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Microsoft's Internet Explorer unit has started the Herculean - and ironic - task of identifying which leading browsers work properly with JavaScript.

The company's JScript development team has promised to crawl through the guts of Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 2.0.0.5, Opera 9.02 and Safari 3.0 running on the 32-bit edition of Windows XP SP2 and publish a series of meaty reports highlighting where each browser diverges from the ECMAScript Language Specification 3rd Edition - better known as JavaScript.

The move seems part of Microsoft's on-going job to make up for deficiencies in the way IE 7.0's engine works with JavaScript and to possibly retro fit grass-root work-arounds into the standard, to improve the way JavaScript works with browsers.

JScript team member Pratrap Lakshman said Microsoft would look to see what - if any - "de facto compatibility conventions have been reached, and the value of codifying such conventions into the standard."

JavaScript has become important to developers and vendors thanks to the popularity in rich internet applications (RIAs), despite pre-dating the Web 2.0 boom.

Despite industry rhetoric and bluster about standards, the problem is that since the JavaScript standard landed on the technology stage some eight years ago different browsers have implemented certain portions in subtly different ways. That's created problems for application developers, who do not know which browsers users will employ to access their software or service.

Highlighting some examples here, Lakshman believes that those awfully nice people at Microsoft can help solve the problem by charting the differences and feeding them back into the official standard. "The point is that JavaScript developers shouldn't have to detect and workaround such issues. JavaScript should work the same across all implementations. We believe this is the first step in making JavaScript better," Lakshman blogged.

Of course, there's no word on what steps Microsoft plans to take to feed "de facto compatibility conventions" back into the official standard.

Those taking a less charitable view of Microsoft's actions might see this as the latest attempt to set industry standards around a piece of its software, while also taking a unique step towards solving unresolved and deep seated compatibility problems in IE.

Microsoft's browser is renowned as being a basket case on standards compliance, being less compliant than other leading standards in recent years according to the group monitoring this issue - The Web Standards Project (WASP).

Earlier this year, Microsoft went as far as to suggest it might give up even trying to maintain standards compatibility and turn the whole standards issue on its head by devising a "compatible with IE" scheme for the next version of Explorer.

The work identifying "de facto compatibility conventions" could see Microsoft stretch IE to fit what's working in the market, and then force the official standard to fit Microsoft's own implementation.

The JScript team's first report can be downloaded here. ®

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