IE on ACID? Please.

Why Microsoft should avoid taking the ACID test and stick with its own medicine.
Every so often Microsoft will announce somewhere that one of its technologies is set to be standards compliant. The latest announcement came this week with Microsoft announcing on a blog that its upcoming Internet Explorer 8 browser would meet the ACID2 (define) standards test for W3C compliance on Web page development.

Give me a break.

I'd be willing to bet that, at best, no more than few hundred of the tens of millions of Web sites currently online would care about the ACID2 test and whether Microsoft's IE is compliant.

Why?

The reason is simple. Neither IE, nor Mozilla based browsers have ever successfully been ACID2 compliant in a generally available release of their respective browsers. Oh sure they've tried at various points to be fully standards compliant over the years but they haven't actually done it.

Web developers need to be practical. Practicality and common sense dictate that you design and develop sites for what the browser supports. Reality is that IE, and specifically IE 6 (and now to a growing extent IE 7) dominates browser usage with Mozilla's Firefox 2.x browsers challenging the lead with respectable numbers. If the two leading modern browsers today don't support ACID2 why would any Web developer -- one just trying to make a site work and not get fired -- bother with an esoteric test that identifies compliance with standards that the market leaders don't fully respect?

It's a chicken an egg problem at its core level.

If you build a browser that is fully ACID2 compliant it may well break compatibility with some sites. Yes, I know that's not true in all cases, but it's an argument that does hold. Web developers have a significant legacy issue to deal with in that they must typically design and develop Web sites for the lowest common denominator regarding browser use. To do anything less is to alienate a segment of the site's potential audience.

The fundamental problem with Web standards or lack thereof is that the browser vendors themselves as part of their development history moved faster in some cases than the standards developed. What happened as a defacto standard is that the browser vendors essentially created their own standards (for better or for worse) to meet their own needs and the needs of their user bases.

Fighting the ACID2 compliance battle is an interesting technical exercise in practical futility in my opinion. What would make more sense is to focus on finalizing and working toward a broadly accepted and usable specification for HTML 5. The battle for HTML 4 compliance in all of its various flavors and transitions is long since lost since web site developers have already had to make their choice.

Microsoft's pledge to have IE8 be ACID2 compliant in what they refer to as "standards mode" might help developers to get a leg up in learning about standards and how practical implementation sometimes differs. It's also a good move on the forward looking view that perhaps Microsoft will also strive for compliance with HTML 5 whenever that specification may arrive. Mozilla too has pledged ACID2 compliance for its upcoming Firefox 3 browser.

For Web developers the magical mythical dream of having the two leading browser vendors compliant with core web standards would likely simplify the development process. The dreary actual reality however remains the legacy issue of older non-compliant browsers. Over time the older browsers will fade away and it won't be an issue.

I remember well the days of trying to develop sites that would work on Netscape 3 when newer versions were already out (think developing sites only with tables since CSS support wasn't there - fun wow). With automatic updates from both Mozilla and Microsoft for their browsers the time that older browsers linger is significantly shorter than the time it took in the late 1990's for older browsers to disappear from common usage.

So while standards compliance tests like ACID2 have their place, the ultimate test will always be the user test. That is whether or not a site's users, with whatever browser they may have, will actually have a site render and work properly for them.

Microsoft can't turn back the clock, but perhaps with their move toward a standards compliant browser they can make the future a better place for web developers and their users.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com.






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