IE 9 and the Future of Web Standards

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Internet Explorer 9 Homepage, IE9Recently it was announced that for the first time in over a decade Internet Explorers global market share has dropped below 60%.  Although in my personal experience the stats don’t reflect that, it is an important moment for web developers.  At one point in history (not long ago) when you asked most web developers what browser to install, the answer would invariably come back; FireFox.  Interestingly though, FireFox has plateaued a bit, and WebKit based browsers are now impinging the dominant IE market share.  We’ve seen an emergence of WebKit based browsers, especially Chrome in recent statistics.  This is widely attributed to the simple fact that Chrome focused on the two things that people really care about on the web; speed and standards support.

This trending competition in the browser space is a great thing.  Nobody wants innovation stunted by having everyone dependent on one browser.  Web standards are a great thing as well,  because it enables proper content delivery to all, no matter the browsing engine.  Here is where the philosophy of Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla have combined: The “Same markup” notion.  This is where both competition and web standards can flourish.  All these companies have recently stated the philosophy of code rendering the same way, no matter what browser you are in.  You may be browsing using the Trident rendering engine for IE9 or the WebKit rendering engine for Chrome and Safari.

The problem is when reality catches up with us.  Lets face it, Microsoft has never been that great about web standards.  FireFox has found it’s niche but there are still subtle differences between Mac and PC in rendering.  The WebKit rendering engine has different versions for Chrome, Safari, and mobile.  It is my hope that these companies working together with the w3c can help developers to solve some of these problems and bring website development into a more mature environment.

Microsoft released the second developer platform preview for IE9 this month.  They have been working with the w3c to add and support the standards.  They have been quite involved, but previously, even after being involved they did not support a number of standards.  Why will this round be different?  It appears they are more engaged.  When I head to “An Event Apart” in two weeks, Microsoft is speaking on how to kill IE6.  They are there speaking to the web developer community and with the w3c.  When I tested IE 9 this week I noticed that it does have a few encouraging signs of progress:

1. IE9 now supports the use of CSS3 selectors.  When I tested this on I confirmed that all of the selectors were supported.
2. IE9 supports CSS3 rounded corners!  Thank the lord!  It’s about time.  Where are you guys on box-shadow?

Internet Explorer 9 rendering ScottGale.comI have included a screen shot of rendering on IE9 with a couple tweaks.  Still no drop-shadow, but I do get some corner rounding, which is a big start.  You can see that it is picking up the rounding for the select boxes, the submit button, and the bottom corners.

They also mention that they support CSS3 media queries for mobile, netbooks, and full desktops.  However,  my dream would be that these are not necessary.  I see this as a baby step for Microsoft in the right direction, hopefully they can keep that going.

In the spirit of competition and standards, these companies need to come together and do what is best for web developers.  If these companies can’t pull together the “Same markup” philosophy then don’t expect developers to get behind the spirit of browser competition.  What will happen is everyone will start touting a single browser that is fast and supports web standards.  For Microsoft with their sliding browser percentage, it’s time to step up and help improve the lives of the web developers and the end users.  It’s time for all the companies to come together and make real web standards happen.

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