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Microsoft plays IE 8 interoperability pick and mix

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Mix 08 Microsoft has defended an Internet Explorer 8 roadmap that gambles on the successful completion of unbaked standards and qualified support of W3C initiatives.

Yesterday Chris Wilson, IE platform architect, said Microsoft had picked elements of HTML 5 and CSS 2.1 from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that it believes are reliable and stable. And, he added, Microsoft will put its own resources behind the standards work to ensure successful completion.

"Once we pick something we invest in that area and put people in the standards effort," Wilson told a Mix 08 session on IE 8 when challenged by one delegate on the wisdom of backing unfinished standards out of the gate.

Microsoft is not alone in banking on HTML 5 and CSS 2.1. Mozilla already supports HTML 5 in Firefox, and there is also support for CSS 2.1 in Firefox and Opera. While support is not universal, it is a beginning; support across all browsers should help simplify and save time on development of web applications.

Microsoft is taking a wait-and-see attitude in some areas. Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), for example, is being recommended by the W3C. It is included in Firefox and supported in Safari. But Wilson played the limited resources card and indicated IE 8 will not provide SVG capabilities. Microsoft gave the same reason a year ago for not porting its Silverlight media player to Linux.

"We have to pick which [technologies] we support first. We have to do a complete and detailed job first before we move onto something else and do a partial job. That's certainly been a problem in the past," Wilson said.

There are also no immediate plans to make IE 8 compatible with the newly released Acid 3 browser test either. Microsoft only recently caught up to rival browsers by passing the previous Acid 2 test.

Wilson expressed mixed feelings towards Acid. First he called it "opportunistic about choosing different parts of different standards". Then he said "there are some great tests in Acid 3." However: "I can't state when we might or might not pass it."

Among the HTML 5 features Microsoft singled out are window.location.hash for back navigation of elements within a web page, sessionStore and localStore instead of cookies and UserData, which were not cross-browser compatible, and support for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA).

On the CSS 2.1 front, Microsoft is making a fresh start by dropping the troubleome hasLayout for rendering in the newly announced IE 8 standards mode. Floating-point elements and border collapsing using Microsoft rending are also gone.

Wilson also said Microsoft is looking forward to CSS 3 for box sizing and vertical text.

In other changes to IE 8, Microsoft is working to improve management, performance, security and development.

All add ons - not just those for Active X - will be stored in one place making it easier for users to see what extensions are loaded. On performance, Jscript will collect garbage in the Jscript engine rather than wait for things to be thrown away.

Security is being reworked to accommodate mash-ups. IE 8 will implement XdomainRequest object (XDR) permitting cross-domain HTTP requests, which will require an HTTP header from a server to operate. It will also be possible for users to run Active X controls for a particular site, reducing the opportunity for malicious script to install and run.

IE 8 will feature a built-in CSS, HTML and JavaScript debugger that Wilson said will let developers inspect variables, expressions, style, layout and other elements with the single click of a button. "This is not a replacement for any other tools. We think it's important to have a set of really good development tools attached to the browser so you can see what's gong on in the browser while you are debugging."®

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