X-UA-Compatible: Moving past thoughts of the children

By Lachlan Hardy
2053h Wednesday, 23 January 2008 Permalink

Fight the Power!

Standardistas the world over are burning their bras and thinking of the children. Folks are raising hell over a single line of HTML and I can see why. Becoming a standardista gave me my passion for the web and led into an entirely new world that has offered me more opportunities for every aspect of my life. So I get it. I know why folks are upset. There’s a little part of my brain that wants to scream: “It’s just wrong !”

But it’s only a small part, and the rest of it is thinking: no matter what you think of that single line of code, it’s coming. It will be implemented. Chris Wilson’s post linked above, in combination with Aaron’s excellent article outlining some of the reasoning behind X-UA-Compatible and Eric’s considered piece on his changing perceptions of the switch , aren’t exactly media releases but do represent a considerable amount of forethought and planning. They represent a decision.

Know Your Enemies

Microsoft doesn’t tell you it’s going to do something of this scale unless it means it. So, regardless of where you come down on the pavement of good intentions, I want to talk about what X-UA-Compatible means to developers, businesses, users and clients. If you want flame wars, there are plenty of other folks packing ‘throwers in the comments of any of those posts (and countless others). Let’s leave thoughts of poor broken pages aside and keep this to asking interesting questions

What’s a battle?

Questions like:

  1. What does the capability to lock your site to a single version of IE mean for your development cycle?
  2. What do the IE7 users checking out my shiny locked-to IE8 site see?
  3. How does this affect my business decisions?
  4. How does this affect my boss/client/manager’s business decisions?
  5. Does this encourage innovation or stifle it?
  6. Will this practically mean less time debugging IE?
  7. What place has X-UA-Compatible in best practice methodologies?
  8. What is the significance that each of the men linked to in this post have gingery facial hair?*

Talk to me, Goose

I have a few answers to some of these questions, but not all and this isn’t a lecture. It’s a discussion. What are your answers? Even more importantly, what are your questions?

* I have photos to prove this allegation somewhere…


There are 12 comments on this post.

Ben Buchanan
2301h Wednesday, 23 January 2008 Permalink

(1 and 4) I think many businesses will decide that it makes no financial/resourcing sense to build for IE8. They’ll just argue that if it works in IE7, lock it down and move on. Why spend time/money to build/tweak/upgrade for new versions when you can just party like it’s 2006 from here on out? What motivation does The Business have?

So if something doesn’t work in IE7, forget about it chombatta - you don’t get to use it. Could have been worse. Could have been IE6.

(2) From the look of it, they’ll see standards mode but only as close as IE7 can render it.

(3) Not sure yet.

(5) Well… specific sites will be able to keep trying new stuff. But in a broad sense I can’t see this helping promote innovation. Really committed people will still do cool stuff, lazy developers will stay lazy (or get worse).

(6) Not until IE6 is dead in any case. Most of my bugfixing is still based on IE6.

(7) We spend forever specifying that we really meant the DOCTYPE. It has a greater impact on crappy-practice methodologies, as they are legitimised. “Hey Microsoft said it was ok to keep building in quirks mode forever!”

(8) Does it qualify as a redhead cluster phenomenon? Get Joe Clark on the case!

Andrew K.
1245h Thursday, 24 January 2008 Permalink

There is a definite freedom in not giving a shit.

Party on Wayne.

Cam MacRae
1435h Thursday, 24 January 2008 Permalink

You got me thinking about browser market share across our sites, so I took a peek at one of the larger sites. For 3.4m visitors last month:

  • MSIE has 79.9% share
    • 51.6% are on IE7
    • 48.1% are on IE6
  • FF has 15.88% share
    • 98% are on 2.x

On point 1, if IE8 adoption is as slow as that of IE7, it will be incredibly tempting to solve IE8 breakage with X-UA-Compatible - at least until such a time as the UI is overhauled (not very frequently).

3-4: It’s business as usual until IE8 breaks out of niche browser status.

5: MSIE has always been broken, but this hasn’t prevented innovation so much as forced devs to innovate around it.

6: Probably not. As you can see from our figures, we still need to work around IE6. IE8 is meant to be mostly standards compliant, so I imagine most development will occur FF–>IE7(bugfix)–>IE6(bugfix)

7: No place whatsoever. It’s a horrible hack.

I should mention that those browser stats are for the Australian market.

Brian Farrell
0134h Friday, 25 January 2008 Permalink

Lets be honest here, the reason we include bug fixes (hacks) in our pages is because we actually care about cross browser viability of what we produce. We will do what needs to be done to get our content out there so just pass the cool aid.

However, what happens when the version given is wrong? If the developer is lazy or really doesn’t have a clue how will IE handle it?

This may (heavy doubts here) be a great advancement but what happens when the information provided is wrong?

Aaron Gustafson
1435h Thursday, 24 January 2008 Permalink

What is the significance that each of the men linked to in this post have gingery facial hair?

Finally, someone put two and two together ;-)

But seriously, thanks for the thoughtful post Lach.

2152h Wednesday, 06 February 2008 Permalink

I love this quote by Chris Wilson from the ie8 blog: “The answer is that developers of many sites had worked around many of the shortcomings or outright errors in IE6, and now expected IE7 to work just like IE6.”

It is just so wrong that it makes me want to extract my brains with a yabbie pump. We want something better than IE6 which we know is a fundamentally bad browser; we want IE7 to behave less like IE6.

To answer one of your pertinent questions, it may save some time when you’re firing up 3 versions of IE for checking; but if you’re keen, you’ll still have to spend time checking in win2k, XP, vista etc and we’ll still have to wrangle our CSS to cater for 3 browsers. I think they should focus their energies on trying to make people upgrade rather than making them comfortable living in the past. pah! :)

0125h Thursday, 21 February 2008 Permalink

Why spend time/money to build/tweak/upgrade for new versions when you can just party like it’s 2006 from here on out? What motivation does The Business have?

Short term, yup. But in the long term, I’m hoping that there will be enough cool stuff (CSS 3, HTML 5) to make The Business want to get savvy with the standards, and move on from IE 7.

If there isn’t, it doesn’t say much for the quality of those standards. They’re here to serve us, not the other way around.

Andy Sharp
1530h Tuesday, 03 June 2008 Permalink

@Cam MacRae

I think those browser stats go across the board. They’re pretty similar in Europe.

1530h Tuesday, 03 June 2008 Permalink

I try the Internet Explorer 8, and my opinion is, that the Internet Explorer 8 is much better, than the Internet Explorer 7. But everybody has to find the advantages and the disadvantages for his self, because there are so many different individual claims, everybody has in the Internet Explorer. Things that are running better on the Internet Explorer 7 than on the Internet Explorer 8 for some people could be the opponent way for other people. For that reason everybody has to find for his self which Internet Explorer is the best for him and his claims and needs. So it is not that easy way to say which IE is better.

bob e
0610h Tuesday, 13 January 2009 Permalink

What does the IE6 user see if I have “X-UA-Compatible” content=”IE=7” ?

Lachlan Hardy
1315h Sunday, 18 January 2009 Permalink

@bob It’ll have no effect on IE6. IE6 simply doesn’t recognise X-UA-Compatible.

2247h Tuesday, 10 March 2009 Permalink

I would like to write something about question one.

In my opinion, it is a matter of how many people we want to serve with our website and how much effort we want to put into that. I mean of course we want to serve everyone but lets think about the trade off. Could we achieve more visitors when we spend our time with other activities instead of trying to make our website okay for every browser?

Cheers alex

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