Microsoft in all their attempts to be standards compliant have taken a great step back from their recent passing of the ACID 2 test.  A month or so ago I was ecstatic to hear that IE8, currently in development had managed to pass the ACID 2.  Something that even current versions of Firefox aren’t able to claim, would ensure that common issues that have plagued IE in the past and made it the antithesis of many developers would be for the most part corrected with it’s next release.

Of course you can’t go that far forward without taking a step back.  On the heels of that announcement came the news that IE is going to create a new proprietary tag that can be used as a way to target specific versions of IE for backwards compatibility purposes.  So if a page was created and tailored to work with IE6, a simple meta tag would tell IE8 and above which rendering engine should be used to render the page.

More information about this new version targeting system is available from Microsoft.

The idea coined by Microsoft in collaboration with the Web Standards Group I have to say is a horrible one.  Although I will say I understand their logic in making this decision I feel that it opens up a can of worms and is not in the best interest of the future of the Web.

Remember a number of years ago when developers didn’t take time to understand what they were developing, and who they were developing for.  Instead they just labeled the site with a disclaimer saying something like: “Best viewed with 1024×768 and IE6 or greater”.    The reason that was done was because there were very few standards to adhere to.  Developers focused primarily on two browsers (IE, and Netscape).  In present days there are the big 3, IE, Firefox, and Safari with countless others in the mix as well.  In addition to the plethora of browsers available there are also mobile platforms, and screen readers.  The Web is by far a much more complicated place then it was 10 years ago.

Immediate Problems

The genius plan to roll this out is using a meta tag to target the proper IE version you want the page to render to.  If you are behind the curve and love IE6, the good news for you is you can continue what you are doing with zero changes.  IE is so smart it will continue to let you spit out the same horrible non-semantic code you have been creating for years and it will keep on rolling.  What a great solution!  We know the code is horrible, but let’s allow developers to continue writing bad code.  Don’t help the developer to move along to new technologies and features.  Instead coddle and cater to them and push them to do the same things they have done for years.

The fact of the matter is, I have ran into many developers that are still writing non-standards compliant code.  I have written about them on several occasions and Microsoft needs to cut these developers loose once and for all.  Forcing them to learn the new tricks of the trade will do one of two things.  Force them out of the business that they are rapidly phasing themselves out of anyway, or make them learn and create better products for their customers.

Ok, I will get off my soap box now.

Site Life Cycle

So how long should a Web site/page live?  IE’s idea of backward compatibility draws this into sharp question. In other words how far back are we going to make sure our content works.

First I think a little perspective is needed.  IE6 first was released to the public in a final release in 2001.  This coincided with the release of Windows XP which was released the same year.   Due to the timing of the release IE6 got a huge number of installs and uses on Windows 98.  Since that time support for Windows 98 has been dropped.

It seems Microsoft is of the belief that content should reside on the Web forever without change.  I remember back at my old job I took a extremely lengthy look into the world of CMS’s and took the training for a system called Red Dot.  One of my favorite features of the Red Dot system was that you could create a time based workflow.  So if content had not been touched for 1 year a workflow was generated to determine if that content needed to be revised, deleted, or was still valid.  This was a great  feature as with most company Web sites with all the things going on, things get forgotten.

Microsoft seems to take the opposite stance.  That content should exist on the Web regardless of how long it’s been since that content was created.  The Web changes and shifts so quickly, that is just not a valid stance.  In addition to that if you want to be a valid player in the Web business world you will want your site to work in more then one browser.  If you are content just operating within IE6 then you are not a serious business.

The fact is, at some point you have to man up and just have to expect failure.  It’s common place in many industries.

Example

Many moving parts and lots of technology are put into today’s vehicles, but even with decades of technological advances the cars still break down and fail.  To counteract this many companies provide 5 year 100,000 mile warranties or more here in the states.  Basically ensuring they will work for five years, and after that dropping support on them as they age and wear down.  After the warranty period is up, the support is totally dropped and the vehicle could run for many more years, but any needed repairs are now the owners responsibility.  By the point this becomes a problem many people have a new car.  They get all the new features and designs and start the process all over.

The auto industry is a great example due to the amount of technology that is being put into these cars.  You can also draw on similarities between the life cycle of these items.   A car is one of the most expensive purchases many of us make next to a home, where as a Web site is an expensive purchase for a business.  We want them both to run without problems and work for a long time.

Internet Explorer Mobile

With mobile on the rise, IE is certainly going to make their presence known on that front as well.  Even thought it is technically mobile now as it is the primary browser on the Windows Mobile platform, my guess is that they are going to want to make moves to work on the IPhone, and on Android as well.

Standards based development ensures that the Web page, or pages appear correctly across multiple platforms, browsers and devices.  So when IE says they are going to deliver multiple rendering versions does this go for the Mobile platform as well?  Or does IE drop multi-version support on the mobile platform and those users are out of luck when it comes to old content.

In the scenario that Microsoft does release a mobile version of IE for other devices and does include the multiple version rendering what does that do to the size of the install?  Some sites require IE to get access as the software has been developed using the old versions, so Microsoft leaves those users no choice but to have IE on their device as well, and at what storage space cost?  Mobile devices don’t have the luxury of having 100 GB’s of space readily available to be eaten up by a product that shouldn’t be much larger then it’s counter parts.  Firefox’s installer already only about 1/3 the size of IE7’s at only a little over a 5MB.

Final Thoughts

It’s a bad idea.  Getting the Web into targeting versions is just a poor idea all the way around.  It should be more flexible then that, and it already is with the exception of IE, which has dug it’s own grave in that respect and are now trying to find ways around their previous failures.  This is not the best solution.

Microsoft needs to right the ship now.  Course corrections tried in the past have not worked, it’s time to man up and take responsibility for the poor products that have been put out there in the past.   Bring yourself current and move ahead.  Yes things will break, and it will be painful, but Microsoft… you will come out the other-side as a much better product as a result.