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IE's Acid trip back to conflict

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On the face of it, rendering a simple smiley on a screen seems pretty straightforward. So Microsoft's excited revelation that the yet-to-launch Internet Explorer (IE) 8 has passed the Acid2 test might seem like a lot of fuss about nothing.

The reality is that - assuming Microsoft's claim is genuine - it is quite an achievement.

The news is important because Acid2 is a rigorous test of many acknowledged web standards. The news appears to confirm Microsoft's commitment to being more open on IE 8 and it will go some way to satisfying the demands from the developer community for more standards compatibility in IE.

It also means that, when IE 8 eventually appears sometime in 2008, Microsoft will be able to hold its own against rival browsers such as Firefox, Opera and Safari all of which have demonstrated that they can pass the Acid2 test.

There are, of course, many other considerations beyond Acid2 when comparing browsers. A recent comparison of JavaScript performance provides another insight into their relative merits.

Microsoft's revelation comes at an interesting time in the browser market - heralding a possible escalation in the conflict between browser builders. The test results came as Microsoft's closest rival - Mozilla - released the Beta 2 version of Firefox 3 and also claimed that it had passed the Acid2 test.

The sudden openness about IE 8 and its adherence to web standards also coincides with Opera filing an anti-trust complaint against Microsoft with European Union. Opera said - surprise, surprise - that Microsoft is abusing its dominant position by bundling IE with Windows. But there is a twist. Opera wants the EU to compel Microsoft to follow web standards - which now seems a bit redundant.

Opera - which has achieved most of its success in the mobile area - has been a thorn in Microsoft's side for several years. In 2004 Microsoft paid it off to stymie an earlier lawsuit and in 2005 there were strong rumors that Microsoft was about to buy Opera.

Opera's call to the EU coincides with the news that Microsoft spin-of Zumobi (formerly ZenZui) has released the first beta version of its mobile browser that aims to compete with - among others - yes, Opera.

Several years back Microsoft gave up on IE as a separate product, believing it was mission accomplished in browsers and there wasn't anything left to innovate. That gave Firefox, with tabbed browsing and better security, a foot in the door and spurred Microsoft into making IE available again as a separate download. 2008 promises to confirm that - more than 10 years after the browser wars ended - there remains much to do in browser development and that hostilities are back on.®

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