Dave Woods - Freelance Web Design Warwickshire

IE8 – The Return of the Meta Tag

Just when it looked like we were turning the corner with Internet Explorer 8, it seems that Microsoft are determined to make it as hard as possible for developers to accomplish a standard HTML/CSS platform to develop websites as the “opt in to standard mode meta tag” makes its unwelcomed return.

The W3C specification should be the default behaviour for all browsers and if developers can’t stick to those standards then they’re the only ones to blame when their website doesn’t display as intended in one or more web browsers.

Microsoft’s initial concept of forcing developers to “opt in” to standards mode was quite rightly met with uproar from the design community, however when they reversed their decision and decided that Internet Explorer 8 would render in standards mode by default it was met with optimism and a general feeling that the Internet Explorer development team were listening to those people that it would effect.

Internal web based applications developed by organizations who didn’t have the ability to update their code sufficiently to make it standards compliant, now had the choice to opt out of standards mode if they needed to and render their site as if it was being viewed in IE7 by using a meta tag.

The twist now though, is that we can expect “Compatibility View Improvements to come in IE8“. It appears that the whole web 2.0 thing has gone mad and it’s now going to be up to the community to decide whether or not a web page should appear in IE7 mode as they’ll be able to flag it in their browser which will send the data to Microsoft and all IE8 users will from then on, view the page in IE7 mode.

If your site is actually compatible with IE8 and written using web standards then you can of course opt out of this (you’ve probably already guessed the solution), by adding a meta tag to the page. Anyone that’s been following this story will probably recognise the following:

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=8" />

Argh, so we’re now back to square one. If I want to ensure that my site doesn’t get added to this incompatible list, I’ll have to add a meta tag?

It’s not as bad as their original proposal but is a huge step backwards from where we thought IE8 was going to be at. Microsoft are worried about IE8 breaking the web in the same way that IE7 was perceived to have done but in my opinion this is only likely to cause bigger problems further down the line.

Maybe using the HTML5 doctype could automatically prevent a site being added to the incompatible list and trigger standards mode?

Summary

What are your thoughts on this news? As you’ve probably gathered, I’m strongly against the idea and whilst I gave great credit to Microsoft for their previous announcement, this is now a huge step backwards.

For further information, an interesting article on the subject has also been written by Craig Buckler over at Sitepoint.

5 comments on “IE8 – The Return of the Meta Tag

  1. Dan Schulz

    One slight problem with the HTML 5 DOCTYPE idea, Dave – HTML 5 isn’t even a finalized recommendation. I’m still guessing we’ll have to wait another 7-10 years before it becomes “deployable” in the real world.

    Until then it’s just a proposed spec under development.

    I also thought that the “compatibility list” was only triggered when enough people “reported” it to Microsoft. Should that be the case, then sites like eBay and Amazon.com would be able to breathe a sigh of relief while we can go about our own work ensuring that the Web is written to comply with the specifications and standards (uhm, I mean “recommendations” ;)).

    Oy… and I thought my mom’s medical problems as of late were a literal pain in my backside.

  2. K. Adam Christensen

    As a web developer, I kinda feel your pain. If however, you think about the end user who would even use IE, you can see that it would be way more frustrating for them, and there’s a lot more of them out there.

    Because IE6 and IE7 have most of the market share, the web is built to work with those browsers. Because IE6 and 7 are pains in the ass, a lot of times, people use filters and hacks to make it work for those browsers. Now you and I know those hacks are a bad idea, but the web is full of that kind of code, and IE8 is built to work with the crappy sites.

    So now if IE8 comes out and then most of the web doesn’t work on it, now there’s a big mess. Not cool.

    This does mean that those of us who follow standards and good coding practices are going to have to add a tag. But our reward? A better browser to develop against.

    I’m looking forward to people upgrading to IE8 so that IE6 and IE7 can finally die…and die they must! But that can only happen if people trust in IE8 and not uninstall it for IE6 and IE7.

    I find http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2008/03/17.html is a great article on this point.

  3. James Hopkins

    @Dave:-

    > “It’s now going to be up to the community to decide whether or not a web page should appear in IE7 mode…”

    Technically yes, it will be. However only ‘high-volume’ sites will appear on this list.

    Sites are blacklisted on a per domain basis, *not* on a per page basis.

    Users of IE8 are not automatically opted-in to Compatibility View; upon initial install, they are prompted as to whether or not or not they want to use the feature. Based on the appalling lack of documentation aimed at those end-users, I’d suggest that most users won’t bother anyway (unless the option is ticked by default, which I’m not sure of).

    > “If your site is actually compatible with IE8 and written using web standards then you can of course opt out of this…”

    If you’ve written your site using valid HTML, why would your site appear on the list in the first place? One major issue (which lies with site authors) is the use of the IE (all-versions) Conditional Comment Operator – I’ve seen many sites break because of this.

    On a seperate note, if IE8 fully supported the CSS 2.1 spec (which it doesn’t), then we could elimate the possibility of users switching on IE7 Mode due to spec violations/bugs in Standards Mode.