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Microsoft preps IE 8 for the web-challenged

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Internet Explorer 8 will feature a user-generated list of "compatible" web sites, after trials found many ordinary surfers and major web sites can't work with Microsoft's next browser.

The browser's planned list will be targeted at users that Microsoft considers not "web savvy". By opting to use the list with IE 8, they'll potentially be able to view their favorite sites and visit major destinations such as the BBC or Facebook without IE 8 scrambling them.

The list will be compiled by Microsoft's own people, and will be based on results from customer feedback and "objective criteria applied to telemetry data as well as product support channels."

Web sites making the list will be global "high-volume sites", and sites "we determine high-volume on a market-by-market basis," Microsoft program manager Scott Dickens blogged.

Furthermore, Microsoft said it will "reach out" to sites on the list and tell them what a horrible experience their users are getting when they use IE 8 to access them. Microsoft will then, thoughtfully, explain how the sites can get off of its list. If a site contacts Microsoft to say it's opting out of the list, Microsoft will then remove it in the next scheduled update.

IE 8, currently in beta, makes it hard to view millions of existing web pages because it's the first version of Microsoft's browser that claims to be fully standards-compliant.

Most web-site and online applications are optimized to old versions of IE. Version 8.0, therefore, introduces a significant breaking change as sites won't display the same way.

Microsoft's tried to negotiate this massive problem by giving IE 8 two ways of viewing sites: default mode, which uses standards such as CSS 2.1 and HTML 5.0, and "compatibility view," which lets users switch over to viewing the site using the old standards-contorted mode.

The IE 8 beta two, released in August, introduced a compatibility-view button that users could turn on and off to view sites.

The problem for Microsoft is this button was too complicated for the vast majority of ordinary users who — understandably — simply want log on and view the internet without any site-by-site button fiddling.

Dickens noted that "large groups" of users have therefore not been clicking into compatibility mode and are consequentially getting the screwed-up page views. He claimed the button was working for "savvy end users" but not the great majority of web users who don't meet Dickens's savviness standards.

In a further blow, many sites have not responded to Microsoft's coaxing that they update their sites to work with IE 8.

Microsoft has asked "hundreds and hundreds" of sites to test whether they work with IE 8's default standards mode, or to add a tag or HTTP header to their site to instruct IE 8 to view the site in compatible-view mode. Dickens specifically cited the BBC, CNN, Facebook, and MySpace as sites with pages that still don't work with IE 8.

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