IE8 and Upcoming Standards

by Marty Alchin on March 6, 2008

Along with the rest of the Web, I’ve been following the recent months of discussion regarding IE8, its version targeting behavior and its support for Web standards. There are a number of opinions about a whole variety of things regarding IE, and I won’t get involved in most of them. In fact, I tend not to follow these discussions very closely, but I’m trying to get better about it lately, now that I’m taking a more active role on the Web. Of interest to me is the announced commitment to Web standards, and I’d like to focus on a somewhat smaller detail, and in a way you might not expect.

The IE8 Readiness Toolkit mentions support for the upcoming Selectors API, which struck me as soon as I read the note accompanying it (emphasis mine):

Internet Explorer 8’s implementation of the Selectors API is based on the W3C Working Draft

I was immediately reminded of a throwaway phrase from Chris Wilson two and a half years ago, regarding IE7’s standards support. I doubt I’m the only one who noticed it, but it was rather subdued, and might have unintentionally revealed a bit about Microsoft’s policy with regards to “new” Web standards. (Again, the emphasis added below is my own.)

I want to be clear that our intent is to build a platform that fully complies with the appropriate web standards, in particular CSS 2 ( 2.1, once it’s been Recommended).

This struck me as a Microsoft policy of not supporting standards passed through the W3C until they reach the Recommendation stage. We all know that process can take years, possibly decades. This is probably an oversimplification, of course, as the W3C identifies three separate “Recommendation” levels, only the last of which is just “Recommendation”. In retrospect, I realize this could’ve meant Candidate Recommendation, which is where browsers are expected to start implementing standards, so they can contribute their experiences back for the Proposed Recommendation stage. This fits with IE8’s support of CSS 2.1, now that it’s been a Candidate Recommendation since last summer.

But go back and read the note about the Selectors API. They’re aiming to support a Working Draft of an upcoming standard, while they snubbed the Working Draft of CSS 2.1 for IE7. Beyond any presumptions about why Microsoft changed their mind about version targeting, how much they claim to support Web standards, the simple fact of targeting a Working Draft in IE gives me hope that they’re really on track to work toward a brighter future for the Web. Also, note that the Selectors API is not a Microsoft invention. Throughout its history with the W3C, the only names attached have been from Opera.

Of course, I may be reading too much into this. Maybe Microsoft just realized that after all the hard work of supporting CSS 2.1, adding an interface for JavaScript to access it would be easy enough to appease those of us who care to notice. But hey, even if they’re just throwing us a bone, that’s still better than they’ve done in the past. That’s progress, isn’t it?