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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...

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