Internet Explorer is already breaking the web

Would the web really break if Microsoft fixed IE? Molly Holzschlag made a post about Breaking the web the other day, pointing to Tristan Nitot's article How Microsoft can support CSS2 without breaking the Web.

Chris Kaminski has posted a follow-up to this, noting that it's highly unlikely for anything to break if Microsoft added support for some of the most wanted and useful CSS features. And then Eric Meyer posted Unbreaking the Web, sharing his thoughts on the matter.

I've been thinking along the same lines when reading statements from Microsoft engineers or marketers claiming that they just can't update IE because it would require "too much testing", and would break too many websites that rely on the current (incorrect) behaviour of IE.

I find that extremely hard to believe when it comes to adding support for position: fixed, :hover, display:table, :before, :after, :target, :focus, :first-child, adjacent sibling selectors, attribute selectors, min-width, max-width, HTML elements like abbr and q, etc, etc. Simple additions that would let web developers and designers build better sites faster for IE users as well as for users of Mozilla, Opera, Firefox, Safari, and other modern browsers.

I realise that fixing bugs or incorrect implementations may well break sites. Like Eric says, making IE support the CSS child selector could cause problems. Many modern sites use IE's lack of support for the child selector to hide CSS rules from that browser. Careful planning is needed before fixing something like that.

But adding, not fixing, support for features like those I just mentioned causing problems… that's a load of crap, and I'm not buying it. In fact, by doing nothing Microsoft is already breaking the web. Nearly all websites need hacks to make IE behave. Tables for layout, IE-specific markup and scripting, conditional comments, and CSS hacks shouldn't be necessary, and would be used a lot less if Microsoft agreed to follow existing standards.

Microsoft has the resources (money, people). The people at Microsoft aren't stupid. They must be well aware that their browser is a dinosaur. There must be some other reason than fear of breaking the web. I'm no business analyst -- I'm only one of the web developers who spend way too much time trying to make IE behave reasonably well -- so I can only speculate.

Are they really arrogant and self confident enough to believe that they just cannot be hurt, no matter how long they ignore the glaring deficiencies of their web browser? Is Microsoft counting, and depending, on Frontpage-wielding amateurs and clueless system administrators (acting like Microsoft is paying their salary) forcing people to keep using Internet Explorer? Is it OK for Microsoft that people using their browser are gradually getting a second-rate version of many sites, compared to those using modern browsers?. Have they grown tired of the web and just don't care if people use IE or not?

Got any theories?

Posted on December 2, 2004 in Browsers, Web Standards, CSS