The company will be inviting testers to take a second look at IE8, which will include support for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) 2.1, a standard for separating the appearance of a Web page from its content. CCS is managed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and version 2.1, which has reached the “final recommendation” phase, is already supported by most other browsers.
Pete LePage, a product manager with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Division originally from Mississauga, Ont., said the company has mostly finished the new rendering engine it will need to support CSS 2.1, but developers will also be able to use old one.
“In much older sites you might see some problems,” LePage admitted, adding that it shouldn’t be difficult to fix any issues with IE8. “It could be as simple as adding a metatag at the top of the page, for example.”
Upstart browsers such as Firefox, Opera and Apple’s Safari already work with CSS, which means developers may have extra work involved if they want their sites to appear the same in IE as well. Matt Rosoff, an analyst with independent research firm Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash., said the software giant is trying to take a rational approach to being a better participant in standards without totally compromising the user experience.
“This is Microsoft cleaning up a mess that Microsoft in large part created,” he said. “”They didn’t implement standards in the same way other browsers did. Now that IE8 is moving closer to standards compliance, some of these older sites might appear broken.”
LePage defended Microsoft’s slow march to the standard, pointing out that Microsoft has donated 3,700 tests to the CSS test site.
“When we were working on IE6, the CSS 2.1 spec wasn’t even done,” he said. “This is not a look back for us. It’s just something we felt was the right thing to do. We’re trying to provide an easy way for the end user or the developer to work with us.”
Microsoft is also highlighting InPrivate Browsing, a feature that will allow users to surf sites without the browser storing any cookies, passwords, words typed into the address bar, search queries, temporary Internet files or form data from the browsing session. The feature was quickly dubbed “porn mode” by the blogosphere, but LePage offered a much more PG use-case scenario: a man secretly looking online for an engagement ring. “Everyone will use IE for what they want to use it for,” he said, shrugging off the allusions to adult entertainment.
Consumers may welcome InPrivate browsing but many companies are forbidding employees to visit certain Web sites during office hours, including social networking sites such as Facebook. LePage couldn’t offer any details on how IT departments would grapple with InPrivate Browsing.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure on that one,” he said. “I would assume there’s something you could do at the proxy level.”
Rosoff said there would probably be a workaround in the browser’s group policy settings. “If a site has been blocked, it’s going to be blocked even if it’s in an InPrivate Session,” he said, adding that InPrivate browsing might be useful on Web sites accessed by a company’s partners.
Other features in IE8 Beta 2 include “Web slices” that mark up regularly visited pages, Accelerators that offer short cuts to functions by clicking on page elements and In-line Search, which could speed up the process of finding the right sites or pages on a site. Microsoft plans to launch the final version of IE8 sometime later this year.