I expressed some reservations about the hackishness of it – who wouldn’t?) and I respect Jeffery Zeldman for sticking to his guns on that issue. That said, I think we can all agree that not having to compromise at all is a definite bonus to all of us.
    I also hope that the community will now return to a state of (relative) calm, and that people are remembered not for the position that they took in the debate, but the level of maturity that they showed at that time.
    So, back to work! :)

  32. I say, Gold bless Microsoft. I hope it’s a sign of many more things to come. Their next task, to stop supporting IE6 maybe then we can universly move forward. Albeit slowly but forward none the less.

  33. can we all wish for IE8 standalone? I don’t fancy running yet another VirtualPC just to test one more version of IE

    We shouldn’t need a standalone IE 8, as it’ll ship with IE 7’s rendering engine. Use IE 8 as your main IE, use version targeting to test in IE 7, and run the IE 6 Virtual PC for as long as that blighted browser clings to popularity.

  34. Zeldman 0 Keith 1

    ho hum – legalities, pr and further fines fear wins out the day. You’d convinced me opt in would work for the savvy, albeit adding another layer to our world.

  35. Just as a little note to the crowd worried about Virtual PC–

    Multiple IE

    I used it for testing at my previous job. IE3 always crashed, but both versions of 5 worked, and so did 6. 7 isn’t part of the package, as the expectation is that you’ll have it installed at that point anyway.

  36. Amateurs don’t design houses and hospitals

    Um. Yes they do.

    Amateurs don’t design hospitals in the developed world, but they certainly do elsewhere, and amateurs design houses everywhere. Admittedly, an amateur designing a house in the developed world is likely to be using something FrontPage-like (to reverse the analogy), but it definitely happens.

  37. This decision has actually helped the cause of standards immensely. Even mom and pop designers are going to start hearing about web standards because of the way this story is spilling into the national media.

    As much as those who supported Microsoft on their decision tried to convince the rest that it was for the best… The truth is that all of our whining and complaining helped that much more to make a difference for the better. Power to the people…!

  38. This was indeed a good decision for Microsoft to make because IE8 is far from a CSS standard compliant browser.

    IE8 has the same old bugs and new bugs. The whole support of the display table and table-cell properties is completely broken in IE8. This is now currently breaking sites all over the internet where these properties have been used.

    Jeffrey, did you know about this?

  39. I agree – This was indeed a good decision for Microsoft to make because IE8 is far from a CSS standard compliant browser.

  40. I just downloaded IE8, and have to say that the jury is still out about if I like it or not. I’m a Mozilla Firefox fan and am not sure if this will, “change my ways” or not. Thanks for the post and opportunity to express my “two cents” worth.

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