Microsoft next quarter plans to launch a consumer beta test version of its Internet Explorer (IE) 8 browser -- showcasing its upgraded compatibility with current standards.
The most obvious feature for consumers in IE8 Beta 2, as it's known, is likely to be the browser's new default rendering mode. The new mode will kick in for sites built using the most recently ratified Web standards -- a so-called "super standards" mode that the company agreed to support in March.
However, besides supporting and potentially encouraging use of these standards on the Web, the change may also force Web developers and administrators to make modifications to what could be many of their sites.
Consequently, the pending release of IE8 Beta 2 also aims to call attention to the impending change, ideally ensuring that systems administrators and Web designers make needed changes to their sites now.
"Microsoft will be releasing Internet Explorer 8 to render content in its most standards-compliant way by default," Nick MacKechnie, a senior technical account manager at Microsoft New Zealand, said a blog post this week.
"Giving top priority to Web standards interoperability allows us to help Web developers and designers drive toward the ideal of 'write once, run anywhere,' freeing up more time to innovate rather than modify content for different browsers," he said.
For years, critics have regularly dinged Microsoft for not complying with Web standards. Ultimately, pressure from competitors and European regulators helped propel Microsoft to agree to the new default.
In a strange bit of irony, though, making IE8 comply with the latest Web standards will require changes to thousands -- perhaps millions -- of Web sites.
Over the years of IE's dominance as the leading browser, designers regularly tweaked their sites to get the best possible accuracy in rendering pages in IE -– most recently, the current commercial release, IE7.
Now those pages will need to be changed.
Microsoft originally planned for IE8 to default to rendering similarly to IE7, while super standards mode would have been an option. The outcry from critics helped convince Microsoft officials to instead default to super standards. That, unfortunately, will mean work for site administrators.
"We are encouraging site administrators to get their sites ready now for broad adoption of Internet Explorer 8, as there will be a beta release in the third quarter of this year targeted for all consumers," MacKechnie's blog post said.
Alternatively, developers can make a change in their code to have IE8 display pages in a mode that works more accurately with sites designed to be accessed by IE7.
Microsoft first publicly demonstrated IE8 at its Mix08 conference for Web developers and designers in March. A private developer-only beta has been underway since then.
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