The X-UA-Compatible Situation

Just when I was excited about the fact that Microsoft is starting to talk about IE8, this happens. At the same time, A List Apart published 2 articles, Aaron Gustafson talks at length about why this was done and Eric Meyer talks about why he thinks this is a good idea. Jeffrey Zeldman chimes in on his blog also about why this is a good idea.

The issue at hand is that Microsoft is introducing a meta tag that will allow developers to specify whether or not they want their site to be compatible with IE8 or not. Not including this meta tag will render the page in IE7 mode. First off, let me say that in my opinion, this is a bad idea no matter how you spin it. Releasing a new browser and requiring users to opt in to get the features provided by that browser just does not make sense to me at all. Also, how many developers will know to include this meta tag once IE8 is released?

After reading a lot of the explanations and reactions, I think the situation has a lot to do with knee jerk reactions and fear based reasoning, and this is why it is not good. According to Microsoft, when IE7 was released, sites that were not using web standards did not look good in it. Microsoft refers to this as “breaking” those web sites. They consider this a bad thing, so their knee jerk reaction to this is to have all future sites render in IE7 mode by default, unless you include a tag that tells it that you want it to render in whatever the current version of IE is. This is fear based reasoning.

I agree with a lot of what Meyer and Zeldman are saying as well, but again it seems like these are knee jerk reactions. Microsoft thinks that by supporting standards, they failed, so Microsoft’s support for web standards is in jeopardy. Well, we can’t let Microsoft take their ball and go home, so Meyer and Zeldman say that this is good thing lest Microsoft reconsider their support of standards. This comes across as being fear-based reasoning to me, in addition to Microsoft’s reason for adding this meta tag in the first place.

So to recap, requiring users to opt in to get the latest browser support is not good. Making decisions based on fear is not good either. Together these add up to a bad situation. So what options do we have at this point? Do we just accept it or is there a possibility that Microsoft will change its mind based on developer reaction?

Finally, here are some more things that stink about this. One, Microsoft acts like they were open about this decision when they were not. Two, Microsoft acts like this decision will benefit all browser vendors when it only benefits them.

Further Discussion:

Update: More updates on Microsoft’s browser version targeting came today. I really liked Eric Meyer’s follow up, even though I don’t agree with his conclusion. John Resig and Sam Ruby gave us an important piece of information, in that there is a way to get IE8 to render pages in the IE8 engine without using the meta tag. Safari said that they wouldn’t be version targeting anything. Roger Johansson tells us why version targeting is a bad idea. I’m sure there are lots more posts on the subject, and that developers will be discussing this one for a long time.