Beyond DOCTYPE: Web Standards, Forward Compatibility, and IE8

by Aaron Gustafson

253 Reader Comments

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  1. I have to say that after reading approximately 6000 comments on this subject on multiple blogs I have seen at least 99.9% objection to this proposal; and I also object (and commend the objectors for doing so).

    I’ll also say that there has been one shinning light for the objecting team in this debate and that is Ray McCord. Every statement he has made is valid, every statement he has made is the essence of what the standards movement is all about, and I for one support his statements to the letter.

    Ray, I salute you, please keep voicing you opinion, it means so much to so many.

    Seriously, anyone who has digested this debate in detail (since it was announced) can see that the argument against this proposal is more valid than the argument for it. If you are for this pathetic proposal than you can no longer claim to be an advocate of web standards, OR an advocate of the *open web*. The facts here are simple, the facts here are not hard to digest at all, this is nothing more than Microsoft playing the gatekeeper, and their key resides in a new non standard masked by a meta tag.

    If you think this pathetic proposal sounds reasonable than you a sorely mistaken, why? Because this meta tag will be abused in every way you can (and can’t) imagine, but not just by web developers who couldn’t care less, by people who want to exploit weaknesses, by people who simply don’t know better, BUT worst of all by the very people who made it a reality. If you need any proof of that statement you need only look at the web of the past, not to mention every piece of closed software ever written, if there is a way, there is a will and this key provides too many cretins with a way!

    I for one refuse for one second to believe that Microsoft mean well by forcing this new aid (AKA: key to the gate of the closed web) on the emerging web. They mean only to bolster their position as the number 1 market shareholder by stifling the ability for the web to mature at the rate expected by users, developers and businesses. By all means I will support Microsoft if just for once they will support us (the developers), the very people who for 6 years (minimum) have helped them save face by manipulating their malformed/retarded browsers to allow the very people who give them the market share (that they still enjoy to this day) an enjoyable experience on the open web.

    We did not break the web, yet to this day we a forced by one corporation to do their dirty work, enough is enough, we have covered their arse for too long, this key they are offering is hollow and we all know it, even those that assert blind support for this proposal know it in their heart to be nothing more than an empty promise, one we have endured long enough.

    Microsoft: it’s high time you started to give us some slack, we have backed you up for too long, we have given you enough chances to make things right, and we are simply tired of carrying you any longer. For once in you feeble life…


    Just to be sure I’m not taken out of context here, I personally believe the IE dev team are truly trying to correct the mistakes of the past and for that they have my deepest respect. However it is my opinion that the Microsoft “big wigs/marketing engine” are pulling the strings, and for that I truly am discouraged, it is my humble opinion that the web of today/the future is no place for money grabbing so and so’s; Unless they are willing to truly embrace it.

    No… Adding a meta tag is not embracing the future, but for the sake of the MS business brains that don’t understand why, it’s simple… When the market doesn’t require you to improve you will simply leave us in the stone age once again, and this will never change until you truly understand the needs of your supporters and consumers. I really do hope that message sinks in (though I seriously doubt it).

    My greatest respect to all those in opposition to this proposal, may our voice be heard (even by our own peers who for the most part seem to have turned their backs on us).

    And to those who have simply adopted this as progress, may you see the error of your ways. Zeldman, Gustafson et al, I sincerely hope you wake up out of the dream world you have entered, your light is fading and that truly is a very sad proposition for the future of “our” open web.


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  2. @ Kip Kniskern: If I’m getting this right, FireFox et al would render the site correctly, but IE would not. Isn’t this, then, just a wide open door for website developers, rather than including the meta tag, to include instead a “Get Firefox”? icon and a message: “This site renders well in everything but IE”??

    Believe me Kip, there are many who would walk this path in one second, but you have to remember that most of us are “by definition” professionals, meaning we serve others, and as such the market share pretty much dictates what we can and can’t do (i.e. clients don’t like telling people to go away and come back later with a new browser).

    Therefore MS has us over a barrel unless there is an industry wide movement against it, which is not really feasible considering at least 50% of developers out there don’t care about standards because they don’t have to (they just code for IE… hence our dilemma).


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  3. I have just re-read some of the comments here and read more blog responses elsewhere, I hope my first comment didn’t discount anyone, I am very aware that there are a lot of people (other than Ray) who are very passionate about this issue while maintaining a solid understanding of the underlying factors in play here.

    I just want you all to know that I am also passionately supporting the opposition to this idea and singling out one particular voice was not particularly ideal on my part, I do apologise. Please keep standing your ground on this subject, don’t let this become a stagnate “blog topic of the moment”. This is the most important issue the web standards movement has “ever” faced and it should not be left to pass without logical opposition.


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  4. This proposal seems to be saying that Microsoft will guarantee to web developers to retain backwards compatibility in their browser engine, as they release new versions. If a developer wants to “lock” their IE hacks to a specific version and not develop new ones as soon as each update is released then they can use this tag to ensure that all users receive a predictable experience. Other browser developers could take the same approach if they wished. The web developer then has time to explore what new hacks they need for the latest browser and release them when fully tested.

    We are in this position because browser developers have differed in their interpretation of standards, even from version to version of their own code. (Microsoft perhaps more than others.) That legacy of different interpretations will be with us for some time to come – and perhaps always. It is a pipe dream to assume that all browsers will implement all standards in exactly the same way and that all users will upgrade in step as soon as a new standard is released.

    I doubt that – even on a corporate intranet – anyone would lock their code to IE.7 and simply leave it there. At some point, even Microsoft will have to drop support for old rendering models, otherwise their browser code will be so bloated it will be bigger than the operating system.

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  5. PS – I would hope that users of IE.8 and above can choose, themselves, to have their browser ignore the new X-UA meta tag and always try to interpret a site in standards-optimum mode. Perhaps Microsoft can offer a toolbar button that toggles quickly between these modes. Given this, I think most users would opt for standards-optimum as their default and only toggle “down” if a site did not render well.

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  6. We should not be giving, meaning the web developers community should not be giving, browser vendors the chance to screw things up carlessly in the future. What’s the point of standards otherwise? What they have to do now is do their best to support the latest standards, and then NOT break appart with them in future versions of their browsers. That is the way to make sure that our standards compliant sites will still look appropriattely in the future. And no other meassure, policy or complexity should be forced uppon us.

    Now, having said that, it’s fine to give developers – that built sites targeting browsers that were not standards compliant – the opportunity to place an easy but temporary fix so that their work doesn’t look al messed up while they work on a permanent fix.

    That’s how I find the new meta tag could be usefull.

    If the practice ever got widespread as the article proposes, we’d end up with bloated instalation files, getting bigger every time a new broser version comes along, because the file has to contain all the legacy rendeing engines.

    Now there is only one vendor, Microsoft, that needs to pack only the most critical rendering engines those of IE5, IE6 and IE7. Start supporting standards appropriately with IE8 and forget about it from then on.

    For us developpers, the meta tag should be absolutely optional, so that we can take full advantage of progressive enhancement.

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  7. If one doesn’t want to use the meta-tag, fine, don’t use it. If the desired result of a new version being released that renders differently than previous releases being the breaking of a site, so be it, just don’t use the meta-tag.  See that a page is now broken fix it, move on.

    No one is forcing anyone to use the tag and those not using the tag will receive the same result as they always have.

    Personally, though, I’ll “fix” my sites so that IE-8 doesn’t puke on them, which I already know it does, the same way that I had to “hack” IE-6 and IE-7 to behave, using Conditional Comments.

    As for browsers potentially end up becoming bloat-ware, it will likely only ever be IE that ends up bloated because no other browser, that I know of, has so many different views of the same standard that IE has.


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  8. Let’s kill Internet Explorer.

    This is a proposal to all sane web-developers out there, who are not willing to cope with the nonsense Microsoft is imposing on us.

    We have control, why don’t we use it for the sake of good?

    Let’s implement one last browser-specific IE-related hack on ALL OF OUR PAGES – let’s break the IE compatibility.

    It’s obvious to me now, that the so called end-users do not have responsibility to alter the web. We were preaching about abandoning IE for years now with no (Opera) or moderate (Firefox) success. Average Joe couldn’t care less for web standarts. And it’s not his responsibility to care about them either. But make no mistake – he WILL benefit. I don’t have to spell why for you. If you’re reading this text, you allready know why.

    Internet Explorer is on life support now. And it’s us who were keeping it alive all this time. It draws our blood. Time to pull the plug

    Imagine this picture: all the pages all over the internet refuse to accept a user agent known as Internet Explorer. It’ll be painful yes, but think about it for a moment. A cleansing is required to break that cursed circle. W3C introduced DOCTYPE to handle quirks/standarts, yet IE broke it. That was an act of good will form our side, they just spited in our faces in return. Now they’re planning on imposing even more diversity by using the IE-specific meta-tag, which LOCKS your site to a specific browser version. Enough is Enough

    Think about all those hours (and days!) you spent hacking your 100% standart-complaint pages, making them WORSE, inserting bloated code, unnecessary Javascript and what not. Just take a moment and think about them. That situation was never normal, and it’s not going to be any better. Unless we do something

    The most popular argument for IE support goes like this: It has the most market share, therefore not supporting it is stupid. That is true of course, so why aren’t we doing anything to change it? People at Mozilla can spend only so much money in their firefox ad-campaigns, it will never work to the full extent. Something should motivate a user to upgrade. I say, the ‘day-internet-stood-still’ will motivate them! And yes, I think that will only take a day. In a 24-hour period everyone will get himself a brand new browser

    Personally, from this day on, I’m not going to support IE in any of my web projects. If my employer disagrees, I quit. Some things are more important then money. We’re talking about Freedom here. Sometimes you have to make a sacrifice for a greater cause.
    But if we all do that in one day (that will require some organization among the web developers, but isn’t that what internet is all about? Can’t we put a countdown/sign up site/blog somewhere to manage it?).. If we all do that in one day, on a set date, then it won’t even be a sacrifice. It’s funny if you think about it. We had that option for YEARS, but for some reason we were bending over for Microsoft downgrading our own code. But I feel a change. I feel the web is more united then ever. I feel that we do have a common agenda, a common reason, a common goal. We totally can do it !

    Have you ever saw “This page only works with Internet Explorer” banner, basicly denying your standart-compatible browser an access to the content. Well, how about we do the reverse? How about “This page works with everything other then Internet Explorer” banner?

    Yes, IE-hacking became a skill of it’s own (sadly) and many of us are even proud of how they can abuse IE to behave like it had to in the first place. But a job of web developer was never to cope with the ridiculous bugs in Microsoft software. It’s not just one bug, the whole browser is broken.
    It’s time to end this nonsense.

    vital (dot) driedfruit (at) is my email.

    • Spread the word.—not among users, but among fellow web developers!
    • Set a date.—for maximized effect
    • Gain support.—find out if we’re really taking the web back or just loosing our jobs.
    • Do your part.—you control the web sites, you know what to do.

    It’ll be a lot like a revolution, but with some MAJOR differences:

    • When plotting a real revolution you can’t set a date and ask for signatures. You can’t even be sure there’s a following. Well, we’re on internet, we CAN be sure.
    • No guns or fighting required. No chance of being killed.
    • We will definitely win. After the switch from IE is done, there’s no going back.

    See Also
    “What’s wrong with IE”:

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  9. Well, I downloaded IE8 beta 1 and gave it a whirl; waddaya know – they’ve broken the web (what a surprise – not!).

    So they back-tracked on the default behaviour – to many developers’ delight (not mine) – so it renders in IE8’s version of the standards. But wait – it’s WORSE than that; it also takes account of our IE hacks – so it’s trying to render using IE8 standards mode AND apply the IE7 hacks. NOOOOOOOO!

    Here’s what it does on my site (this is an abbreviated list!):

    • barfs on my inline tabbed lists
    • barfs on my rounded corners
    • my ‘skip to content’ link no longer works
    • randomly shows / hides some on my list bullets

    I particularly like the bug that causes the page to jump to top when using the scroll-wheel on my mouse! This happens if the pointer dares to pass over a link. (Of course, I accept that this is only a beta, but please…)

    The ‘good’ news? There’s a nice little button to the right of the tabs entitled ‘Emulate IE7’. When I click it I’m informed that I need to restart IE – but it doesn’t make it clear that I have to do that manually (I’d expected it to do that for me). Once restarted my site appears in all it’s glory – yay, no more broken web :-)

    Oh, but hang-on. I’m now using IE7…

    Question: If I now put the X-UA tag on my site, will it override the user’s choice to use IE7 emulation?…

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  10. It appears that the author has forgotten the purpose of web standards altogether.

    Standards specify how user agents should interpret a document. This allows us to create websites knowing that they will be rendered consistently among browsers. As new standards are completed and adopted (CSS 3, for example), we gain better design tools.

    But there is another, crucial element to web standards: compliant browsers must support old standards. Five years from now, when we’re all (perhaps) writing HTML 6, the latest browsers will still be required to support HTML 4.01. An old website written in HTML 4.01 will not break in a new browser.

    Although no browser is 100% faithful to the standards, their failings are so slight as to be unimportant. All except one: Internet Explorer. “Breaking the web” is not an issue for any browser except IE. If IE rendered web pages as accurately as Firefox, this article would never have existed.

    I am delighted to hear that IE is reinventing itself as a standards-compliant browser. If Microsoft insist on an extra <meta> tag to ease their conscience, so be it. Compared to the hacks I need for IE6, a single <meta> tag is nothing.

    But this approach must not spread. It is seductive and dangerous. If we require new browsers to include rendering code from all previous versions, then we will cripple browser development. Microsoft would love this: force its competitors to be lumbered with a bloated, legacy rendering engine like Trident; prevent them from ever cleaning out their codebases. Ha! That’ll slow down those pesky open-source kids.

    Let us not disinter browser sniffing. Long now has it rotted, its unwholesome charnel stench sealed beneath the ground. Leave it there undisturbed; visit its grave only to remember the misery that once was ours when it walked the earth in horror.

    But if we resurrect this monster, it will rampage beyond our control. We must not sell our inheritance for a Microsoft boon.

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  11. Hello Aaron and all of you, people of reason and haters alike.

    First, let me just say that this X-UA meta tag is really a great thing. Also, the new IE is the hell of a great software, the functions of Opera with the aesthetics and ergonomy of IE. it’s really too bad that Microsoft has backed down on the issue of what will be the default behavior when the meta tag is not there. DTDs are fine, but obviously they’re not enough. Add to that, people on the web are shouting as if continued support of old documents was not something to achieve. I wonder what’s going to happen when the silent majority realizes that their favorite websites are broken. I really hope people are going to be computer-fluent enough to click the “Emulate IE7” button.

    Of course, people are saying, “if these sites had been coded according to standards, they wouldn’t be broken.” This is just plain wrong, as your article shows as I’ve noticed many times myself. Two compliant pages do not always display the same on two compliant browsers; in fact, it happens more often than not that empirical corrections or script hacks have to be applied by the designer. This is what elementary observation shows. I wonder how these people, often much more experienced than me in the area of web design, simply fail to see the reality that’s located right in front of their eyes.

    This being said, I have questions, and I thought here was the best place to ask for them.

    What happens to the DTD when the X-UA meta tag is used? I would say that if you require either the IE7 or IE8 rendering engine, the DTD is indeed still accounted for by IE8 (the software). Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    But, I’ve noticed some weirdness related to this question with IE6. As a test, I have used the meta tag to request some IE6 rendering on my site. A few weeks ago, my work computer was still under IE6 and my site displayed (not entirely) correctly with this computer. On the other hand, it does not display correctly under IE5, in part because IE5 includes padding within an element’s height and width, which of course is not standard. I hope to correct this anytime soon.

    As I understand (hope I’m not wrong), on this width-padding issue IE6 behaves as IE5 if there is no DTD, and behaves in another, more compliant way if there is a DTD.

    Now, my site has a DTD, but the rendering obtained by requesting IE6 rendering with the X-UA meta tag is the same as IE5 rendering. I don’t understand this. Can someone explain?

    P-S: it’s funny to see that people are actually too busy shouting to even bother trying the beta1. I see very little discussion stemming on the “Emulate IE7” button

    Si Lin: I agree with you overall. And, I’ve also witnessed strange behaviors with lists, maybe not exactly the same as you. Not sure bu I was thinking, maybe my issues are related to my lists having a negative text-indent. Also, I have italic text which is cut at the end of lines. I really hope this is just a bug and not the new standards-compliant way…

    Question: If I now put the X-UA tag on my site, will it override the user’s choice to use IE7 emulation?…

    Answer: yes! Tested by me.

    Now it would have been really funny if MS had prioritized the other way around. Those haters would have regretted all their shouting for IE7 rendering being left as opt-out.

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  12. Sorry about the little mistake. I meant:

    “being left as opt-in”

    at the end of my previous comment just above. Of course you had gotten it. Sorry again people. Now it’s corrected.

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  13. At some point there must be a line drawn. The whole point of standards are to provide a common correct way to develop something, and in this case, a website. Browsers should follow this, and update accordingly with the updates of the most recent public standards release. This means having support for all the current standards, then a web browser should be able to differentiate which standard to follow by a DOCTYPE of sorts (some way of identifying the standards that the web page was chosen to follow in).

    Ultimately, this is how a browser’s architecture should be based on, not on the version that its at. Getting past this road block is the first step in creating a more complete and seamless web.

    Suggestions should be made to the browser developers to follow standards, once all browsers are capable of following any of the standards created, the web should begin to return back to a normal state. That way, browsers and designers/developers wouldn’t need to follow versions, but follow standards, which is what they should be doing in the first place.

    Version locking is an easy fix to a problem that has been going on too long. Truth be told, there is no easy fix to fix this, so we all must work on overcoming this bump in the road. Complaints and whining are not what make a good company persevere, they for one should know that.

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  14. Here is a precis of my objection to this article:

    After all, we shouldn’t make assumptions about how browsers will behave in the future.

    Yes, we should. That is what standards do!

    A standard defines, for all eternity, how compliant browsers should behave. Of course, we can also introduce new standards; but the old ones are set in stone.

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  15. of course we shouldnt try to second guess how browsers would function in the future but it is recognized that a cmmon / mutual method would be beneficial to the community as a whole

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  16. I—like many designers in a structured development environment—have been struggling to find the best “cross section” of standards for our developers to follow that both render consistently for the targeted audience, yet allow for the practicalities and compromises (validation exceptions and such) that must be made for code implementation. Choosing a doctype with some conditional css goes so far, but a meta tag might allow for further refinement for display consistency and build in more forward-compatability. But I have to agree with those above concerned for where that may take us as the browsers progress.

    So, rather than targeting a specific browser version, could the meta tag idea be used to target a range of standards rendering behaviors instead? I don’t imagine to know how that could work, but after reading this article, I wonder if meta tags for flagging rendering “exceptions” could be developed—as these could be tied more closely to the standards as they evolve. I imagine they’d offer some flexibilty and allow for progressive updating of a site as new browsers are released, as such meta tags could be inserted quickly and removed again when the site can be fully updated (instead of the rushed site updates every time new browser versions are released, as the article mentions). And using the meta tags wouldn’t lock a site to a particular browser or version, but a more of a “rendering mode” version instead.

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  17. One of the biggest mistakes of the web development community was to struggle to try and make sites work on old or buggy browsers.

    You see, we’re all really determined to give our end-users the best experience possible, even if it causes us vast amounts of pain trying to hack around Internet Exploder to try and convince it to do things properly.

    But our efforts have backfired on us. By supporting buggy browsers, we’ve actually prolonged the life of the buggy browsers and the sites that came to rely on those buggy browsers.

    If we resolutely stop supporting browsers with bugs, across the board, guess what will happen”¦ People will stop using buggy browsers because all the sites they visit will be “broken”?.

    That in turn will make people with sites that break on standards-compliant browsers wake up and think “hey, I need to fix my site “¦ now!”?. It’s not going to take as long as you think for the world to adapt to a standards compliant nirvana.

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  18. From what I can see, this is actually a good idea. If you’re a browser vendor, and you don’t want to support this”¦ well, don’t. No one’s forcing you to. Microsoft is just giving developers a way to say, “This page works with IE7. If you can, make it work like IE7 did.”?

    Saying “everyone should just follow the standards”? is good and nice—except that the standards are very complex, sometimes ambiguous, and occasionally internally inconsistent. Just like C++ code, standards are written by people and can have bugs.

    Also”¦ IE isn’t the only browser that changes behavior across versions. Firefox 3 passes acid2 whereas FF2 doesn’t—obviously, the two versions mean something slightly different when they say they’re standards-compliant. Even in the “equal”? world of standards-compliant browsers, some browsers are more equal than others.

    As someone who builds intranet-style web applications (that work cross-browser, thank you very much ;-) I’d love to be able to pin my app down and say “This works with IE7 and Firefox 2 and Safari 3. Browsers, if you can act like any of those, you’ll deliver a good experience to my users.”?

    And I know it’s a good idea to test your web work with every browser you’ll want to support. Are you sure you’ll be in your current job, ready to do that, forever? Are you sure you’ll be able to spare the time to do that testing before users get new browsers?

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  19. From what I’ve read (and this isn’t a great deal) this sounds like a good idea and even if only adopted by IE it’ll at least alleviate some headaches.

    But I do have a question about how, as time moves on, older versions of browsers implementing this strategy will handle content targeted at later versions i.e. what will IE-8’s approach be when it encounters content targeted at IE-10:

    I’d assume that in this situation it’ll adopt an ‘I’ll try my best to render’ rather than a ‘this page cannot be displayed as I’m not included’ approach.

    I’d be interested to know what is intended as without this I think there may be issues when accounting for the fact that not all end users adopt new browser updates / versions either quickly or consistently.

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  20. I definitely agree with Aaron, targeting a browser version using a meta tag is a great solution to a great problem, it’s simple, practical and at the same time elegant.  I think browser targeting will leave its mark in Internet history, from this moment on it will be easy to completely understand (content + visualization + behavior) targeted web pages.  Previous web pages will always require some archeological effort in order to be understood.  My company, Artinsoft (, has been developing tools to increase web sites’ code general quality and standards compliance (  One of our tools, the IE8 Compatibility Wizard, automates the compatibility meta tag insertion task.  I am confident that this tool can help several members of your audience and I sympathetically invite you to visit our web site and try our products.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Best regards,
    César Muñoz

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  21. Personally, I have to rewrite my sites at least every 3 to 4 years, often parts of some sites and some pages weekly (I want this new logo, I don’t like that color any more:-) ) As long as it is paid for I have no complaint.
    SO, I don’t understand the argument about future/backward compatible pages. I want customers to update their material, and since I use includes I just change one file; update – reload and the site is all done! and I can go back to shoveling snow. 
    I would like for browsers to be standards compliant, I though that was the whole point of having standards in the first place. I think you guys (those who see this as a way out) have just been beat down by the Standards Compliant” struggle and the “meta-code” snippet is an easy way out. The last time I looked (last week?) the IEs were down at 37% and dropping and FF was at at 45% and rising. I look forward to Standards Compliance growing and the continued growth of standards compliant browsers.


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  22. This is indeed a nice approach if your application is huge and you want to make it compatible with new version of IE i.e. IE8.
    I am using this with my web application, but I am facing some problem. When I try to open a lightbox that time the window of lightbox is not getting compatible with IE8.I guess the issue is with javascript.So I am not getting how should I make my layout(which is build with javascript at runtime) compatible with IE8. what could be the solution??

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  23. I agree this solution (implementation aside) may help solve catastrophe when a new browser is released. However we only need to look at the outcome of other applications where we force specifics in a browser to see where this path will take us. These days I’m pretty sure I only see IE6 running within companies that spent a small fortune on custom software that requires they stay in the IE6 box to function.

    Do we really want to encourage the same type of behavior within basic web development? I work with enough “old school” clients to know that the vast majority would prefer to upgrade their old outdated site in the “HTTP-EQUIV” it was originally written in than redo everything with a new more modern solution. The last thing we want to do is promote locking our clients to a specific(and dated) browser, even if it does prevent a small period of panic.

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