Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, co-founder of lifestyle magazine Lagom, founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, and an electronic musician.

Catastroph-IE

Posted on 25 January 2008 Comments

Article illustration for Catastroph-IE

Tuesday was an eventful day for the web standards community. For those who don’t know, Aaron Gustafson posted an article on A List Apart about the new site versioning ‘feaure’ that will be in IE8; a meta tag (to define which version of the IE rendering engine should be used) that looks a little bit like this:

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

Looks fairly innocent, doesn’t it? But it’s caused something of an outrage for the standards crowd, because with it comes the announcement that if no rendering engine is explicitly stated, it will use IE7’s by default. Yep, that’s right: no matter what CSS features are supported by IE8, 9, 10, etc. in the future, your site will only be rendered with the (relatively poor) IE7 engine if you fail to include this tag.

So what are your thoughts on this? This post has been sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder for a few days and is therefore now a bit late in the game, so rather than repeat things that have already been said by people who have much more authority on the subject than me, I thought I’d summarise some of what these guys have been saying and point you in the direction of their blogs…

Blow by blow

Jeremy was one of the first on the scene and quite sensibly says that “the X-UA-Compatible header is a great idea. It’s great for Microsoft. It’s great for Microsoft’s customers. But the default behaviour is wrong, wrong, wrong!”

Drew wrote a fairly diplomatic post on behalf of WaSP, although he also made the same point as Jeremy about only some members of WaSP being involved in the decision-making process with Microsoft. However, in their defence, he reminded us that “a great deal of thought and research by people who know what web standards development means has gone into this.”

Snook offered one of the most positive responses by reminding us that “as each new browser comes out and fixes bugs from older versions, our sites need to be revisited. Until we have a chance to do so, our sites shouldn’t break.”

Andy also fairly defends the decisions that brought this tag into existence, but goes on to point out that “clueless developers won’t know about this behaviour so every new site they build will automatically be rendered as IE7. Clued-up developers will use this as an excuse to freeze support for IE and turn their attentions to better browsers.” Good point!

For the technological reasons why this might be a bad idea even for Microsoft themselves, have a look at Robert O’Callahan’s post.

Kyle summed the situation up quite nicely by saying that_ “this feels like yet another band-aid on a wound that has become infected already.”_ Well said, man.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that the comments on each of these blogs offer further insight and a much deeper discussion into this issue than the posts alone. All worth a read, if you have the time. Oh, and be sure to check out Microsoft’s official word on passing the Acid 2 Test.

Conclusion? Nah!

It’s impossible to really conclude anything yet; mainly because IE8 is still a long way off, and secondly because I’ve heard that the other browser manufacturers are not going to support the version-switching tag (I can’t remember where I heard that. Maybe it was via Twitter. Anyone got a reference?).

What’s more, it was revealed by Chris Wilson that the HTML5 doctype will not need the meta tag (thank you Snook, via John Resig), so maybe there’s hope yet… depending on how the whole HTML5 vs. XHTML2 war pans out, of course. And let’s not forget that that’s potentially a much bigger issue!

I think the whole thing is best summed up by this rather amusing offering from Kate Bolin. ;)

What does anyone else think?

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