The next version of Internet Explorer, IE8, will render identically to IE7 unless instructed otherwise, despite recent improvements to IE8’s standards compatibility.

IE platform architect Chris Wilson detailed in an IEBlog post a new third rendering mode in IE8 that will provide enhanced Web page rendering. IE7’s two current modes, “Quirks mode” and “Standards mode”, will remain as they are now and will be the modes available by default in IE8.

For developers to take advantage of the new enhanced standards mode in IE8, a new meta tag specifically targeting IE8 will have to be added into every HTML page the developer wishes to be rendered in the new mode.

Defending the decision, Wilson said: “In IE7 we made a lot more changes to improve IE’s standards compliance, particularly with CSS. We limited these behavior changes to IE’s ‘standards mode’ only, and we expected that this would help limit compatibility problems as it had in the past. Unfortunately, and somewhat surprisingly to us, this wasn’t true.”

Wilson stated that this new meta tag is needed for IE and not Firefox or Safari as “developers of many sites had worked around many of the shortcomings or outright errors in IE6, and now expected IE7 to work just like IE6. […] In many cases, these sites would have worked better if they had served IE7 the same content and stylesheets they were serving when visited with a non-IE browser.”

IE8 remains without a release date or an announced features roadmap.