You Made Your Bed, Now Lie in It

I read Joel Spolsky’s “Martian Headsets” post a while back, in which he discusses Microsoft’s about-face with regards to Internet Explorer 8 in terms of balancing backward-compatibility with standards compliance, as if they are necessarily incompatible. Mark Pilgrim followed up with this funny translation into colloquial English.

So I was reading Spolsky’s piece, and nodding, and sort of agreeing that his central premise was correct, and then I got to this part, the conclusion.

98% of the world will install IE8 and say, “It has bugs and I can’t see my sites.” They don’t give a flicking flick about your stupid religious enthusiasm for making web browsers which conform to some mythical, platonic “standard” that is not actually implemented anywhere. They don’t want to hear your stories about messy hacks. They want web browsers that work with actual web sites.

Damn straight we want web browsers that work with actual web sites. But I must beg to differ about 98% of the world installing Internet Exploder 8 of their own volition. If they’re not using Firefox 3.0 because their friends told them it’s the bomb, they’re still using AOL, or Internet Explorer 6 on Windows 2000, or maybe Internet Explorer 7 on Windows XP — but the only reason they switched to IE7 is because it just happened, and unless IE8 offers some compelling advantage, that is the only reason they will switch to IE8.

Oh, and the reason IE8 won’t work with some websites is not standards. Opera and Firefox and Safari do just fine. It’s Microsoft. Site developers have been kowtowing to Internet Explorer’s quirks for years, and have come up with tricks to make Internet Explorer display the site the way that they want the site to be displayed. Either they fork their content so that IE gets the “good stuff,” or they’re willingly putting in more effort to please those customers who just happen to be stuck with a browser older than my kids. (And, no, I don’t mean Netscape Communicator 4.0.) The way around that impasse is to quit being Internet Explorer. Quit asking for special treatment. Quit demanding a segregated web.

We want web browsers that just work with web sites. And we want them to just work whether we’ve chosen to use Microsoft Windows Vista, Apple iPhone, Nintendo Wii, or Ubuntu Linux.