If I didnt know better, Id say Microsoft were deliberately holding up progress on the web. The company that arguably dragged the masses into using PCs at home with Windows 95 (Im sticking my head above the parapit here) and brought computing into the 21st century are now desperately trying to keep us back in the 20th century. The failings of Internet Explorer 6 are the millstone around every web developers neck, its blatant disregard for web standards forces us to use two sets of markup for every website we produce. Not only do we have to do the job twice, but the IE6 version is almost always trickier and takes longer to perfect than its modern browser counterpart.
I dont completely blame Microsoft for this, IE6 is a technology that shipped with their operating system back in 2003, an OS so good that even now many people refuse to upgrade. Partly this is down to the disaster that was Windows Vista, but more likely that in general people are comfortable and familiar with XP, so cant see the need to upgrade their OS.
Kill IE6 say Microsoft
Microsoft have appointed people to kill off their old browser, whose sole job it is to bring the user base for IE6 and IE7 down to zero. Or at least thats what they say. Keeping the same OS does not stop them upgrading their browser say Microsoft, and IE7, IE8 and soon, IE9 are all freely available from the Microsoft website, so why the hold up?
Well, first of all you are required to download a small application that verifies that your installtion of Windows is genuine. Like the launderette washing machine in "The Young Ones" when they realise they need 50p, I can hear a deafening silence. Thats right, Microsoft want you to trust them to install a little spyware app of theirs to make sure you are not ripping them off in any way before you can have access to their latest browser. Did you get that copy of Microsoft Office Professional on a student discount? Do you really want the local bobby snooping around your house making sure everything is ship shape, even if it is?
By Microsofts own estimates, the share of illegal XP installations in south America and Less economically developed countries is running at around 90%. Thats a hell of a lot of IE6 users worldwide then, and an impossible task for the new Microsoft team. As if this bad situation could get worse, Microsoft developed the IE7 browser that fixed some IE6 bugs, but introduced a whole lot more. Just to show once again that they have lost none of their arrogance, IE7 took flaunting of web standards to new heights, and to prove they dont learn from past mistakes, shipped it with Vista. Thankfully for us as it turns out, Vista was widely rejected, with many people opting for a "downgrade" back to XP. PC retailers too reverted their new stock to the old OS before IE7 could take a real hold.
MS responded (and I use the term loosely) with what has turned out to be a decent successor to XP in Windows 7. Whats more it ships with IE8, a browser that fixes most of the bugs present in both previous versions of Internet Explorer. Web developers the world over can rejoice at last; the news is that IE finally renders pages using the same markup that every other major browser has been doing for years. Are Microsoft really taking web standards seriously?
Sadly not. While MS were patting themselves on the back that they had finally produced what should have been a half decent browser in IE8, the rest of the web world had moved on.
HTML5 & CSS3
Many web developers are itching to get going with HTML5. Its not just a new generation of HTML, it completely rewrites the rules about how web pages are constructed. It has features that allow developers to place less reliance on flash and more control over the CSS to produce graphical elements within web pages. The future of web design is here, now.
Sadly though, history has a habit of repeating itself, and IE8 does not support HTML5 or CSS3. It looks as if IE8 is around to stay for the forseeable future so webbies stop rejoicing. The dark ages are not over and we are back to developing at least two seperate sets of markup for every site. One for the modern world and one for IE8 users. Even worse, IE6 and IE7 users are still around and still occupy a fearsome market share, so if your sites rely on this demographic, you may need three sets of markup.
Internet Explorer 9
When this finally appears, it features some support for HTML5 and CSS3. This is far too little, and way too late, the die is cast - Windows 7 comes with IE8 as standard and the Microsoft upgrade path still requires that they inspect your PC. Even if those South Americans upgrade their OS to an illegal version of Windows 7, theyre stuck with IE8. And so are we.
To see how far theyve come with IE8, take a look at the HTML5/CSS3 features table below: