Since this site’s standards support resource was referenced in an article linked to on Slashdot, there has been some renewed discussion critical of Microsoft’s efforts in browser development. I have seen some blogs such as Web 2.0 Explorer and Download Squad complain that Internet Explorer 7 won’t be fully CSS 2.1 compliant.
In a somewhat rare move, I must come to Microsoft’s defense on this one. As far as I know, Internet Explorer 7 isn’t adding any nonstandard features to CSS and the developers have put forth a lot of work to fix as many of the most common CSS bugs as time allowed them. After a recent update, my tables currently show that Internet Explorer 7 has 55% support for CSS 2.1, up from 51% in IE6. That’s a 4% improvement. Although that doesn’t sound like much, it should be noted that it’s about the same total difference that the latest versions of Firefox and Opera have improved over their predecessors (Firefox 1.5 showed a 5% increase and Opera 9 showed a 3% increase).
The CSS standard is very large and complex, and I’m not sure if Microsoft is structured in such a way that they can put too many more people on the Internet Explorer core development team without it becoming too disorganized. All things aside, a 4% increase isn’t too bad for a year’s worth of work considering the other more user-focused improvements. It certainly doesn’t put Internet Explorer anywhere near where we web developers would like it to be, but that simply isn’t a realistic possibility in this short amount of time. In fact, considering that they’re adding improvements at about the same speed as the other browsers, it’s doubtful that Microsoft (or any company in their position) can catch up to the competition in the foreseeable future. That’s a reality we have to face, and it isn’t really the fault of Microsoft’s current efforts, but its past efforts (or lack thereof).
I think the Internet Explorer developers are starting to get it. They’ve been opening up lately and have expressed growing care for standards. I don’t see how Trident can become a decent layout engine without a ground-up rewrite as every other major layout engine had in the CSS era, but the developers are doing what they can. In IE7, Microsoft showed a willingness to break backwards compatibility in the interest of standards, and I think that was a very important precedent to set. I don’t know if they’re likely to rewrite the engine from scratch, but they are no longer giving the finger to web standards and I don’t believe the developers deserve the disrespect many have given them for the work they are doing right now. What I believe Microsoft deserves disrespect for is the long wait they gave us and all of the proprietary junk beforehand.
Yes, Internet Explorer’s standards support is still abysmal compared to Firefox and Opera, and at this rate it looks to be so for many more versions to come. But I don’t see any reason to chastise Microsoft for what they’re currently doing. Instead, ask why they waited so long if they knew they were unable to catch up afterwards, and encourage the public to select their web browsers based on the true quality of the browsers and not simply based on the browsers’ market inertia. As alternative browsers gain a powerful market share, web developers can begin sneaking newer standards into their websites and drive the public to using only modern web browsers. If Internet Explorer can’t handle what all of the other competitors can, then it’s a simple survival of the fittest situation and the worst browser is left in the mud. If Microsoft can pull a rabbit out of their hat and make Internet Explorer a true competitor, then there should be no complaints. Internet Explorer 7 has a decent amount of improvements, and we’ll see where the developers take it from there.
But I’m still hoping for a full engine rewrite.