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Microsoft jump starts IE 8 with community push

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Mix 08 Microsoft will not just support new and popular technologies in Internet Explorer 8, it's also attempting to build community support for the historically standards-challenged browser.

Not only will IE 8 - unveiled and launched as a beta today - support cascading style sheet (CSS) 2.1 from release, but Microsoft has also released code for a CSS test suite spanning 702 tests to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), with a view to establishing an industry based standard test suite for CSS.

Microsoft's test cases have been published under BSD.

"Our goal of full [CSS] compliance has challenges. Interoperability has many challenges...until we standardize how we all test standards compatibility, no one can tell what everyone has done," IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch told Mix 08 Wednesday.

Of course, there are those who might suggest it's only Microsoft that has problems hitting standards around interoperability and is trying to change the debate and buy time for IE 8 by putting the onus on the industry to revisit standards.

In doing so, Microsoft would be at liberty to press ahead with IE 8 development and to then certify to any W3C test suite afterwards, once product development is complete - without really making things any more interoperable.

That's a tactic from the vendor playbook that served Microsoft and others well, baking web services specifications into products earlier this decade to hit delivery targets and build market share - before the specifications themselves or the testing and certification processes were actually finished.

Hachamovitch also issued a "call to action" to developers to make sure content built for IE 8 works well with the legacy web, meaning sites geared for IE 7. IE 8 will feature an emulation button to test sites under development.

'Developers would answer the question...'

Code, meanwhile, for planned IE 8 features designed to simplify linking to online services such as eBay, called Activities, or to subscribe to just a part of a page, called Web Slices, have been released for community for feedback under the Creative Commons attribution license and under Microsoft's Open Specification. "[We] have published samples and are taking feedback," Hachamovitch said.

According to Hachamovitch, Activities will let the user right click on a web page and pull in maps or pages, like that eBay page, without need for more coding or add-ins by the developer. Developers write "a little bit" of XML code instead. With Web Slices, once you have subscribed to a source, a tile - like a tab - will appear in IE's navigation menu enabling you to keep track of things like eBay auctions.

It was a difficult pitch for Hachamovitch who opened his Mix 08 IE 8 preview to mutterings of discontent over IE's lamentable level of support for web standards. That has created problems for developers building content for sites that must work with multiple browsers.

Referring to IE 7, Hachamovitch said: "My kids would hear stories about how the web isn't working as it should, and they'd ask me: 'Daddy, did you break the web?' Developers would answer the question a little differently," which prompted one keynote audience member sitting behind Reg Dev to growl "much differently."

Hachamovitch continued - clearly in naked defiance of Microsoft's track record on IE vulnerabilities - that Microsoft's problems in "breaking the web" weren't down to security, but down to interoperability instead. "For all we did in security and user experience, there's more we can do for developers...developers spent too much of their scarce time just getting basic things to work. With that in mind, we started IE 8."

Other IE 8 features include support for HTML 5, the ability to view wireless content offline, improved performance, and simplified debugging during development with the ability to find scripts automatically.®

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