Does this mean IE 7 will be interoperable with other browsers? Does it mean IE 7 will take Web standards seriously?Don't get your hopes up. Microsoft has a long history of promising interoperability, while failing to deliver. In an e-mail to Gates (reprinted in the The Register) I listed some of the opportunities Microsoft has had over the last decade to establish interoperability on the Web.
Microsoft has repeatedly promised full support for key Web standards in Internet Explorer. Here, with reference to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is what the company said in 1998:
"Microsoft has a deep commitment to working with the W3C on HTML and CSS. We have the first commercial implementation of HTML4, we were the first vendor anywhere to implement even portions of CSS, and we have put a tremendous amount of energy into seeing CSS mature to Level 2. We are still committed to complete implementations of the Recommendations of the W3C in this area (CSS and HTML and the DOM)."
Yet Microsoft failed to deliver on these promises, and the cascading style sheets standard CSS2 is still not supported in IE 6. As a result, interoperability on the Web suffers.
In 2002, Microsoft terminated the Web Core Fonts initiative. The fonts offered were professionally designed and served as a common foundation for Web designers. Microsoft deserves credit for making fonts available, but why pull the plug when designers were addicted?
Microsoft's own Web servers are configured to send different versions of Web pages to disparate browsers. For example, the servers sniff out the Opera browser and send it different style sheets from the ones they send to Microsoft's own Internet Explorer. As a result, Opera renders pages differently.
The acid test
To ensure that IE 7 does not become another failed promise, the Web community will issue a challenge to Microsoft. We will produce a test page, code-named Acid2, that will actively use features Web designers crave, such as fixed positioning of elements.
Fixed positioning is described in the W3C's CSS2 Recommendation, to which Microsoft has a "deep commitment." However, fixed positioning has been supported for years by all modern browsers except IE for Windows.
Other features are partially supported in IE, but designers enter a minefield of bugs when trying to use these features. All software has
Microsoft now has the chance to redeem itself with regard to Web interoperability. All it needs to do is make sure IE 7 passes the Acid2 test before shipping.
The Acid2 test will be sponsored by the Web Standards Project, which is a grassroots coalition fighting for Web standards. Its integrity is unchallenged in the Web community, and its presence will ensure that Acid2 will be fair for all. It might even smoke out some bugs in other browsers.
As the test name implies, this will be the second acid test put forward for Web browsers. The original acid test, created by Todd Fahrner in 1997, was instrumental in ensuring interoperability between browsers in their CSS1 implementations. The existence of the acid test forced browser vendors to fix their implementations or face embarrassment; the test was created so that testers could easily see which browsers failed the test.
Even Microsoft made sure IE 6 passed the acid test. As a result of the acid test, CSS became usable and has changed the way Web sites are authored.
Web designers are now ready for the next phase. Acid2 will test the features they want to use. Will Microsoft support interoperability? Will it deliver on its promises?
To the IE 7 developers, I want to say:
You are smart and talented. You know Web standards as well as anyone. You were capable of fixing IE in the past, but your managers didn't let you. You now have a new chance to get it right--don't waste it. Download Acid2 when it's released and get in touch if you think it's unfair for any reason. Resist pressure from management to ship before you are done--spend the extra time it takes. When they say you can't change how pages are rendered as this may "break" pages, tell them about quirks mode and strict mode.
Show them that other browsers get it right. Explain how embarrassing it will be to release a browser that doesn't live up to community standards and that the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox, Apple Computer's Safari and Opera will increase their user share as a result.
What you do is important. The Web will thank you for your efforts.
To the Web community I want to say: Microsoft has now been challenged. They will respond, if enough people remind them of the challenge. Please remind them. And, when IE 7 is released, make sure this is the first thing you type into it:
Håkon Wium Lie is chief technology officer of . Before joining Opera in 1999, he worked at W3C where he was responsible for the development of Cascading Style Sheets, a concept he proposed while working with Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in 1994.
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