The next version of Microsoft Internet Explorer, version 8 went to Beta 2 yesterday, on its final path to release, probably this fall (although Microsoft hasn’t announced a final release date yet). Although I almost exclusively use Firefox for my browser, anyone that is designing or developing sites needs to be aware of some of the changes coming in version 8.
I got my hands on the beta at a preview demo on Tuesday, and there are definitely important changes from a users perspective, but from my view, we need to be aware of the changes under the hood. After meeting with the folks from Microsoft Canada and chatting with Pete LePage, Product Manager for Internet Explorer from Redmond, here are some of the most important changes from a web development perspective:
1. It is coming
Latest estimates put Internet Explorer at over 70% of the browser market. When IE8 is released, it will be pushed as part of Windows Update and all new computers will come with it pre-loaded. It is your parents browser, and let’s face it, that’s a pretty big audience. We need to be sure that both our existing sites and newly built ones look okay.
2. It is standards compliant
Or so they say. According to LePage, Internet Explorer 8 is fully compliant with CSS 2.1. In fact, he says that every developer had a printout of the W3C spec on their desk for quick reference, and that as the team went through and found areas of ambiguity, they submitted changes back to the W3C.
The main problem is that the interpretation of the written spec is somewhat subjective, so we will still see areas where pages behave slightly different between browser types. It is still encouraging that Microsoft has embraced the standards and are working to bring their browser closer to the industry standards.
3. It has a new rendering engine
Obviously, by default, pages are displayed using the IE8 rendering engine, but a new "Compatibility View" feature allows you to specify which engine to use in your HTML. IE8 ships with the IE7 engine built in, so that you can view your pages in the older browser without having to have multiple computers. The IE8 rendering engine does behave differently from IE7. This means that even within the Internet Explorer family, pages could look different, not to mention the differences to Firefox, Opera, Safari and others.
4. It has developers tools built in
5. It has new features to promote your sites
In addition to RSS, IE8 introduces the concept of Web Slices that you can define on your pages to allow users to subscribe to a specific part of your site, perhaps a recent posts, or friends update box. Deployment of Web Slices simply involves setting a specific CSS tag to the box you wish. For the more ambitious, IE8 introduces Accelerators and visual search suggestions so that you can build applications that your users can use to interact with your information.
Firefox still seems to be the browser of choice for web developers, but it’s always important to test your sites in the browser that most of your audience is using.