Since getting Internet Explorer 7 out the door in October 2006, Microsoft has kept mostly silent on the topic of its successor. That changed today, as Microsoft made a couple of significant announcements about IE8.
Internal builds of Internet Explorer 8 have passed the Acid2 test, a complex rendering test designed to demonstrate a browser's compliance with the letter of the HTML and CSS specs. Currently, Mac OS X browsers OmniWeb and Safari and cross-platform Opera pass the test, as do the betas of Firefox 3.0.
Although Acid2 has become a significant benchmark for standards compliance, it's not really a true standards compliance test. In 2005, IE developer Chris Wilson referred to it as a "'wish list' of features" the test's authors would like to have supported in a browser. Still, it's an important milestone for the IE and its developers, as the application has been criticized over the years for its lack of compliance with standards—including by Opera in its antitrust complaint filed with the European Commission last week. (In fact, if the release version of IE8 supports Acid2, Microsoft could argue to the EC that it is at least as standards-compliant as the competition.)
A pre-beta build of IE8 passing the Acid2 test
Better interoperability and support for web standards are high priorities for the IE8 team, according to IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch. "The key goal (for the Web Standards Project as well as many other groups and individuals) is interoperability," wrote Hachamovitch on the IEBlog. "As a developer, I'd prefer to not have to write the same site multiple times for different browsers… With respect to standards and interoperability, our goal in developing Internet Explorer 8 is to support the right set of standards with excellent implementations and do so without breaking the existing web." A laudable goal, to be sure, but the millions of users still on IE6 ensure that the problem won't be going away anytime soon.
The IE team has to walk a fine line between tight support for W3C standards and making sure sites coded for earlier versions of IE still display correctly. Hachamovitch notes that web developers have had to develop sites with two audiences in mind: IE users and everybody else. "We have a responsibility to respect the work that sites have already done to work with IE," he says. Microsoft's goal with IE8 is a browser that renders the same pages that work in IE6 and IE7 while making "the development of the next billion pages, in an interoperable way, much easier."
Microsoft will reveal more information on IE8 during its annual MIX Conference in March 2008. The company does plan on releasing a public beta of IE8 some time during the first half of 2008. If the development cycle for IE7 is any indication, the final version of IE8 should ship 9 or 10 months after the first beta arrives.