Accepting Small Progress Gracefully: IE7

Here I am again at the W3C Plenary, where I get to spend a week with the web’s big brains and soak in nerd soup. A lot of time has been spent so far talking about IE7 and its progress or lack thereof and the reaction Microsoft (and especially Chris Wilson and Markus Mielke) are getting from the web development community. Molly is here, and she’s especially worried about how poorly the community is reacting to Microsoft. And here I sit in the middle somewhere…
I’m a standards geek, and part of me wants to kick the IE team in the shins for creating another browser that doesn’t at least get to the point where Firefox and Safari are. There’s a spectrum of standards support, especially as far as CSS is concerned, with IE6 at one end and Opera, Safari and Firefox at the other. I foresee all kinds of problems with IE7 situating itself right in the middle. It’s going to cause developers all kinds of problems, some of them of those developers’ own making, some because IE is cherry-picking CSS2.1 modules to support (and some CSS3).
On the other hand, the practical side of me is happy to see any development at all out of IE. Progress, of any kind, is a good thing. The fact that IE7 will support selectors beyond the paltry selection we have now. We’ll have child and attribute selectors (finally!! Now we don’t need extraneous classes on elements), :hover on arbitrary elements and min and max width/height, which will all make building pages easier once IE7 overtakes IE6 in usage – sometime in the next five to six years.
And there’s the rub. I’m impatient. I don’t want IE7 today, I want IE8 today. That it took Microsoft over five years to start working on the successor to IE6 is unforgivable. They abandoned the web development community and did what they could to kill progress in web development, whether on purpose or not, it doesn’t really matter. That we were able to do what we did, given the horrible state of IE6′s standards support, is impressive and we should be proud of it as an industry.
Now that they are working on IE again, what should our reaction be? Should we be angry? Should we embrace them? Can we embrace them angrily? I think the time for anger is over, and as soon as the next beta comes out (which I’ve been promised will have the final standards features in it and all that will change are security features), it’s time to get to work.
And for those of you who use standards mode and are complaining about having to change your CSS to change or remove the CSS “hacks” you used… you were warned a long time ago about managing hacks (at least in June 2004 by Molly). The fact that IE didn’t change in 6 years is really no excuse. Hacks are just that – hacks. They’re going to change. And, Microsoft is actually doing the right thing and not changing how pages are rendered in quirks mode at all. So, if you’re using standards mode, you should know what you’re doing. If you don’t, well, you’ve got at least six months to learn (I don’t know when IE7 will be out of beta, I’m guessing).
It’s time to move from anger and denial to acceptance, even if it’s begrudging. IE7 will not get the market share that IE6 has. Firefox has 30% usage in Europe, and now over 10% in the US and growing. IE7 is not going to get the 90%+ market share that IE6 once had, just because it’s only on Windows XP SP2. This is a good thing for the other browsers, and a good thing for web developers, because I think the adoption rate for IE7 will be slow and gradual, which is a good thing.
We can be angry. We have lots of reason to be. We can be angry about all the things that aren’t going to be in IE7. But, let’s at least recognize that IE is finally moving forward and that we think most of the things we want (display:table) will be in future version – that we hopefully won’t have to wait five years for. Microsoft deserves some credit for its new openness, with the IEBlog, their outreach at conferences and their work in the W3C. Embrace the change, get used to it, move on to acceptance and get to work (when the next beta comes out).

16 thoughts on “Accepting Small Progress Gracefully: IE7”

  1. Mixed feelings
    On one hand this is great, we will finally be able to share more code between IE7 and other browsers. On the other hand, we will still need to support IE 5.5 – 6 for a while. Which means that QA will have to be done on one more browser. And its not like this new browser will work without tweaks. If it stands between IE6 and FF, it means it will required special attention.
    arrgh… happy or angry?

  2. I’m starting to wonder if Microsoft didn’t put just enough effort to curb the advance of alternative browsers.
    I mean the real pro-standards approach would have been to wait (what’s another 5 years) until they were able to deliver a browser up to par with today’s browser market.
    That’s not what they did, they hurried to muddy the browser market with a half-assed attempt at a standards-compliant browser that will make the adoption by the larger public of real modern browsers.
    Just wondering that’s all.

  3. I’m starting to wonder if Microsoft didn’t put just enough effort to curb the advance of alternative browsers.
    I mean the real pro-standards approach would have been to wait (what’s another 5 years) until they were able to deliver a browser up to par with today’s browser market.
    That’s not what they did, they hurried to muddy the browser market with a half-assed attempt at a standards-compliant browser that will make the adoption by the larger public of real modern browsers.
    Just wondering that’s all.

  4. I’m starting to wonder if Microsoft didn’t put just enough effort to curb the advance of alternative browsers.
    I mean the real pro-standards approach would have been to wait (what’s another 5 years) until they were able to deliver a browser up to par with today’s browser market.
    That’s not what they did, they hurried to muddy the browser market with a half-assed attempt at a standards-compliant browser that will make the adoption by the larger public of real modern browsers.
    Just wondering that’s all.

  5. IE7 is finally picking off IE6′s bugs and shortcomings one at a time.
    Unfortunately, it has been said that IE7 will not address one issue that is much more relevant now than 5 years ago when IE6 was released: the application/xml+html mime type. I agree that IE7 usage will always be limited by the windows versions/patch levels it is allowed to run on (I don’t see much more than 30% after 5 years).
    The only real way to force developers to write compliant markup is for browser vendors to abandon quirks mode completely, or at the very least prompt the user to accept invalid documents before entering quirks mode. Fault tolerance in browsers is out of control.

  6. Kevin, this is a great post. It totally reflects what I think as a Netizen, a part-time Web developer and web content producer.
    I would like to point that Firefox is more around 20% market share in Europe overall than 30%, if I believe the latest XitiMonitor.com numbers.
    http://www.xitimonitor.com/etudes/equipement13.asp
    (But we’ll get there, eventually: I work hard on this!)
    In the meantime, some countries such as Germany, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia have reached 30% market share, or are very close to it.

  7. Tristan, thank you. Sorry I got the number wrong – but I’m sure I heard it from some reputable source, or a blog… can’t remember. Even 20% is an amazing achievement for a non-OEM browser from a non-monopolist (which I didn’t even mention in my post).
    And to Sebastien, I’m actually willing to ignore Microsoft’s underlying motivation for developing IE7. It’s pretty clear that they saw their market share eroding, and eroding quickly. I’m OK with that. We finally have competition in the browser market again, which will mean more rapid innovation, which, as long as it’s based on implementing standards, I’m ecstatic about.

  8. Dracos,
    Please, it’s not application/xml+html, it’s application/xhmtl+xml.
    I’ve never seen it so often misquoted as since the IEBlog made that mistake that time , later to be repeted by the WASP
    And I agree with you that this problem is big. To me it sets back real XHTML another 5 to 10 years.

  9. Dracos,
    Please, it’s not application/xml+html, it’s application/xhmtl+xml.
    I’ve never seen it so often misquoted as since the IEBlog made that mistake that time , later to be repeted by the WASP
    And I agree with you that this problem is big. To me it sets back real XHTML another 5 to 10 years.

  10. Dracos,
    Please, it’s not application/xml+html, it’s application/xhmtl+xml.
    I’ve never seen it so often misquoted as since the IEBlog made that mistake that time , later to be repeted by the WASP
    And I agree with you that this problem is big. To me it sets back real XHTML another 5 to 10 years.

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