Hakon Lie’s rant against Internet Explorer 8′s interoperability promise is making a big stink where Microsoft should instead be lauded. Lie, the Chief Technical Officer for rival browser Opera, complains that IE8 defaults to a previous rendering engine for intranet pages. Microsoft had previously promised to always support the highest standards.
Lie goes on to invent statistics to show intranets make up half of the page view on PCs. While the method for determining his numbers may not have been scientific, the point is being made solely to imply that Microsoft is only half-supporting standards. In 2005 Lie wrote a similar attack complaining about, among other things, Microsoft’s site not validating. This is picking nits, and it’s akin to schoolyard bullying. That’s right, Microsoft is getting bullied this time.
I think Microsoft was right to note a differentiation between the web and intranets, and it even chose the defaults correctly. There are many different types of intranets, but one thing most have in common is that they suck. They’re duct-taped together pieces of software. Microsoft is right not to expect most intranets to support standards.
Indeed, much of the web is not 100 percent standards-compliant, partly due to Microsoft’s previous partial support. Internet Explorer 8 comes with a “compatibility view” that reverts to the previous rendering engine whenever a page has no DOCTYPE, or when the developer has chosen to render in the older Quirks mode. Users can also manually implement compatibility view by clicking the icon next to the location bar, or by setting it permanently for a given site.
Here is an animated GIF of the W3C website with and without “compatibility view” enabled:
Compatibility view makes sense to me. Why make users suffer just because a developer has not kept up with standards? Click a button and, without restarting the browser, IE 8 gives you a glimpse of how the site may have been meant to look.
Where I do agree with Lie is about the icon. Microsoft chose a broken web page to represent compatibility view. While Lie seemed to assume the icon was meant to represent standards, it’s clear to me that the broken page is activated when going back to previous versions. If Microsoft is dissing anybody here, it’s itself.
But using a broken page as an icon is just a bad idea. Users are bound to wonder, “will this break my web page?” Granted, I’ve wondered that often when loading sites in IE, but I’m hoping that IE 8, with its smart selection of when to support standards, will make broken pages a thing of the past.