They Shoot Browsers, Don’t They?

by Jeremy Keith

91 Reader Comments

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  1. Jeremy, I’m so glad to see that finally someone understands the issue and gets it right. Great article!! I sure hope the IE team reads this.

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  2. I’m really concerned about this take from Microsoft; it doesn’t seem to be about standards but more about market-share and keeping that. This whole ‘proposal’ from MS is just about scoring as much ‘yes’ from the ignorant which is really quite frightening.

    Here’s my reply:

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  3. I just want to say what a relief reading this article was after reading the articles by Eric Meyer and Jeffrey Zeldman. Here, here, Mr Keith!

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  4. @Stephen Down: “And what’s so different from now? Microsoft has created an “˜IE6 standard’ that leads clueless authors to write pages that are broken in fully standards-compliant browsers.”

    The big difference now is that MS, Zeldman and Meyers (is there anyone else?!) want to introduce a broken rendering mode as standard.  The ‘IE6 standard’ has been rapidly eroded over the last few years as more of us code for standards and then put a sticking plaster on MSIE via conditional comments.  This proposal introduces a legitimised ‘standard’ that benefits one company at the expense of its competitors.  It’s an M$ wet dream.

    Microsoft will steam roller on and do what they want – as always, but it’s infuriating that they have advocacy from people who have previously been on the side of web standards.  Microsoft will continue with their usual “embrace,extend and extinguish”:,_extend,_extinguish, but it’s evident that the vast majority of web devs are seeing straight through this attempt to subvert open standards.

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  5. The amount of gas being expended on “The Great IE Versioning Debate” of 2008 continues to confound me.
    Viewing it all from a distance, you would think that people were concerned about really, really bad things happening. But what does it all come down to really? A bunch of CSS selectors, many of which no-one will ever use? Is form triumphant over substance here?
    Look, as with any software, it all comes down to the installed user base. If average users are slow to upgrade, whose fault is that?
    Moving the web forward, standards-wise, is a waiting game. Forcing authors to re-write their content to accomodate a new browser release that will take many years before it is adopted by the many, frankly, seems somewhat arrogant, if not immoral to me.
    I, for one, hope that Safari, Opera, and FF follow suit with the versioning meta tag.
    Please, please tell me what awfully major harm will be done?

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  6. Microsoft doesn’t care about ethics. With great power comes great responsibility. Now that’s just awful silly! With great power comes a lot of money. Yes, that makes a lot more sense.

    Sigh. Too bad my happy little world of computing had to be perverted by them.

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  7. I believe that “web standards” do not entail a meta tag for IE8. That said, this is not a move towards standards.

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  8. header(“X-UA-Compatible: firefox”);
    See it here:

    As I’m running Ubuntu I will have to wait until tomorrow to test in IE and check that it still renders the site. Once I confirm, then I’ll add it to my other sites, about 15 in all. If I must do UA targeting, then I’ll target the right UA.

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  9. I know plenty of people have posted their own critiques and solutions, but I would appreciate your opinion on “my idea”: which to sumarize is version targeting where the default is one version behind the current.  This would give developers a padding of a few years to update their code, while still encouraging standards to grow and improve.

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  10. @Richard,

    To address your question. The only people that would be forced to re-write their websites are the people who have neglected the standards or, even worse, added the proper DOCTYPE switch and then proceeded to write IE6-specific code. Anyone who has up to this point developed to web standards would not have to dramatically change what they have written.

    This is why it makes sense for IE 8 to default to standards mode. All we would have to do by then is remove IE 7 and lesser version’s conditional comments.

    You said that it will take years for IE 8 to be fully adopted. Why is that? For that matter, why is it so for IE 7? IE 6 is full of bugs, display ones as well as security ones. Why didn’t MS push the upgrade the way they’re pushing the Vista upgrade? The conventional thinking is that MS doesn’t care about IE. MS hasn’t done much to correct that thinking. Now they’re saying that all versions of IE from 8 on up will always default to IE 7 rendering. What does that tell you about MS’s plans for IE?

    Because they’re the market leader, they need to listen to the market. Other than a few members of WaSP and a few people beyond it, everyone has denounced this idea as a bad one. Why do we still continue to clamor about it? It’s because nothing has been done to assuage our fears, nor is there a feeling that we’re being listened to. As opposed to the supporters saying “Well, what else are they to do?”, they could initiate a proper discussion of the drawbacks and advantages of this decision. However, I don’t think that rationality and logic have anything to do with it.

    Sorry if I come off ranting, but this is something I feel is important. To summarize for you, it’s a bad idea because it will effectively freeze the standards movement, or at least badly slow it down. It’s an extremely bad idea for the other browsers to follow suit. In fact, all three browser makers you’ve mentioned have publicly come out and said that there is no way they’re implementing this. And, why should they? They’ve been implementing their rendering engines as close to the standards specifications as possible. IE 8 is supposed to be close to, if not at, that level. It makes no sense not to take advantage of it.

    Hope I answered your question.

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  11. This raises the question for me: Will this stop at ‘full versions’ of a browser?  In the future will we be selecting through meta tags individual elements of a release version.  Give me the overall version 7 browser but with the opacity qualities of IE9 and the base font set of IE13?

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  12. @Richard Fink

    Amount of gas expended? Great way to make a point by starting with an insult to everyone on both sides because they care enough about a subject to debate about it, though from your later points it seems it’s only really targeted at those who don’t agree with version targeting the MS way. Maybe I’m reading you wrong, but your closing statement really does make it seem like an attack on everyone who doesn’t agree with your side. Those of us who do not agree that version targeting is the right way to handle this really do believe that bad things could come about on the web from this move by MS. Your CSS statement is a little flawed, how about I fix it for you, try “A bunch of CSS selectors that are already finalized and ready to be used in every browser except IE, and are already in use with fall backs by the more aware developers.” People already use CSS that IE can’t understand then protect IE from itself using multiple techniques that have been around for years or just let it gracefully degrade to plain text as it does with CSS it doesn’t understand. Please elaborate what you meant by the “form over substance” statement, as is it seems meaningless to me. The way I see it, with form being what’s made (a website) and substance being what it’s made of (underlying code), neither can be more important. It doesn’t matter what you make if it’s made out of the wrong materials, and the materials don’t matter if you built the wrong object. Both are equal and I see no relation to the current discussion, as I see no one saying what’s made is more important than what it’s made of.

    The slow to upgrade and advancement of web standards is important, so I’ll pay a bit more attention to it. With version targeting the way it is, users upgrading doesn’t matter any more for standards moving forward. We’ll get a bunch of half-rate web developers coding to IE7’s quirks and failings forever, and all the other browsers are going to have to keep those particular quirks in their browsers too or end up having problems rendering the web later. Your argument of it taking years for adoption is also not strong enough to be a point. Sure it takes MS over a year to get full adoption of a new browser, but no other browser maker seems to have a problem getting their users to update, maybe if MS unbound the browser from the OS and made it so everyone could update regardless of their OS they’d get an adoption rate of new versions like the others. Maybe if they added real value to each new release and didn’t make people jump through whatever new hoop they felt like adding in the adoption rate would also go up. “Forcing a re-write to accommodate new browser releases” is also not true, I’ve never had to re-write my code for anything except the release of IE7 and that was only a few minor changes to about 1/20th of all the sites I’ve done and manage. Never has a release of firefox, safari or opera ever made me re-write a site, it has always just worked.

    Luckily the other browser makers have already detailed why they won’t be using version targeting and the major stupidity that it is, especially for them to implement so we don’t have to worry about safari, opera, and firefox ever doing this to us. Version targeting is the first easy step towards MS ignoring standards and splitting the web again, even if they don’t mean for version targeting to do so, it doesn’t change the fact that version targeting makes it a lot easier for MS to do so. Perhaps this is the major harm you’re looking for, as I sure don’t want to deal with browser wars and a split web again, especially a war and split that comes at the expense of all the standards work that has been done.

    @Colin Steele

    I imagine it will only be possible to target a single version in total, so I’d guess no on being able to get the font set of 13, transparency of 9, and everything else from 7. Even if it were possible for MS to maintain every version of IE and slam it into a single browser, the ability to only use certain parts of multiple different versions of IE would multiply the work already done to an unimaginable level. Each individual piece of the browser would have to be compartmentalized into a stand alone form, and then a compiler would have to be included to grab each piece needed for every page and basically make a custom built browser engine on the fly. While I have to admit the idea of a compartmentalized browser that can do that seems cool enough that I’d like to see it some day just for fun, it’s highly unlikely that any group can put such a thing together and have it work well enough to be used.

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  13. Even though IE6 still remains to be used by half of the world, the other half exponential grows.

    Browser are suppose to behave like a browser. You do it to look at website.

    IE, Firefox, Opera, ect all have the same function but are used differently.

    I prefer Firfox because of the tools it offers to web designer, and for how clean it is.

    IE on the other hand does not have that option.

    As for any continuing version of these browsers, they have will have new features in rendering or uses.

    But always, they will be a browser, and all of them browsers will have that in common.

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  14. I got the impression from Kevin Yank’s blog over at SitePoint that this is, in fact, the case.

    Regardless, it seems like a reasonable compromise to me. Forward-looking standards savvy types shouldn’t really be affected if everything xhtml and up doesn’t require the new meta-tag to render standards-compliant in Explorer and devs can either cut and paste one more line of code or upgrade their skillsets to xhtml.

    Meanwhile, Explorer will continue to operate under a heavier load than necessary since it’s basically going to be multiple versions rolled into one. Microsoft may think it’s found a clever way to maintain the appearance of pushing standards compliance while continuing to keep its .net community in the stone age but they’re really just prolonging their own agony and reducing the quality of their own product.

    That is assuming this is only about html 4.x. If it’s across the board, I think it’s high time we got more active about marginalizing explorer by building fun pro bono sites full of the kinds of crap people like to link each other to at the office but refuse to render anything other than a statement why we’re not playing ball with IE this time around. If it’s “only one line of code” let the MS exclusivist .netTards deal with it.

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  15. I think you nailed it.  They ARE afraid, but I suspect that the Microsoft legal office is behind their fear.

    Think about it…  If Microsoft releases IE8 and they decide instead to make it completely standards compliant, what would happen?  For the most part everything would continue normally.  But a small group of important sites around the world might break in such a way that transactions were no longer possible, or would be down for some unseen explanation. What Microsoft is afraid of is legal retribution from the companies that might be injured.  They are afraid those companies will sues the be-Jesus out of them.  To be fair… they are probably correct.

    But what I believe Microsoft doesn’t see is that the pendulum has already begun to swing the other way. They should consider that a non-standards compliant browser release may be a legal liability unto itself.  What happens if they release IE8 and a group of sites that were designed to work according the standards don’t?  Does this not open the door for legal liability?

    The only problem I have with all this as a Web designer and developer is that I don’t want to build websites and have to code for individual browsers.  The ONLY logical way is to build sites to be standards compliant so we know they will work in every browser. PERIOD.

    Someday all browsers will be standards compliant, it is inevitable.  But Microsoft is trying to play the game AND be the referee.  They need to stop, reconsider their actions, and just play the game.  Otherwise the legal community is going to call a foul and release the hounds.

    I have often considered sending Microsoft an invoice for all the extra work it requires to build a site that works properly in their various browsers.  Perhaps after the release of IE8 the timing will be right?


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  16. That is assuming this is only about html 4.x

    Microsoft have said that it will affect HTML 4.x and XHTML 1.x – only doctypes that have not yet made it into common use, eg HTML5, XHTML2, will go into really really standards mode by default.

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  17. RE: “IEBlog: Interoperability Principles and IE8”:

    Thanks to Jeremy and all those who brought about this change. Special thanks to Microsoft for listening. Great news!

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  18. Jeremy, your article perfectly describes the dilemma many of us face with having to make exceptions for Microsoft’s Broswers, let alone different versions of their browsers ( I refuse to use that MSIE IF statement Malarkey … If I wanted If statements in my markup then I would playing around with oldschool QBasic. )

    Which brings me to the obviously massive news: – That IE 8 will be in standards mode by default.

    I love the last paragraph which says: “Long term, we believe this is the right thing for the web. Shorter term, leading up not just to IE8’s release but broader IE8 adoption, this choice creates a clear call to action to site developers to make sure their web content works well in IE. “
    This is hard to believe but I’m willing to hold judgment till IE 8 ships. Not to mention how awesome it is that you and Zeldman posted your varying views on the topic last week and we are seeing this blog . . . now that’s clout! Anyways, I’ll close out by pondering if the classic pie chart will someday shift:

    See you guys at AEA’08:Boston!
    ~ Chris at

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  19. @Srdjan Pejic: You said that it will take years for IE 8 to be fully adopted. Why is that? For that matter, why is it so for IE 7? IE 6 is full of bugs, display ones as well as security ones. Why didn’t MS push the upgrade the way they’re pushing the Vista upgrade?

    On the open web, IE is a “web browser”.  On tens of thousands of intranets, IE is a “web browser” and an application platform.

    With Microsoft’s hearty encouragement, enterprise customers have spent billions of dollars developing applications for that platform. Because most of these applications were designed during the IE6 era, and were written for a captive audience that was guaranteed to have IE6, they frequently rely on behaviors specific to IE6.

    Along comes IE7. It can’t peacefully coexist with IE6 so enterprise customers have two options: stick with IE6, or test/fix every app that relies on IE to ensure that it works under IE7. And the latter path requires another choice: you either limit the fixes to stuff that works in both IE6 and IE7, or you get to deploy all the application changes simultaneously, while deploying IE7 to the entire organization at the exact same time. Surprisingly, many companies chose to stick with IE6.

    Then along comes Vista. The outlay for a Vista migration is significant for everyone (new PCs where needed, testing/upgrading your business-critical Windows apps, replacing add-on hardware Vista doesn’t support, etc.), but worse for businesses still on IE6: they can’t deploy Vista to a single desktop until all their IE-based apps run under IE7, because IE6 won’t even run on Vista.

    Now here comes IE8.  You can’t run IE8 unless you’re on Vista, but you can’t run Vista until you’re off IE6. So if you want to move to IE8 you have to revise the apps that rely on IE to work under IE6 + IE7 + IE8, then move the desktops from IE6 on XP to IE8 on Vista.  You can’t take advantage of anything IE7 or IE8 specific during the application fixes, because that’ll break those apps for folks whose desktops are still on IE6 (i.e., everyone).

    As far as your company’s bottom line is concerned, all of the money spent on these migrations is bring tossed into a black hole—unless you want to argue that employees will be measurably more productive on Vista + IE7/8 than they are on XP + IE6.  You’re spending that money because that’s the only option Microsoft is giving you.  You either follow their upgrade path on their schedule, or you stick with what you have in hand and run critical business operations on unsupported software.

    If you were that customer, exactly how much “pushing” would you take from your Microsoft rep before you hauled off and punched him in the face?

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  20. You know Jeremy,

    That word example you take is really an excellent one. Designers and hardcore computer geeks may hate the idea that a software is not completely streeamlined, customized and using its most recent, potentially performant and complex features, but the average user and mankind at large would love to not lose the ability to display and edit old documents.

    Really, I don’t see how one can stand for the idea that continued support of older versions is not something to be desired.

    If there was some mechanism of version targeting in word documents, it would be just great. I’ll never blame Microsoft for learning the lessons of the past.

    Aaron’s article on this very list has very good points about the fact that standards and DTDs alone are far from being enough.

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  21. And here I thought we finally got through to Microsoft. Instead of backing up the web designers and developers who go through the time and effort of “doing it proper,” they’ll crumble under the complaints of those who are writing/authoring/whatever-you-want-to-call-it questionable code. And all because the number of those doing it “not quite right” are more than the ones who are.

    I wonder if this is how the “witches” of Salem felt when they were burned at the stake/pressed in the woods for using logic and scientific reason.

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  22. hi i think it,s a great post.

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  23. I am already sick and tired of writing one website for every browser but IE, then writing for IE6’s quirks and compensating for IE7’s lack of progressive features (nobody can really demand a browser creator implement features from CSS3 before it’s released, but gee wiz Microsoft it’d sure be neat to see a border-radius).

    The idea that Microsoft not only thinks that’s okay but actually wants me to look forward to an future abundance of special implementations for each version of their quirky, obnoxious, sub-par browser deeply saddens me.  I’m strongly tempted to start using their little conditional statements to redirect all traffic from IE users directly to

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  24. All this talk of Microsoft protecting their market share really doesn’t matter – and what company wouldn’t. I do not care for one second which browser clients/visitors/grandmas use to access the markup I’ve created so long as all the browsers agree on how it should be rendered.
    I say, throw in IE=edge and move on. Keep using your plug-in friendly browsers, I know I will. At least we can stop wasting (or reduce the) countless hours hacking at the CSS.

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  25. When I first heard of version targeting, I thought it had to be the worst possible solution. No doubt most of us keep track of what works in which browsers, but as time moves on, that list grows, requiring recoding of sites designed in the past. So, unfortunately, while I dislike the idea of version targeting, that’s the best case for its use: not having to worry as newer browsers appear next year and years from now. And while we can, hopefully, rely on the concept that our standards-based code will stand up over time, who really knows?

    I just keep thinking that version targeting is a little like those old “Best viewed in Netscape 2” buttons. While I’d rather that Microsoft had simply fully supported standards, they have a point: older sites will still have problems. So, with version targeting, at least we can get IE display nailed down. I guess.

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  26. IE: the security-hole, opera: very fast and very secure, firefox: the browser with the most features.
    The rendering of these most popular browsers is good, but not perfect – so is the world!

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  27. From what I can see on the IE 8 beta 1 website, version targeting has been abandoned in favour of a IE7 emulation mode selected by the user. Phew.

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  28. just out of curiosity does that mean “ASP load”
    I say ignore IE8 and let it sink ignominiously into the Redmond mire…..

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  29. What do you think of Safari? It’s got better in recent years, however still a nightmare trying to get sites to look the same in different versions.

    “UK Web Hosting”:

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  30. Well, I’m not so sure about all the bells and whistles in IE. but then I don’t like IE and don’t use it, I prefer Firefox. And about those dogs, don’t shoot them, clicker train that dog!  :)

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  31. nevermind that prior comment.. errr, I guess I wasn’t understanding textile.  But I still say to “clicker train (This clicker train) “: the dog…

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