IE8, Version Targeting, and the Ruckus it’s Causing

Last week was quite enlightening for Web developers the world over. With the release of A List Apart No. 251, including Beyond DOCTYPE: Web Standards, Forward Compatibility, and IE8 by Aaron Gustafson and From Switches to Targets: A Standardista’s Journey by Eric Meyer, the biggest debate of the year was sparked.

If you haven’t read these two articles, please do so now. They’re required reading from here on out.

It has been a long time since a single issue has raised such unanimous controversy, and the resulting discussion should be very well read and well understood by Web developers everywhere; it’s very important to have an opinion on this issue. More importantly, it’s imperative that your opinion be well researched and based upon supportive facts.

As with many controversies, there are plenty of people on each side of the figurative fence, each with strong arguments to support their opinion. I feel very adamant about researching both ‘sides’ before developing a strong opinion of my own, so here are a number of articles written in response to this issue (listed in absolutely no particular order; not even chronological):

That’s a huge list. A huge list with some even bigger names on it. The list is far from comprehensive regarding the reaction of Web developers as a whole, and by the time this article is published, the list will more than likely be absent of a number of links that should be included. Please, provide further reading in the comments at the end of the article, as this issue deserves the attention of everyone.

The response thus far is nothing short of amazing. Many have come to an instant conclusion after reading the ALA articles; some in support and others in complete opposition. That fact alone tells me that there is a lot to consider, a lot to learn from, and a lot to talk about. Luckily, it seems as though a huge population is ready and willing to have the discussion; not something you see very often (anywhere).

I must admit: while I find the discussion surrounding the issue fascinating, I’m in part disappointed in how some have chosen to reply to articles and comments written on this subject. The opinion of everyone should be valued and respected, no one deserves to be talked down upon simply for offering their thoughts; especially the thoughts of some of the brightest minds in the industry. Please take care when offering replies in public.

Moving on.

My opinion on the matter

To be completely honest, my initial reaction to the proposal was positive. That is until I read into the proposed implementation. In summation: if we as Web developers do not opt in to this solution, we’re stuck with a version of IE that we may not want. I would prefer instead to know that if I open a document in IE8, IE8 is going to render that document to the best of its ability.

I will admit, at this point I’ve approached this issue as a developer, not an end user. I feel that looking at an issue from multiple angles is a very important aspect of opinion-forming, so I’m going to take time to think about this issue as more than a Web developer (or at least try to). There is also the business angle to take into account. When it comes to IE, there is quite a bit of money involved. Although it’s viewed as a problem, there is an abundance of software highly dependent on specific versions of Internet Explorer. Making abrupt changes to IE would result in glacial adoption (read: IE7) which is counterproductive for everyone. As it stands with the client websites I work on, I now face an IE population divided in half between 6 and 7. While expected, it’s definitely not ideal. Throwing a third browser into the mix will shake things up even more; what’s the best way to handle that?

At the end of the day, should this proposal completely pan out, Microsoft will have a boatload of additional work to deal with. (Knowledgeable) Web developers will add another line to their markup. While making claim that it’s really that simple is far from accurate, but at the same time it’s something to analyze, don’t you think? The proposed solution seems to account for both the end user, who doesn’t want a browser upgrade to “break the Internet”, as well as Web developers, who want to constantly and consistently innovate in our medium.

I honestly can’t say whether I’m for or against this proposition entirely. I plan to develop my opinion over time by continuing to follow this debate. Reading the opinions of those who have lead the industry from the ground up is a great opportunity, and their arguments carry much more weight than those masquerading an underlying hatred for all things proprietary, all things Microsoft. I can estimate that it will be some time before I’m able to have a solid, definitive opinion, but I’m certain the more I read and write about it, the better off I’ll be.