Microsoft’s next-generation web browser, Internet Explorer 8, is now available.
Perhaps its most notable feature is IE8’s new standards compliance. Microsoft announced that the browser will ship with default settings configured to pass the Acid2 face test.
While this may sound abstract to many, this announcement thrilled the basement of web designers I was with at the Rhode Island School of Design on the night of its release. The change testifies both to Microsoft’s new commitment to standards and openness, and the cooling of the browser wars of the 1990’s. Netscape is gone, Firefox is open source. There’s more money to be made by beating Adobe and Apple over rich media (video and flash), or besting Google in search.
This represents a change in psychology for Microsoft. Why should the developer of the browser used by 70%+ of the market, take standards from an external group who only indirectly represents their end users? First, standards please developers, they relieve web page writers for designing to specific browsers (that’s what thrilled the RISD students). Second, playing well with others pleases regulators. While it would be easy to frame this as a response to scrutiny of Microsoft’s acquisition of Yahoo, IE has been proceeding towards compliance for years. The Microhoo merger may just have quickened its arrival a bit.
IE8 comes pre-integrated with Facebook LiveMaps and Ebay, and has improved AJAX capability. It will be a year until the browser is out of beta, and another two years until its dominant. Meanwhile, those happy RISD web designers, will still be designing for IE7 as well as standards compliant browsers.