Internet Explorer 8.

July 16, 2008

Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) is currently in its beta testing phase and will be the next version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser.

IE browsers have been renowned for being bug ridden due to the inability to follow web standards. As well as introducing some new addition to their browser IE8 also tackles past compatibility issues by attempting to make IE8 standards compliant. The downside to this is that it may break existing web page / applications designed to run on their previous browsers (IE6 & IE7).

To combat this issue, Microsoft has design the new browser with a facility that allows IE8 to be switch to three different modes: Quirk, Strict and Standard. These modes are activated either by the inclusion of specific tags (e.g. <meta http-equiv=”X-UA-Compatible” content=”IE=7″ />) within a web page or via user setting within the browser itself (the latter requiring a restart). Standard mode will be the default making IE8 use a more standardised DOM like Firefox and Opera.

The ability to switch modes is a very important as IE8 must stay compatible with older web pages; especially offline versions such as those found on instructional installation DVDs and CDs. Pages like these cannot be updated to accommodate the new changes so this facility is essential.

The addition of the browser version switching facility has been met with some controversy as some have argued that this hinders the progression of web standards. By giving people a choice, developers may continue to target older browser version instead of finally adopting a universal standard. Some have also stated that this is an example of “monolithic behaviour due to Microsoft’s dominating position in the web browser and operating system market.” – Hakon Wium Lee – Chief technology officer of Opera Software.

Web Slices
IE8 offer a brand new and interesting feature called Web Slices, which allows users to bookmark a specific section of a page (e.g. the London weather section of the BBC web site). This then allows users to view this specific snippet of information in isolation as a widget of popup. In the future web browsers will be able to predefine specific content that is available as a Web Slice so that users can simply add them to the browser tool bar and access them on demand. Each time a Web Slices content is updated the user is given an un-intrusive indicator to let them know that the content has been updated.

Activities allow developers to attach specific functionality to information on a page. For example, with additional browser add-ons users will be able to hover over an address field and IE will open a popup layer that links directly to Google Maps or by hovering over a key word for an item of clothing IE may open up an EBay popup with a list of search results. Current IE8 beta add-ons include Translate, Send, Map, Find, Define and Blog.

Developer Tools
Fans of Firefox’s Firebug will be happy to hear that IE8 will be equipped with a similar development tool that allows them to inspect a pages HTML, CSS and JavaScript in a visual debugging environment.

We must remember though that IE8 beta 1 is aimed at developers as it still contains many bugs. It has a long way before a general user beta version is available but it is heading in the right direction. The slight downside is that as much as many developers are excited about many of the new additions and updates, a lot of these updates are simply bug fixes for issues that weren’t addressed in IE6 and 7. Some of these issues even go as far as their core layout engine Trident, which was developed 10 years. IE8 will use Trident Version 6 which, believe it or not is first version to pass the Acid 2 test (except for the white stripes).The decision to make its default mode to be set to Standard (i.e. standard compliance) is also welcome even if some pages viewed in IE8 will initially break.

Microsoft has a huge task of improving their support for web standards without breaking existing web sites and we all know that standard compliance and backward compatibility do not go hand in hand with Internet Explorer.