I’ve watched the debate with interest but not posted anything until now. The news of Internet Explorer 8 keeping it’s new rendering engine to itself unless you tell it otherwise caused a strong outpouring of opinion around the web.
I must admit, my initial reaction mirrored that of many others - that it’s just plain wrong (although my good friend Nick’s posting took some concentration to ascertain his thoughts!). Why hold back on improved support for CSS; why hide the fact that the engine now passes ACID2?
Then I thought for a bit, and tempered my view with the knowledge that the coming of IE7 caused much angst amongst companies because what worked in IE6 failed in IE7. Perhaps an additional switch to toggle this new rendering marvel on and off was a good idea. But surely, you’d want it to default to the shiny new engine… wouldn’t you?
I have now changed my mind. Why? Because at a recent event, after presenting for a while on upcoming Microsoft technologies including IE8, one of the attendees came up to chat. He worked for major financial organisation and was pressing for more information on the new browser. Would it really keep the rendering behaviour as previous versions by default? If so, that was great! Why? Because he was faced with many different divisions within his organisation, all of which had web-based applications and all of which cried foul over IE7 breaking their systems. This was still giving headaches with the rollout of IE7, and he was very keen on being able to convince his stakeholders that if they would just shoulder the pain of the version 6 to 7 transition, he could guarantee that there would be no more pain with future upgrades. This would mean that the IT department could push out the newer, more secure browsers without the battle.
There are many large organisations like that around the globe. Their strength in terms of buying power and opinion is what has led Microsoft to the solution we now see with IE8. Whilst purists may hate it, the truth is that IT Managers around the planet are smiling.
Which would you rather see - massive companies sticking to insecure browsers on their desktops because the investment in internal systems would be too large to allow movement, or a steady push forward in versions safe in the knowledge that there will be zero impact on existing investment?
If you’ve managed to avoid this issue entirely thus far, the ever thoughtful and tactful Eric Meyer has some excellent posts discussing the matter.