After years of complaints that Internet Explorer doesn't properly embrace Web standards, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) late Monday announced that the next release of its browser will support standards by default.
As part of the company's recently announced "interoperability commitment," Microsoft plans to make Internet Explorer 8 (IE 8) default to the upcoming browser's highest level of standards compatibility.
IE 8, which is about to begin private beta testing, will implement three modes of Web standard behaviors. (IE 7 only supports two modes.)
The oldest mode, which the company calls "quirks" mode, supports Web pages that are typically very old, written for early versions of IE.
Microsoft has referred to the second as "standards" mode, but its support is based on the implementation of Web standards in IE 7.
Still, Microsoft claims that literally billions of Web pages exist that have been custom tailored to work with either quirks mode or the IE 7 standard mode.
For IE 8, Microsoft recently came up with a "super standards" mode designed to support current Web standards more fully.
Nevertheless, Microsoft had planned to designate that IE 8 default to IE 7, leaving it to site developers to choose super standards mode if that's what they wanted.
Now, however, the company has reversed course.
"We want to make IE 8’s standards mode much, much better than IE 7’s standards mode," IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch said in a blog entry on Monday.
"In light of the [recently announced] Interoperability Principles, as well as feedback from the community … IE 8 will show pages requesting 'standards' mode in IE 8’s standards mode," he added.
Of course, Microsoft wants to head off the possibility of more litigation by the European Commission (EC), which announced in Januaryit is investigating the company for not supporting Web standards to the detriment of competitors, including browser maker Opera.
Still, Microsoft is not shy about trying to show that it really means it when it says it's cooperating with the EC.
"While we do not believe there are currently any legal requirements that would dictate which rendering mode must be chosen as the default for a given browser, this step clearly removes this question as a potential legal and regulatory issue,” Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in a statement.
Microsoft has been promoting IE 8's Web standards since late last year. In December the company said that IE 8 passed the so-called "Acid2" Web standard test.
Although Acid2 is not a standards compliance test per se, it is looked to by many developers as an indication that a browser that passes should properly render graphics and other visual elements correctly on the Web.
IE 8 will be the first major update to Microsoft's browser since IE 7 shipped in October 2006. It is scheduled to begin beta testing during the first half of 2008.
Last week Microsoft confirmed that it has begun sending out invitations to a private technical beta test to selected developers.
In addition, IE 8 is slated for a sneak peek later this week when Hachamovitch presents a keynote speech at Microsoft's MIX08 Web developers conference in Las Vegas. No date has been given for final release of IE 8.
The latest reversal has one "gotcha," however. For sites that are IE 7-compliant to render properly, site designers will need to add a special tag to their existing Web page code.
"Developers who want their pages shown using IE 8’s 'IE7 standards mode' will need to request that explicitly," Hachamovitch wrote in his blog post.