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Microsoft often says it’s pro-standards – but typically, they’d rather own a proprietary interface or protocol than build a compatible system.

As I relaunched the new design of my site,NewsCloud, with very straightforward/simple CSS, I expected it would work in all browsers. Instead we discovered, it worked terribly in Internet Explorer. IE 6 and IE 7 failed to render even basic columnar layouts in CSS. What was going on?

At first, we put up a No Internet Explorer page. IE users would come to our site and be redirected to a page telling them why we recommend Firefox. Thispissed a lot of people off (according to this study IE still represents 60% of Web market share).

This post made me reconsider:

“So the first thing that 98% of the people who might visit your site see is a message telling them they are WRONG in the browser they use?  You aren’t even showing them any reason why they should upgrade their browser in order to see YOUR site.  You aren’t boycotting Microsoft here – you are boycotting your own audience. Why not let people using IE see what your site can do, albeit not perfectly, and let them know that they would have a better experience if they used Firefox?  After all, your site depends on audience/editors, and if you immediately drive most of them away…”

So, now IE users see a small banner at the top of NewsCloud. We’ve been able to get the columns to layout with a short additional IE-only CSS file, but a number of features look weird (our primary navigation for one) … and many buttons don’t respond still.

What is going on? This Firefox user shared a statistical analysis with me:

CSS 2.1 standard support:
IE 6: 52%
IE 7: 54%
Firefox 1.5: 93%
Opera 8.5: 93%
Opera 9: 96%

Source

Now I know why IE renders simple CSS so terribly. Microsoft isn’t even trying to implement the standard. This article by Paul Thurrott – noted Windows columnist – calls IE 7 a cancer:

The most critical point in Wilson’s post, in my mind, is Microsoft’s admission that it will fail the crucial Acid2 browser-compliance test , which the Web Standards Project (WaSP) designed to help browser vendors ensure that their products properly support Web standards. Microsoft apparently disagrees. “Acid2 … is pointedly not a compliance check,” Wilson noted, contradicting the description on the Acid2 Web site. “As a wish list, [Acid2] is really important and useful to my team, but it isn’t even intended, in my understanding, as our priority list for IE 7.0.” Meanwhile, other browser teams have made significant efforts to comply with Acid2.

Microsoft blames backward-compatibility problems for the stalemate over true Web standards compatibility. Put succinctly, the company has gone its own way for so long and now has to support so many developers who use nonstandard Web technologies that it will be impossible to make IE Web-standards-compliant without breaking half the commercial Web sites on the planet. Furthermore, by halting all IE development for several years before reconstituting the IE team to create IE 7.0, Microsoft has set back Web development by an immeasurable amount of time.

My advice is simple: Boycott IE. It’s a cancer on the Web that must be stopped. IE isn’t secure and isn’t standards-compliant, which makes it unworkable both for end users and Web content creators.

Pretty strong words from Microsoft-advocate Thurrott.

Microsoft shareholders really need to ask Steve Ballmer – just what the hell have you guys been building into Vista the last five years since you released Windows XP? Did no one in the company hear from customers that CSS standards compliance was important? Thurrott seems to think it was an important customer priority.

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Reworking Internet Explorer x.x for CSS standards compliance is going to be a long project for Microsoft – one which they apparently don’t plan to start soon.  When Bill Gates speaks of delaying Vista until they get it right, I don’t think he’s thinking about CSS standards compliance.

This is sort of what I meant in this post when I mocked Microsoft VP Joe Belfiore for his “Innovate don’t replicate!” t-shirt. Sometimes Microsoft would do well to replicate the standards implementations – such as how Firefox has done such a great job on CSS compatibility.

Meanwhile, AppleInsider reports that Apple plans to preview Leopard tomorrow as Vista 2.0:

A banner on the second floor of the Moscone West — the host venue for this week’s World Wide Developers Conference — reads, “Mac OS X Leopard — Introducing Vista 2.0.” Similarly, one on the opposite end of the floor says, “Mac OS X Leopard — Hasta la Vista, Vista.”

Coincidentally, I spoke to my dad tonight. His Windows computer had stopped supporting his UBet horse racing video player (my dad’s owned race horse’s since I was a kid). Apparently, a Windows update or McAfee update caused this. He asked me what to do. “Dad, it’s time for you to buy a Mac, isn’t it?” I replied. “Maybe you should pay more attention to those Microsoft articles I wrote.”

Get Firefox!

Updates:

If you are interested in setting up a conditional (appears to IE visitors only) promotional banner for Firefox on your Web site, try this post on PHP Browser Detection and the Spread Firefox Affiliate program.

This post got Slashdotted earlier today. Since then I noticed unfortunately, that the Paul Thurrott article was actually written last August – in 2005. But the browser CSS compliance data for IE 7 is more current. Apparently, Microsoft decided not to actually do anything about their CSS compatibility. If you want to do something about it, set up a banner at the top of your Web site for Internet Explorer visitors too.

Posted by Jeff Reifman

Jeff is a technology consultant based in the Pacific Northwest. Try scheduling a meeting with his new startup Meeting Planner (https://meetingplanner.io), simpler, faster scheduling for work or play and read his series about building it). Follow @reifman on Twitter.