In an about-face it credited to a renewed company-wide emphasis on interoperability, Microsoft said it will make its upcoming Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) browser default to a new, standards-compliant method of displaying Web pages, rather than the existing, more Microsoft-centric one.
The move should make it easier for developers to create Web pages that render properly on multiple browsers, including IE8, Firefox, Apple's Safari and others, without breaking the pages or requiring extensive recoding.
"Thinking about IE8's behavior with these principles in mind, interpreting Web content in the most standards-compliant way possible is a better thing to do," an unnamed Microsoft employee wrote on Microsoft's IEBlog.
The move, on the eve of Microsoft's MIX developer conference, won plaudits from those who have long complained that Microsoft has used its market dominance to avoid making IE compatible with other Web browsers in an attempt to force time-pressed developers to choose to support only the most popular Web browser -- IE.
About three-fourths of Internet users used one version or another of IE last month, according to data from Net Applications.
"I fully understood and had come to accept Microsoft's earlier decision to break with convention and not automatically opt sites in to the new engine, but I have to say I'm glad they've reversed that decision," wrote Aaron Gustafson of The Web Standards Project. "Personally, I feel their product (and the Web at large) is better for it."
"Now they have made the change, it is up to us as Web developers to fix our sites when IE8 comes along. In the long run though, we get a better Web," wrote Dion Almaer, co-founder of Web development community, Ajaxian.com.
"Celebrate! C'mon!" wrote Molly Holzschlag, a Web developer and author.
All Web browsers render Web pages in several ways that vary in their degree of compliance with what are considered to be accepted Web standards. IE8 can render Web pages in one of three ways, according to a PressPass article posted on Microsoft's site.
One "reflects Microsoft's implementation of current Web standards," according to Microsoft. It passes the popular Web standards test Acid2, and thus, according to Microsoft, "is forward-looking and preferred by Web designers."
Another is based on "Microsoft's implementation of Web standards at the time of the release of Internet Explorer 7 in 2006." The third is "based on rendering methods dating back to the early Web."
Microsoft had previously said it would make IE 8 default to the IE7 rendering mode to better maintain compatibility with existing Web pages developed for IE 7. But it finally decided to make its new super-standards mode the default.
"While we do not believe there are currently any legal requirements that would dictate which rendering mode must be chosen as the default for a given browser, this step clearly removes this question as a potential legal and regulatory issue," said Brad Smith, Microsoft senior vice president and general counsel.