March 6, 2008

IE8b1 released, Literally Breaks With The Past

This week Microsoft released a public beta of Internet Explorer 8 for developers, which promises to fix long-endured standards compliance issues while breaking all of your sites.

Don't panic -- this is actually a Good Thing™!

Why? Because better standards support means easier/faster development and maintenance. And breaking all your sites? A stop-gap solution is trivial to implement (see below) and provides an opportunity to renew old client contacts and relationships which could lead to more work. Perhaps now is a good time to consider/pitch that redesign?

Some of IE's rendering implementation was based on early or contested interpretations of standards, and many sites rely on or at least accommodate those interpretations. A new version of IE that correctly interprets modern standards will break such sites to varying degrees.

Recognizing the cost that true compliance incurs for site owners, Microsoft provides multiple render modes triggered by special meta tags added to pages that need them.

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=7" />

The example above tells IE8 to render the page that contains it in IE7 mode. Other available modes are "5 (a.k.a. Quirks mode)", "8", and "Edge", which allows the latest renderer, which at this time will be the same as choosing "8". If your entire site breaks on IE8, you can alternately choose to configure your server to send a custom header to accomplish the same thing. Full info can be found in the Defining Document Compatibility tech note.

Besides standards support, there are tons of new features I won't cover now, but developers will appreciate the new built-in and expanded Developer Tools, one feature of which allows easy preview of a page in IE5, IE7, and IE8 modes. Assuming each mode presents a true representation of each render engine, this may save platform testing time as well. You can use this to easily determine whether your site breaks in IE8 since it's simple to switch back and forth between IE7 and IE8 renders.

Time frame:
In closing, how long do we have until IE8 is actually released and we absolutely have to address the coming impact? If we assume IE8 will experience the same life cycle as did IE7, we can expect an end of year release for IE8.

For more information:

IE8 Dev Center

Readiness Toolkit

What's New for Developers

Report a web page problem

IE8 Release notes

The IE Blog is an excellent source of info direct from the developers on the Internet Explorer team.

Posted by Lewis Francis at March 6, 2008 7:29 PM

Need a quick way to tell what mode IE8 is running under? Eric Lawrence made a useful favelet that alerts the documentMode named ShowDocMode.

Posted by: Lewis Francis at March 7, 2008 10:44 AM

Microsoft's CSS Compatibility and Internet Explorer shows CSS compatibility from IE 5 up to the current support in IE 8b and the planned support for IE 8 final.

Posted by: Lewis francis at April 1, 2008 11:18 AM

IE8 b2 is scheduled for release in August. One of the new features is an additional compatibility mode called EmulateIE7, which tells IE8 to use IE7's rendering engine in Quirks mode. More info in Introducing IE=EmulateIE7.

Posted by: Lewis Francis at June 18, 2008 4:38 PM

IE8 officially released 19 Mar 2009; automatic update to be enabled at a future date.

Posted by: Lewis Francis at March 23, 2009 4:18 PM
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