22 January 2008

Meta tag mishmash

This will make no sense unless you’ve read the following:

If you know what all of these places are, care what they have to say, and haven’t read them, do so now. I’ll still be here when you come back.

This approach amounts to, “require Web operators to opt-in if they intend to stick to the latest and greatest.” Five years out, this is going to result in a lot of rendering engine bloat and the bugs that go along with that, but Microsoft has plenty incentive to avoid that without badgering from standards advocate. They probably also have some insitutional memory with respect to solving that problem (though the question of whether or not they put it to use is another matter entirely).

Who wins, who loses

This situation begs a game analysis.

  • Good for Microsoft: customers don’t yell so much, and are more likely to accept version upgrades of IE (along with their security benefits)
  • Bad for Microsoft: improperly used, the recommended change in practice ultimately leaves Microsoft open to the same charges of deliberate somnolence they faced as a result of letting IE6 rot outright for something like four years: why improve your browser if no-one’s using its features? Given Microsoft’s track record, the possibility of this outcome needs to be taken seriously.
  • Good for professionals: there will be a mechanism by which developers can avoid passing on sudden and gratuitously fortuitous labor charges because oops! IE was updated and changes were made to the rendering engine
  • Bad for professionals: it becomes necessary to keep track of which sites are tethered to which versions of Internet Explorer, which is very close to the outcome WaSP was founded to avoid
  • Good for users: version upgrades will no longer result in the entire Web experience going wonky all of a sudden one morning
  • Bad for users: sitebuilders and their sponsors now have a perfect crutch for keeping their sites in the Stone Age

Is the good worth the bad?

In the long run, I believe so… especially if guys like me step up to the plate and keep on educating people.

1 comment:

Sarah said...


why improve your browser if no-one’s using its features?


That's the problem with this proposal.

(1) Using the feature requires knowing and caring about the feature in the first place. People like you and I might not design sites in such ways that require a specific version of IE (hell, stuff I'm writing for site administration requires Firefox 2.0 or Safari 3.0 before it even works reasonably well, and only Safari 3 because Safari 2's namespace handling is Entirely and Completely Fscked up); but that doesn't count for 99% of the pages out there which are built by people who only care that it looks good in what they have available - which generally means some version of IE.

(2) By making this an opt-in feature, it's playing right into Microsoft's hand. Opting into standards is the wrong way to go about it - if you want the behavior of an older (incorrect, in the case of IE) version, you should have to explicitly specify it; having to explicitly specify that you want the browser to behave correctly... well, yeah.

So:

Good for Microsoft: Of course. The browser threatens their desktop monopoly - see also, Google Apps.

Bad for Microsoft: Over the long term, perhaps. Over the short to medium term - people still willingly use IE6. Not required by work but willingly.

Basically, regardless of whether the recommended change in practice leaves them open for the same charges of leaving IE alone as they were before, they don't lose.

Good for professionals: As far as the point here goes... IE point releases fscked over it's rendering before, and I wouldn't put it past them to do it again.

Bad for professionals: See my second point - by making it opt-in instead of opt-out, the only people who opt in are the professionals. When only the professionals (the most knowledgeable of the population, sure, but also very much the vocal minority) know about and use the feature, that leaves Microsoft no reason to actually update their browser in the future... meaning we'll be stuck developing for IE7 and [whatever is it's modern competitor] for years to come, unless IE dies a slow and horrible death.

Good for users: Um, how? The whole "version X.Y.Z" rendering thing I refute above, which eliminates any benefit for users.

Bad for users: No worse than it was before - the crutch they were looking for was introduced with doctype switching back a few versions ago. Unspecified (or various *old* doctypes), IIRC, results in quirks mode rendering in IE6, and IE6 compatible rendering in IE7...

Would the good be worth the bad?

It might be. But I don't see the benefits of an "opt-in to compliance' system myself... an opt-out-of-compliance system, not far from the current implementation of doctype switching, would be reasonable - and (as someone mentioned on zeldman.com) a signal to the site owner that their site might be getting just a wee bit old.