Microsoft has reduced a major bottleneck for web developers in its latest Internet Explorer browser by making it compliant with web standards, which could dramatically reduce the time users take to test browser compatibility.
The software giant released a feature-complete beta version yesterday on its website.
Ryan Servatius, senior product manager at the Internet Explorer business in Microsoft, said two of the main design criteria of the product are backwards compatibility and interoperability with web standards. "The core web rendering engine in IE8 is compliant with web standards, but we have also tried to maintain compatibility with sites written specifically for older versions of IE."
He said that if IE8 web browser users access a site designed for one of the older versions, they can press a compatibility button on the browser toolbar, to reload the web page in "compatibility mode."
Property search site RightMove has been working closely with Microsoft on IE8 compatibility. Rightmove product director Peter Brooks-Johnson, said, "At the moment we have to support about four previous versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. It always foxes me why different browsers are incompatible." He said it required a lot of developer effort to test the site with the different browsers. This effort could be reduced If IE8 is able to display HTML pages that comply with web standards accurately.
However, Microsoft has needed to balance compatibility with support for web standards. "Sites that are specifically written for IE will not display properly," said David Mitchell, senior vice-president for research at Microsoft. "Many people probably will not ever use the compatibility button that Microsoft has built into IE8, which means some sites will not work and the user will get a message saying the site needs Internet Explorer."
IE8 also offers productivity improvements and security measures designed to protect the privacy of end-users by disabling cookies that keep track of which websites they have visited.