Web Development

Microsoft surprises Web developers with IE8 Acid2 announcement

Microsoft recently announced that Internet Explorer 8 passed the Acid2 test, which finds errors with rendering Web pages in browsers and Web authoring tools. Tony Patton discusses what this may mean for Web developers.

The holiday season is usually a quiet time in regards to tech announcements, but early December was different as Microsoft stunned many Web developers with news that Internet Explorer 8 has passed a test for standards compliance. The announcement says it passed the test on December 12, 2007. (Do you think someone at the company read my recent post in which I ponder when Microsoft will fully embrace Web standards?)

Find out what the test entails and why I think this announcement is such big news for Web developers.

The Acid2 test

Microsoft's still top-secret Internet Explorer 8 passed what is known as the Acid2 test. Acid2 is a test case designed by the Web Standards Project to discover, if possible, errors with rendering Web pages in browsers and Web authoring tools. Basically, it tests how a browser or tool works with features from various Web standards.

The test page presents one line of text (Hello World) and a 14×14 grid of 12px X 12px squares inside a containing block where a smiley face can be seen. The face has a yellow background surrounded by a black facial outline.

The following standards are involved in the Acid2 test page: HTML 4, CSS level 1, PNG, and data URLs. In addition, the Acid2 guided tour overview page defines these features that are included in the test:

  • Transparent PNGs
  • The HTML object element
  • Absolute, relative, and fixed positioning
  • CSS box model
  • CSS tables
  • CSS Margins
  • Generated content
  • CSS parsing of illegal CSS elements
  • Paint order for overlapping content
  • Line heights of CSS inline box model
  • Hovering effects

When accessing the page, it is easy to see if the page is properly rendered in a browser because you'll see the smiley face with the text "Hello World!" above it if all is well.

On my test machine, I wasn't successful when I tried to load the page in Internet Explorer 7; Firefox 2.0 was a little better, but it also did not pass the test. The Windows version of Opera 9 renders correctly.

Why should Web developers care?

Seasoned Web developers may shrug off such news from the Redmond behemoth with the feeling that you will believe it when you see it. After all, Internet Explorer 8 is still a big question mark, as nothing has been released to the Web development community.

The reality of Microsoft finally embracing standards could greatly simplify Web development because the need to inject workarounds and hacks to accommodate another noncompliant browser (like all current and previous versions of Internet Explorer) would vanish. You would still have to include code for older browsers, but things would be cleaner as the latest market share of Internet Explorer 8 grows and more users adopt it.

The goal of any standard is commonality. Web standards provide the baseline technologies that all browsers should support; this allows Web developers to work with standards without thinking of the browser used to view the application. After so many years of dealing with various browser versions and inconsistent standards support, the concept of accepted and supported Web standards throughout the industry is such a utopia that I find it hard to envision.

With all the talk of Web standards, it is worth noting that the details of the actual test Microsoft used checks browser compliance.

Is this too good to be true?

Microsoft says it will release a beta version of Internet Explorer 8 in the first half of 2008. With that said, it could be some time before the general public gets its first look at the browser. Microsoft's ongoing testing and the beta testing period will likely produce issues that must be addressed, and new features are likely to be added along the way, so it remains to be seen if the Acid2 compliance will be maintained and exist when the product is finally released.

One issue I see that may prove to be a hindrance to full standards support in Internet Explorer 8 is backward compatibility. Microsoft used this excuse when promised standards support in the current version of the Internet Explorer 7 was not included.

After all, a lack of support for standards in current and previous Internet Explorer versions produced sites that avoid standards so they can work in Internet Explorer. Do we really believe Microsoft will ignore this fact?

Progress

Web developers are the real winners when Web standards are adopted. When you consider Microsoft's branding open source as its own with its CodePlex site, it leads me to wonder if the company has decided to stop fighting the pundits and embrace Web standards. A company the size of Microsoft does not do things to simply appease users.

For more details about Internet Explorer 8, I recommend viewing this video with Internet Explorer's GM Dean Hachamovitch and Architect Chris Wilson.

Tony Patton began his professional career as an application developer earning Java, VB, Lotus, and XML certifications to bolster his knowledge.

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About

Tony Patton has worn many hats over his 15+ years in the IT industry while witnessing many technologies come and go. He currently focuses on .NET and Web Development while trying to grasp the many facets of supporting such technologies in a productio...

27 comments
deepsand
deepsand

What other changes might IE8 bring that are [i]unwanted[/i]?

jackie40d
jackie40d

I have deleted about 90 percent of IE and installed Opera ( latest one ) and run FireFox latest one running . . And some sites are still a mess like the one at http://www.americanfreedomriders.com the web master is a joke must be on drugs or something has things on top of other things . . Tried to tell them that . . Oh well I bet Nortons makes a mess of the entire 2008 version . .

deepsand
deepsand

If by that you mean even [i]more[/i] of a mess than it is now, is that possible?

DanLM
DanLM

Not trying to be smart, just wondering where your thought process is going here. I'm sure they will intigrate it more into their office suite... Which I don't want, but others might. But, I really can't think of any other unwanted changes they might make. Not saying there won't be. But, again. I wondered what you was thinking when you asked that. Wish they would make the spell check a bit easier to use like firefox... Highlight in red mispelled words with right click for correction would be nice. But, I wonder if they can legally do that in that FireFox already has. Dan

deepsand
deepsand

I would not have had to raise the question!

Justin James
Justin James

I doubt they will integrate it more with Office... after all, they haven't done so yet, and they've had ample opportunity! J.Ja

PhilippeV
PhilippeV

Now time to think about Acid3 for testing CSS2 (or 2.1?) compliance. And there are still ample work to do with CSS3 (whose specification is still not polished and needs more review). Hmmm... IE8 may comply with CSS 1.0 but more is expected with CSS 2 that has more requirements. (And Mozill/Firefox is still far in front of IE there; let's hope that Firefox won't stay behind by forgetting to implement first some of the required syntaxic and layout of CSS1; and possibly forget about some of its "-moz-" extensions to CSS by either adopting standard properties, or making more formal proposals in a more neutral way without the "-moz-" specific prefix which should remain temporary.) But at least CSS1 provides all the layout, and we should no longer have elements moving on random places on the page, even if they don't display with extra style features.

PhilippeV
PhilippeV

Please allow users to REMOVE the support of the Ctrl+W shortcut * It closes immediately the windows without any prompt * It is too dangerous (how many times I have closed a window during a session, when I was carefully composing some text or filling a form, just because my finger slipped when I wanted to press Ctrl+X to cut and past some text, and then grumbled about the loss of the text I was creating and editing, or a transaction I was completing online? Note that my board has the W key on the immediate left of the X key, just a few millimiters away, Microsoft should remember that we all commit some errors when typing, and we should still be able to correct them without loosing everything) * It is not even needed: we have Alt+F4 (plus the mouse to click the X button in the top-right corner) for the same function and in a location that is less likely to be pressed by error. Users that still like the shortcut could enable it in their preferences (so this is a suggestion to add a keyboard binding preferences panel in the IE Option panel, and a way to restore the defaults, where dangerous shortcuts could also be disabled by a simple click in a checkbox).

JCitizen
JCitizen

I keep hitting the f11 key which truncates IE 7s header - very irritating for a fumble finger like me.

deepsand
deepsand

Seriously, though, I concur. The , the "Left Click on X", along with "Right Click" > "Close" options all both suffice and, more importantly, require a greater [b]concious effort[/b] of the part of the user.

DanLM
DanLM

want to. Doesn't even prompt like alt/4 or the big x in the window if you are sure.. Good point... Dan

PhilippeV
PhilippeV

This is a great announcement! Now web sites will no longer have excuse to not use web standards, there will be tons of new great tools for creating great contents for the web, without depending on proprietary and costly third party extensions (like Flash). Those that will benefit the most from the announcement will be those great new "Web 2.0" sites that really needed better support by common browsers. This also means that there is now place for better adoption of other browsers by users, if more sites are adopting standard practices. And this also paves the way for using even more the browser with HTML and CSS as the fundamental brick for the design of portable GUI interfaces for applications. So this is not only a great announcement for the web, but for the whole computing industry, and less costly support for users of those applications ported to HTML+CSS. Now it's time for Microsoft (and Mozilla/Firefox too) to adopt the SVG standard by supporting it also in the browser, without the complication of unsupported addons: users want more integration of those key elements that will allow more interactive contents than what you can do today with just "DHTML". The next step will also be to improve the performance of ECMAscript, and get a richer portable set of functions based on DOM and CSS, without the so many compatibility tricks still encountered by Web 2.0 developers.

FXEF
FXEF

IE 8 Alpha passed the ACID2 test. The real question: will IE 8 Final Release pass ACID2 test? I kinda have my doubts, considering Microsoft's history.

jayke001
jayke001

Check out the acid2 test in the beta-release of FireFox (minefield). Looks good.

w.donovan
w.donovan

I found that testing Firefox 2.0.0.11 did not fully comply with the ACID2. Does this mean they need to update? (oops on Windows XP)

jayke001
jayke001

try out the beta release of firefox 3

jackie40d
jackie40d

If it says Microsoft it is a bit off in the weeds or they have been smoking weed not sure which . .

JCitizen
JCitizen

Execs at Microsoft have been passing Acid around at taking it instead of testing the IE8 browser? HA! :^0 Acid2?! Must be some good ****!

kitico
kitico

Well, I surprised, but happy, to see this change in attitude at Microsoft. I expected that the unrepentant pursuit of profit and power would prevent a move to support standards. Of course, we have not seen IE8 yet, but I hope the news is as good as Microsoft is trying to make it sound.

manuel_loid
manuel_loid

Me personally as an ordinary IT person, IE8 passing the Acid2 standards is a big surprise. considering that Microsoft has has gained a lots of critics because of IE7's issues, not only that, even the 'Vista' OS has gained numerous incompatibility issues with regular home users like me. SO, who would ever think that Microsoft would or "CAN" develop a such a program! but, i will try using it on my own, and see if it IE8 would/can convince me that it is a "masterpiece?" When can we get a grasp of the beta version? pls. send me a notification if it is available for download? thanks.

Justin James
Justin James

"When you consider Microsoft?s branding open source as its own with its CodePlex site, it leads me to wonder if the company has decided to stop fighting the pundits and embrace Web standards." I've been saying this for a while now. IE 7, while not perfect, was a huge step in that direction. Visual Studio 2005, followed up by Expression Web and Visual Studio 2008 have made it quite clear that Microsoft is backing away from "embrace and extend" when it comes to HTML, and backing into full W3C compliance. About 10 years too late, but better late than never. J.Ja

DanLM
DanLM

better then the previous versions. I like I.E. 7 and can see where they were moving to be more standard with all the other browsers. So, it truthfully does not surprise me that I.E.8 is compatible. Remember,they couldn't have made I.E.8 compatible in the short time sence they were slammed for I.E.7 not being standard. They had to have been working for a period of time on this. F.F 2 totally ticked me off, it was blowing chunks every time I closed a page. It also didn't pass the acid test. F.F 3 beta is pretty stable though for those that are wondering. Seems to take longer to load the I.E. though, but that is only a personal observation. I am done bashing any given technology or company unless I have had personal experience with its downfalls. I.E.7 is much better then 6 and I expect 8 to be much better then 7. I.E. 6 sucked, but so does F.F. 2. omg, where is Rick... He said I never said anything good about Microsoft... Chuckle, I think I'll save this link in my projects so that I can post it the next time he says that to me. Dan

jackie40d
jackie40d

I now have FF 3.03 plus a few plug ins and some added things and I got the Back up of bookmarks, passwords, and all the stuff in FF every 2 days I do not seem to loose anything and I got LMAO tons of links in different folders for different places . .

PhilippeV
PhilippeV

The longer application loading time is a non-issue: if Microsoft was fair enough, it would allow Mozilla/Firefox to become the true effective default browser of the system, so that it could be mostly preloaded like IE does at boot time. For most users however, this small delay when launching Firefox is not critical, because that time is easily gained later when navigating: Firefox loads, computes and renders pages much faster, and its javascript support is much better, faster and based on standard DOM features (that IE still lacks). A good point however for Microsoft is its support for international text (at least on Vista), but this is technically not part of IE itself, but of the Windows GUI itself (so anything made here in Windows benefits also to all browsers running on it). Well, for now it's too soon to see if the Acid2 test is enough to remove the differences of behavior between browsers: there may still exist many untested parts in the Acid2 test suite, that is constantly updated to test more tricky cases. And until IE8 is released, the Mozilla's Gecko engine in Firefox still works much better than IE7's rendering engine. Microsoft also did not want to listen users that did not like the new mandatory (non customizable) toolbar/tabs GUI interface (but anyway there are still other interfaces built on top of IE or Mozilla Gecko engines, and that offer more customization, notably for those users of notebooks that hate the screen space taken by those required toolbars and unnecessary tabs that IE can't collapse with the duplicated function of the title bar and desktop icon bar...): this is one reason why many users refused to switch to IE7 and sticked with IE6 that is more customizable for their effective needs.

DanLM
DanLM

I just am so use to it.. F.F. 3 does seem a lot more stable, and I was a die hard user of F.F 2... I don't know what happened... It just started crashing constantly on me... And that is even on a brand new laptop where I didn't load anything to. Yes, it could have been interference by the OS itself... But what ever it was, it ticked me off... Thats why I ended up downloading both new browsers. I'm still feeling my way through both of them, but so far... I like them both... Lol, not enough to decide what will be my formal browser of choice yet... F.F. will probably win though because there are some really nice add on's that I constantly use... One of them being the translation add on... That is just nice when your researching a problem and find a page on topic with a language I just don't know. Edited for missing words.. Dan

gmg
gmg

J. Ja - "About 10 years too late, but better late than never". Absolutely, couldn't agree more. This is extreamly positive from Microsoft and goes a long way to allowing developers to concentrate on the real issues instead of constantly 'hacking' to make fit. I'm pretty sure that Tim Berners-Lee approached Microsoft in the darly days of the W3C to get them on board but they declined ... not until Windows 95 was the idea of the Internet and WWW fully adopted. Like you say, perhaps "better late than never" should be adopted as the new Microsoft slogan :) GMG