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Microsoft is to develop IE8 so that it follows web standards by default and will retain a controversial mode switching proposal.

Internet Explorer general manager Dean Hachamovitch conceded that the move is a change from what Microsoft had previously said and prompted (at least in part) by a desire to avoid regulatory and legal problems.

In a post on Microsoft's IE development blog, Hachamovitch said: "We've decided that IE8 will, by default, interpret web content in the most standards compliant way it can. This decision is a change from what we've posted previously.

"IE8’s default is a demonstration of [Microsoft's] interoperability principles in action. While we do not believe any current legal requirements would dictate which rendering mode a browser must use, this step clearly removes this question as a potential legal and regulatory issue," he added.

Although not explicitly stated, it is reasonable to conclude that Opera's recent complaint to the EU as well as anti-trust fines informed Microsoft's volte-face. Whether the move will help Microsoft skirt regulatory problems is open for debate.

Modern browsers (including IE, Firefox, Safari, and Opera) sport multiple content-rendering modes – including ones supporting strict interpretation of certain web standards as well as quirks modes needed to offer compatibility with pages that pre-date modern standards.

MS is now going to use IE8 standard as default. Developers who want their pages shown using IE8’s “IE7 Standards mode” will need to request that using a meta tag. This mode switching approach has been criticised by rival developers, such as Opera.

Microsoft's legacy of not sticking to web standards as closely as, for example, Opera, in the past has left it with more problems than other developers in sticking to standards.

For example, the transition from IE6 to IE7 was complicated by pages that rendered well in IE6 standard mode but not IE7 standard mode. Microsoft expects similar problems with the move to IE8, but has changed its approach to solving the problems.

IE8 will have three rendering modes: one that reflects Microsoft's implementation of current web standards, an IE7 standards mode, and a third based on rendering methods dating back to the early web. The IE8 standards mode will now be applied by default. Previously, the IE7 standards mode would have been preferred.

IE8 will include an IE7 standards mode as well as a "purer" IE8 standards mode so that developers can still select it as an option.

"This facility would be helpful as the web moves gradually from the large quantity of legacy content authored around IE7's behaviors to a new era of much more interoperable and web standards compliant browsers," Hachamovitch explains. ®

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