March 16, 2005 1:43 PM PST

Microsoft yielding to IE standards pressure?

After a years-long drumbeat of developer complaints, Microsoft may finally be budging on its support for standards and on key missing features in its Internet Explorer browser.

Microsoft last month broke with a longstanding pledge and said it would release a new version of IE before its next major Windows upgrade. Security concerns catalyzed the shift in plans, and Microsoft has kept mum about any possible standards or feature upgrades that might accompany the security improvements.

But a source familiar with Microsoft's plans confirmed a Tuesday report on MicrosoftWatch that IE developers, who have code-named their project Rincon, are at work on non-security features and standards support, including tabbed browsing, support for IDN (Internationalized Domain Names), improved support for CSS 2 (Cascading Style Sheets) and PNG (Portable Network Graphics) transparencies.

MicrosoftWatch also reported that IE 7 will include a built-in news aggregator based on RSS, or Really Simple Syndication.

While Microsoft declined to answer any questions about IE 7, the company has repeatedly brought up the issue of IE 7 standards support on its developer-oriented blogs to solicit suggestions on what changes developers would like to see in the upcoming release of the browser. Without making any promises, leaders in the IE development team suggest that after years of inaction on World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards problems, Microsoft will finally clean up its act.

"Specific requests and descriptions of problems in the field help us tremendously in prioritizing what we need to do," Chris Wilson, Microsoft's lead program manager for the Web platform in IE, wrote in a March 9 blog titled "IE and Standards." "Microsoft does respond to customer demand; Web developers are our customers."

If the tenor of the comments posted in response to Wilson's blog item is any indication, Microsoft has a lot of angry customers.

"IE6 has stagnated since its release," wrote one of Wilson's more civil respondents. "More annoying than this stagnation has been the silence from Redmond regarding future releases and the support of standards. Aging documentation, no support forum, undocumented features--IE 6 has been a nightmare."

Developers' concerns about standards and feature support in the current version of IE are reflected in the browser team's current to-do list. Frequent complaints include IE's lack of tabbed browsing, which lets users keep multiple pages open within the same window; full support for CSS 2, a W3C recommendation that lets Web authors apply single style guides to multiple pages; and support for PNG transparencies, which provide a nonproprietary, unpatented way to create transparent images.

The Mozilla Foundation--whose highly successful Firefox browser many credit with lighting a fire under Microsoft's IE development work--hailed news of Microsoft's renewed attention to standards and features, but dismissed the idea that a souped-up IE could steal Firefox's fire.

"Let's remember that the reason for IE 7 is security," said Chris Hofmann, Mozilla's director of engineering. "That's what's driving people away from IE and focusing them on other browser solutions like Firefox. There's some tough work for Microsoft to do because content developers have come to rely on features that are insecure."

Hofmann specifically cited Microsoft's proprietary ActiveX API (application programming interface) for running Web-based programs on client computers; Microsoft's implementation of the DOM (Document Object Model), which lets scripts act on discrete elements of a Web page; and IE's security zone model.

"It's not about the features," Hofmann said. "But if they're going to do this major upgrade, they're not going to leave the feature set three years behind the other browsers."

10 comments

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Standards
Well, I am happy to see that Microsoft might finally support standards better. However, I hope they focus more on security at this time.

Speaking of browsers, I really like the new one from Netscape. The biggest problem I see facing the Alternitive Browsers is lack of support. Firefox is already feeling the pain and Netscape appears to be just running with the crowd. I use Firefox, but like all things if it starts lagging behind I will move on (probably not to IE though).

Let the browser wars begin. Again.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
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No promise
They didn't promise so don't expect it to ever happen. Even if they can get close and add a few features, that will be something.

They will not slow down firefox unless it is reasonably secure. They have yet to come close to reasonably secure, so whatever they throw into IE7 will be worthless without security.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
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Catching up?
IE7 looks like a catching up release. Everything planned for this release (from security fixes to tab-browsing, to standard comply, even RSS aggregator) is an an attempt to catch up with Firefox which already provides those, for free. So this is not a ground-breaking release, nothing revolutionary. By the time it will be out FireFox will already have something new in it. Then people will ask for those new features in IE8??

By for those who still run old Win versions, FireFox will be still the only way out.
Posted by feranick (212 comments )
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Support
If firefox support is that, does it mean that MS support for IE is good? Of course not. Ask those poor people using IE6 under Win2K. Firefox support may not be great, but at least it exists.
Posted by feranick (212 comments )
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Example of what they're talking about
CSS 2 lets you add things like menus to Web pages without having to use other scripting like JavaScript, which many people turn off anyway to stop popup ads. And yes, I'm probably now in trouble with advertisers for telling you how to do that and in trouble with all those popup ad blocker program companies. But, I believe in helping people, and I've had businesses threaten me before. *Shrugs* I'm still here. ;-)

To see a working example of what they're talking about in the way of CSS 2, please see this page: www.cyberwolfman.com/css_web_browsers_history.htm

It also has pictures of the working features for those who can't compare it in both IE and CSS 2 compliant Web browsers like Firefox.

Oh, btw, it's not really a commercial site; I just got tired of forcing my Web site visitors to put up with banner and popup ads. ;-)

- CyberWoLfman
Posted by CyberWoLfman (47 comments )
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Microsoft Listens? Listens to who?
I like this "Microsoft does respond to customer demand; Web developers are our customers."

If Microsoft listens and responds to customer demand then how come...

1. The were only going to upgrade IE with Windows? This isn't what we wanted.

2. Why do they insist on making the browser an integral part of Windows? This isn't what we wanted.

3. Why do they insist on ActiveX when they know it is a security blackhole. This isn't what we wanted.

4. Why don't they support web standards and support them correctly? Why not full support for CSS 2, DOM and PNG? Poor support and "the Microsoft way" on these things isn't what we wanted.

5. Why doesn't IE have the features that we want that just about every other browser out there has? This isn't what we wanted.

I don't see how they can claim "Microsoft does respond to customer demand; Web developers are our customers." When developers and customers alike have been screaming for these things to be corrected for years.

Someone needs to pull their head out and take a breath.

Robert
Posted by (336 comments )
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Why NOW?
What with the previous 'wait until longhorn' and their usual lack of concern for what the customer wants I ask "Why now?" I only need to look to my Desktop to det the answer

I'm not too sure about style sheets but all the other things mentioned(tabbed browser and RSS feeds) are in DEEPNET EXPLORER. A free browser that even knows what your IE6 preferences were and sets them as the defauld when you download this gem.

I heard about it here in CNet so search the name and get the goods for FREE
Posted by qazwiz (208 comments )
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Why Now?
Why now, because Microsoft is loosing market share and that freaks them out to no end. The though that there are now more people using another browser other than IE than there was before makes old Billy Gates get all sweating and shaky.

They thought they could get away with serving up crap when and how they pleased because they had most of the market share. Firefox proved them wrong. If fixing a couple things and adding a few features will get them back the market share they lost or even more than they had before you can bet they will do it.

The problem then becomes who do you trust. Microsoft and IE for security or Firefox. I will stick with Firefox.

I think the biggest winners to improvements to IE will be if they go with better or full standards support. It will make life much easier for web designers.

Robert
Posted by (336 comments )
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