Surprise of the year: IE8 will use Standards mode by default

When I woke up this morning and checked my RSS feeds I had to rub my eyes and look again. Was I still asleep and dreaming? But no, I was awake, and what I saw reported from multiple sources is that Microsoft has reversed its decision to make IE8 behave like IE7 unless specifically requested.

Wow. I didn’t see that coming. And even more surprising is their reason for making the change. In Microsoft’s Interoperability Principles and IE8 on the IEBlog, IE General Manager Dean Hachamovitch says:

In light of the Interoperability Principles, as well as feedback from the community, we’re choosing differently. Now, IE8 will show pages requesting “Standards” mode in IE8’s Standards mode. Developers who want their pages shown using IE8’s “IE7 Standards mode” will need to request that explicitly (using the http header/meta tag approach described here).

And in a press release titled Microsoft Expands Support for Web Standards, Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie states that

there is a concrete benefit to Web designers if all vendors give priority to interoperability around commonly accepted standards as they evolve

No, I’m not making this up.

It seems like Microsoft actually listened to the developer community, which is so surprising to me it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. As a standards-advocating web developer I have become so used to Microsoft completely ignoring the needs of myself and my fellow standardistas that I could never have imagined them changing their minds on this.

And it doesn’t stop there. Dean Hachamovitch goes on to say that:

Long term, we believe this is the right thing for the web. Shorter term, leading up not just to IE8’s release but broader IE8 adoption, this choice creates a clear call to action to site developers to make sure their web content works well in IE.

And Ray Ozzie hints at better education for developers who do not use web standards:

we will work with content publishers to ensure they fully understand the steps we are taking and will encourage them to use this beta period to update their sites to transition to the more current Web standards supported by IE8

Sounds great. Thanks for listening!

I hope that this new focus on web standards and interoperability also means cleaning up the horrible, stinking, inaccessible piles of code that are regurgitated by products like MOSS and Visual Studio. I also hope that it means educating Visual Studio cowboys to use and understand web standards.

Posted on March 4, 2008 in Browsers, Web Standards


  1. An example, that people don’t have to accept everything any big company tries to force upon them, isn’t it Mr Zeldman?

  2. I was surprised that they changed their mind too!

    I think also that if Microsoft had gone with the original default that it would re-enforce resentment towards IE and Microsoft from the core web dev community. There was also the risk that it would relegate IE (IE8 in particular) to the sidelines even more and increase growth of Firefox etc’s market share.

    The cynical part of me wonders if that potential outcome is how this change has been pushed past the upper levels of Microsoft decision makers? I’ve no doubt the IE team is committed to web standards but there’s still a strong influence from above at MS that wants to see IE stay the dominant browser regardless.

    What ever the behind the scenes motives are it’s still a good result for standards based developers!

  3. March 4, 2008 by Pass

    It’s an odd day when Microsoft is pushing for standards and both ALA and WaSP are pushing for version targeting. Thanks selling out the community ALA and WaSP.

  4. I think Ozzie will stear Microsoft in new directions in a number of ways. It’s good that he shows interest in these kinds of issues. The future looks brighter:)

  5. I will probably pop a bottle of champagne tonight. No seriously, this is great news, now even greater after the hell of debates that sprung from the initial proposal of meta-hell.

  6. Surely it’s April 1 today? :O

  7. Now that the evil empire has conceded defeat, what is going to happen to all the collaborators within our midst?

  8. @Neil (and others), as one of those “collaborators”, I’d like to applaud Microsoft’s change in stance. I was prepared to accept the IE8 meta tag because I thought they were otherwise unable to ‘sell’ standards mode to the execs, and I felt while it was a price I didn’t particularly want to pay, it wasn’t a massive burden so I would be prepared to shoulder it.

    The fact that they’re going to drop it and render standards by default is simply fantastic.

    The fact that those people who were prepared to accept what they felt was a practical approach are labelled ‘traitors to standards’, collaborators and so on, is a sad indictment of our standards community who don’t seem willing to accept that people can take a contrary position without them being somehow ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’.

    If you want the standards community to be treated like adults, it’s time we moved away from childish name-calling for those who express a contrary opinion.

  9. Truly brilliant tuesday morning news.

  10. Hmmm, the tiny supressed conspiracy theorist in me wonders if this is a wierd PR thing from start to finish i.e. announce that MS are doing something that they know will agitate the dev. community and then do a 180 to prove how much they listen… then again, maybe that little chap needs slapping back down…

  11. March 4, 2008 by Edwin

    Great news. And I really love the way you’ve written it down today. You sure have a good sence of humour in your style of writing, my compliments!

  12. Hopefully they will get it right this time and this isn’t just a small bone thrown to keep us happy and mess up something else.

  13. @JackP Sorry, I was only kidding.

    However, I do look forward to the Tour de France of backpedalling we’re likely to see over the next couple of days.

  14. This sounds great! Really incredible.. I hope this will be a further step towards web accessibility.

  15. “Surprise of the year”, hold on to that thought. it’s only March, still early in the year, … As easy as the turn 180 now, they may as well turn back 270 and forward 90…

  16. March 4, 2008 by Tom

    I read it. Then re-read it. Then read it again.

    And I still don’t believe it.

  17. Brilliant - hopefully some of the jerks who debase our industry with their software generated code will go out of business before they discover the “get out of jail free card”. Well done MS on coming down on the side of those who’ve struggled to make standards and accessibility a workable reality.

  18. Imagine that you have to learn XHTML/CSS again; won’t you have a much easier time if the top tier of browsers all support the same ‘standards’?

    I just hope the Microsoft team pushes IE8 out as a required update from the start. IE7 was way too optional. Of course, people should have the choice which software they want too use, but IE users tend not to care about what they are using.

    A move back to a more standard browser interface (e.g. Firefox 2 on windows) would be brilliant indeed. Then I would be a happy man.

  19. March 4, 2008 by Matthew Pettitt

    Excellent news! It would seem that Zeldman and co hold less sway than they thought…

    This is how it should have been from the start. Good on MS for being willing to backpedal, now lets watch the reverse race go on!

  20. Yes, this news is so out of character that I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. If IE8 is to be the bee’s knees than why switch to another browser? Yes, I can seen IE taking back market share. Will this become a Pyrrhic victory for Web Standards? Probably not, but still.

  21. Roger, Visual Studio is getting better, as is ASP.NET - everything it renders is valid XHTML transitional. Sure it’s not semantic XHTML but that can be fixed (should we have to fix it? no. but at least we are able to).

    If they fixed up all the ASP.NET controls they’d have the whole backward compat problem all over again.

    The latest version of VS also has a much improved UI editor, the same one used in Expression I believe and it’s really not too bad. Singling out VS developers is a little unfair. It doesn’t matter what tool is used. A web developer without knowledge is a web developer without knowledge no matter what tool is used.

  22. Hallelujah!

    Hmmm, the tiny supressed conspiracy theorist in me wonders if this is a wierd PR thing from start to finish

    The very same thoughts crossed my mind Lee. Anyway, hooray for open standards. Hopefully, catering for an inept browser will be a thing of the past in a year or two’s time.

  23. March 4, 2008 by Rob

    Microsoft listening? I think not. Here’s the real story. From the IEBlog:

    “While we do not believe any current legal requirements would dictate which rendering mode a browser must use, this step clearly removes this question as a potential legal and regulatory issue.”

    I think the billion dollar fine and ongoing litigation with the EU has more to do with Microsoft’s ability to hear better than any recently acquired change of heart.

  24. Wow. Hell just froze over. :P Seriously though, this is excellent news!

  25. This is great news. And I think I agree with Rob in that the threats from the EU probably has something to do with the decision as well. But one can always hope that they also listened to us :)

    I think the biggest problem with the previously proposed render-engine-targeting was that the concept of web standards would lose a lot of its function. A standard wouldn’t matter anymore, instead multiple subsets of standards would be what mattered (and often in Microsoft’s case, really buggy and badly implemented subsets of standards). And that is certainly not a good thing for the evolvement of the web. It would be really confusing too.

    Anyway, hopefully, the problem is out of the way now.

  26. I bow. This is surely the surprise of the year.

    After this, I will never again blame MS for anything - from now on, my frustration will target developers and coorporations, since they can be nothing but ignorant if they keep writing IE-only code when MS itself encourages them to not do so.

    Fantastic news.

    Now, let us hope they release IE8 in a manner which makes everybody upgrade their IE6-7 by their choice.

  27. March 4, 2008 by Erik

    Dangit! Now (maybe) I won’t need someone to hate! But wait! That means I won’t have time for hating, because I will spitting out webpages, without the slightest thought of how crappy IE is!

  28. @ JackP

    The fact that they’re going to drop it and render standards by default is simply fantastic.

    I’ve been amazed to read that other supporters of the previous solution don’t all share your opinion. I think it must be sour grapes. Or maybe in some twisted hipster logic, they were doing the cool thing by supporting the uncool thing (“it’s hip to be square,”) and now they’re bitter about it. Regardless, there are smart people that inexplicably don’t share your enthusiasm.

  29. I read about this last night and it made for a happy end to a tedious Monday.

    The quote from Ray Ozzie about working to inform content publishers makes this even better news. Here’s hoping the emphasis will be “How to make your site transition to current Web standards”, rather than “Here’s how to fix your site for IE8”.

  30. March 4, 2008 by Ty (tzmedia)

    @Dave, thanks for chiming in there. I was looking for a way to defend the VS Cowboys. Although I’ve never been able to make heads nor tails out of the VS workflow. If the product-line is at fault it can be improved, but MS surely can’t take responsibilty for educating the masses.

    A cool idea for MOSS would be copy and paste, or high-octane copy and paste “Web Standards mode”. Now I paste office docs into dreamweaver to strip out all the evil formatting.

  31. Soooo….the folks in Redmond do have some common sense. :)

    In all sincerity I do think that version targeting is a swell idea. A pretty rare (but deserved) tip of the cap to you, M$.

  32. March 4, 2008 by David ONE

    It’s jaw-dropping stuff - MS listen to vocal community. Is it a first? Whatever, it’s fantastic news for web standards.

    It’ll be interesting to see if the couple of ‘Big Fish’ who originally tried telling us this was a ‘good thing’ will now admit they got it wrong. Very wrong. I’m not holding my breath - humble pie and oversized egos don’t often mix.

  33. Maybe this is Microsoft’s attempt at gaining back respect and turning their company image around? I mean they released an operating system that nobody wants, Windows Vista, and now they are starting to listen to their customers. Looks like someone has put something in the water at Redmond, Hmm?

    While they are at it why don’t they release a patch of some sort that allows you to downgrade from Windows Vista to Windows XP without having to backup all of your files and legally downloaded music ;)

    • Dwayne Charrington.
  34. I tend to agree with Rob (above) in his take that the EU decision and $billion fine may well have some bearing on any decision to have IE8 be standards compliant by default. It is great news.

    And… what will happen to all those for whome patching and hacking to support IE-anything has become the norm? Well, there’s always gardening, woodworking or RC model planes to play with or fishing time to enjoy.

    Seriously tho… Over the next few years I think we’ll see most of those big dinosaur companies that sell “proprietary solutions” with big profit margins to unsuspecting clients… (like $95,000 U.S. for an ASP-based community web portal???) disappearing… or definitely changing their product lines and business plans, or just getting out of the business.

  35. Wow, that is great news indeed. I really didn’t see that one coming!

    Is the IE8 beta public yet, or is it only for an inner circle of people? I’ve searched for it but haven’t found any download links.

  36. CLUNK

    Jaw hits ground.

    Good news indeed now I’m off to find thise flying pigs.

  37. ah very interesting! how scared i Mozilla right now?

    Seriously, IE8 has the incredible advantage of being bundled with the most sold operating system in the world. Now if their native browser doesn’t break everything it displays you and actually starts to work well, they may hurt firefox et al. quite a bit.

    good news though! very happy!

  38. This is great news indeed but I am afraid it will take a long time before MOSS will catch up with standards. As one working with MOSS daily it seems to me that turning this infamous “Table-Beast-From-Hell” into accessible semantic markup beauty is a herculean effort.

  39. I am shocked indeed. Could it be that M$ have finally figured out that they need to listen to the web community if they want our support not “tell us what we want”.

    I am heading out to buy a lottery ticket.

  40. March 5, 2008 by Martin

    “…hopefully some of the jerks who debase our industry with their software generated code will go out of business…”

    You had zeros? We had to use the letter “o”.

  41. The question now becomes: Will IE8 work on XP or Vista only? I suspect yes, as Microsoft will want to do whatever they can to drive Vista adoption. Additionally, will IE8 be an “optional” upgrade, or will Microsoft push it on people, ala WGA.

    I bring these up because IE7 adoption has not been swift, and it works with the larger installed base of WinXP. If IE8 is Vista only, it doesn’t matter how wonderful IE8 is, it will be years before it erases the pain that is IE6/7.

  42. March 5, 2008 by Dave Brimlow

    “Developers who want their pages shown using IE8’s “IE7 Standards mode” will need to request that explicitly (using the http header/meta tag approach described here).”

    LOL … “IE8’s “IE7 Standards mode” ???

    Do they make this stuff up as they go?

    I do indeed applaud their decision; I’m getting tired of all the constant anti-MS ranting … so is my wife.

  43. I too was very surprised and this is a day of glory, read up my views here; IE 8, a day of celebration


  44. And here comes surprise number two:

    The beta is already available for download!

  45. March 6, 2008 by Mathijs

    I just installed the beta,

    it messes up every website, even majors ones like or Every site has glitches.

    Good news is - it’ll provide web builders with a lot of work to charge overtime rates for.

  46. Mathijs: I wouldn’t be too fast to judge. It’s a first beta after all. And it seems to be full of bugs.

    I could for example not post this comment using IE8, it wouldn’t let me type anything in the form. And strangely enough, it didn’t pass the ACID2 for me under Vista, but several comments over at report that it passes it.

  47. It will be interesting to see when the final product is released whether is it is “W3C Standards” or “IE8 Standards” that it follows more closely. After all, IE7 was supposed to be “Standards” compliant too.

    And I agree, any change of heart probably has more to do with $$$and potential legal problems than any consideration for the developer community.

  48. They are a little bit undecided about IE… However, this is an excellent choice.

  49. OK I’ve managed to drag myself back up off of the floor… Microsoft actually listening to the dev community and supporting the web standards project in the way it handles cross browser compatability issues??? Next you’re going to tell me this nice chap from Nigeria actually wants to give me 10 trillion dollars right?

  50. I hope they won’t change their mind again… I’ll believe it when I’ll see it, IE7 was meant to be standards compliant, remember? I hope it comes true and that it will be removing first brick of the wall Microsoft built against developers.

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