Broken Promises

Over at The Register, Hakon Lie feels that Microsoft has broken their promise to ship Internet Explorer in standards mode.

There are two issues at play here and I'm not sure either is really that big of a deal. Or rather more interesting, if you were Microsoft, what would you do? (Actually, better to think yourself not Microsoft since many are biased against them.)


The dirty secret is buried deep down in the «Compatibility view» configuration panel, where the «Display intranet sites in Compatibility View» box is checked by default. Thus, by default, intranet pages are not viewed in standards mode.

Considering, at least from what Microsoft has shared and from I imagine many intranets are like, with intranets often targeting IE directly, doesn't it make sense to have an option to default to a compatibility mode? Keep in mind, as well, that many larger organizations can deploy IE with specific settings and this is likely to be one of those situations. Consider that many companies didn't want to upgrade to IE7 because it didn't work with their intranet software. Wouldn't it be great to allow these people to upgrade to IE8, knowing full well that their intranet infrastructure doesn't have to be upgraded at the same time? We do want people to upgrade to IE8, right? We certainly wouldn't want a reason for them not to.

and Icons

Furthermore, web standards are discriminated against in IE8 by the icon that appears next to standards-compliant web pages:

This second—and more egregious issue, if only slightly so—is the icon. I think Hakon reads way too much into it to think there's some subliminal play here that the web is broken but good ol' IE can "fix it". When I saw the icon my initial reaction was, "Oh excellent, if a page is broken," and using a broken page for icongraphy seems apt, "I only have to click a button to possibly fix it." At no point did I think, "Yeah, those stupid web standards fuckers keep breaking the web. It's a good thing IE got it right."

It may be fun to pick on Microsoft and the IE team but from where I'm standing, it's all just a little tiresome.

Published August 30, 2008
Categorized as Opinion
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11 Comments · RSS feed
Jesse Gardner said on August 30, 2008

You bring some reason to my frenzied cries, but I still think the onus should be on these organizations to "Check a box". I'd much prefer the better choice as the default one.

Matt Heerema said on August 30, 2008

And that box shouldn't say "compatibility mode" it should say "auto-fix broken Web pages." :-D

J Lane said on August 30, 2008

I'm going to agree with you on the Intranet bit. Chances are that the majority of Intranets in "Microsoft organizations" are tailored to IE already and might as well provide them a smooth transition there. Right up until recently (or still, I haven't checked), a lot of Microsoft-provided web products don't work properly with non-IE standards-compliant browsers -- things like SharePoint and Exchange web access.

I think that it's a pretty poor choice of icon though, I'm not up in arms about it. I can't imagine that it would take much to change the icon at the beta 2 stage -- might just be a case of doing it to avoid potential conflict.

Rob said on August 30, 2008

The problem of extending web standards is still carried on by this, however. Despite the presumed intent, it still means in-house developers will write non-compliant, IE-only code because that's the only thing that will work in this mode. If they decide to switch to more compliant code (at least the best IE8 can do) then this selection doesn't do them any good anyway. So when will this circular logic end?

This is a problem Microsoft created for themselves which is now entrenched in the enterprises that bought into it.

Ben Buchanan said on August 31, 2008

doesn't it make sense to have an option to default to a compatibility mode?

Not really. We already had a way for intranet admins to specify the appropriate rendering mode if their sites broke in IE8. This change just means that everyone has to set the rendering mode all the time, since nobody can rely on the default any more.

When I saw the icon my initial reaction was...

...different from the average punter, I'd expect :) I don't think users are going to think anything about web standards, they're just going to see an icon on some pages that that looks rather like a broken page. The nasty trick is they'll see that icon on good, standards-compliant pages that have no problems at all.

Is it a big deal? I guess not, given that we already have to spend so much of our time working around IE it's just more of the same. It does mean Microsoft is back off the christmas card list though ;)

Adam Thody said on August 31, 2008

Microsoft + Standards = USA + Metric System?

In each case we have a clearly superior system available, which isn't adopted because of weak concerns about user adoption, legacy systems, etc. Move on, people will adapt.

(Most intranets I've ever seen should be scraped and done over anyway!)

Jonathan Snook said on August 31, 2008

Not really. We already had a way for intranet admins to specify the appropriate rendering mode if their sites broke in IE8.

Except not every organization has complete control over their environment or may have multiple web applications running off the same server.

The nasty trick is they'll see that icon on good, standards-compliant pages that have no problems at all.

Certainly but I don't think that leads people to think that web standards are bad. It's just a button that's there until they need it.

Scott Schiller said on September 01, 2008

I think the intranet "compatibility view" default is a very smart move, if a compromise for the time being simply due to the number of IE-only (and perhaps IE 6-specific at that) intranet apps out there. I imagine BOFHs everywhere would certainly block IE 8 upgrades if it would break the beancounters' web-2001-era apps, for example. ;)

The broken page icon UI might be a bit confusing, but I'm glad to see standard-based rendering is the default, and that the standards support itself is getting better.

Jason Foss said on September 01, 2008

I didn't think of it that way before - but your point about overcoming obstacles and getting IE8 onto as many PCs as possible makes sense. Don't give the system admins a reason not to install it. Big deal if people view their own intranets in compatibility mode. At least the rest of the web can start moving forward a little faster.

Although, that won't really help those still on IE6 because IE7 broke their intranets. I wonder if MS can bundle an IE6 rendering engine inside IE8 there somewhere...

Dan Rubin said on September 02, 2008

As a business, Microsoft's first obligation is to do right by their existing (large) customer base. The fact is that corporate intranet software is a massive market, and MSFT wants to make sure that IE8 remains the primary browser - if corporations upgraded to IE8 and suddenly their intranet didn't work, that would cause a much larger negative ripple for MSFT than if web standards developers don't like the default setting.

My initial reaction to the "broken page" icon was almost identical to yours, Jon: "What a nice, obvious move by MSFT to make it easier for users to fix IE's broken default rendering" - users will see it as a way to make the page "work", but what it's doing is fixing IE's own problem, not saying "standards are bad".

Developers are still incredibly slow to get the point that users don't *care* about web standards, they just care if a site *works*. I'd rather IE8 have a button that makes it easy for users to quickly correct MSFT's business decision for the default setting, and then we don't have to worry much about it. As long as there are still ways for us developers to trigger the proper rendering mode when our pages load (which there is), we shouldn't complain about a business decision we can't possibly create a strong argument against.

Andrew Noyes said on September 12, 2008

I can't say I'm the least bit surprised by Microsoft's move here. Their most readily available reason for not jumping on the web standards bandwagon has essentially been that they didn't want to "break the internet". For a while after its inception, Internet Explorer 8 was specified to operate in Compatibility Mode by default for this very reason.

Consider the amount of expense many companies put into their intranets, be they good or bad. Sure, you can say that most intranets are a pile of drivel, but that doesn't make them any less valuable or less expensive to maintain for the companies that own them.

Most importantly, Microsoft has an interest at stake for preserving the display of sites built in SharePoint. If your intranet developed with Microsoft software is broken in IE8, your less tech-savvy customers are not going to be impressed by IE8, no matter how well it renders the silly smiley face guy.

They would be foolish to force standards compliance on intranets that were developed with Visual Studio's easy, breezy drag-drop-drool-press-play workflow. Remember, Microsoft is willing to comply with your silly, hippy movement for "standards", "usability", and "progress" (please note the sarcasm) as long as it doesn't impede with them stuffing their coffers with billions of dollars at a maddening pace despite selling garbage software at prices that reach for the sky.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.

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