IE7 Is Better, But Won’t Pass ‘Acid2’ Standards Test

Microsoft has signaled while its next version of the Internet Explorer Web browser, IE7, will be improved, it will not pass the browser standards test known as Acid2, and will not address all of the issues that hold up Explorer developers, including Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) implementation and support.

The news came from Microsoft’s Chris Wilson, Program Manager for the Web Platform in Internet Explorer, who wrote in the Explorer blog that while his team is focused on easing Explorer development, the browser — which has seen increased competition from the likes of Mozilla’s Firefox — is lagging in some categories.

“We fully recognize that IE is behind the game today in CSS support,” Wilson said. “We’ve dug through the Acid2 test and analyzed IE’s problems with the test in some great detail, and we’ve made sure the bugs and features are on our list. However, there are some fairly large and difficult features to implement, and they will not all sort to the top of the stack in IE7.”

Biting Biggest Bugs

In his blog, Wilson reported the software giant’s Web platform team had put the highest priority on security and addressing mechanical issues such as buffer overruns, but also working on innovative anti-phishing and “low rights IE,” which limits access for some users.

“Our next major priority is removing the biggest causes of difficulty for Web developers,” Wilson wrote. “To that end, we’ve dug through a lot of sites detailing IE bugs that cause pain for Web developers, like Position is Everything and Quirksmode, and categorized and investigated those issues.”

Wilson added that IE7 provides additional HTML 4.01 ABBR tag, CSS 2.1 and other support.

“I want to be clear that our intent is to build a platform that fully complies with the appropriate Web standards, in particular CSS 2 (2.1 once it’s been recommended),” he wrote. “I think we will make a lot of progress against that in IE7 through our goal of removing the worst painful bugs that make our platform difficult to use for Web developers.”

Dropped for Deadlines

Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld the paring down and prioritization that has precluded some features and enhancements is not limited to the Explorer browser.

“This is cutting across the entire Windows Vista launch,” he said, referring to the next-generation operating system from Microsoft, which is expected in its first beta form this month.

Enderle said by dropping some things to make its deadlines for Explorer and Vista, Microsoft was sending a mixed message.

“The bad news is some things have been dropped out to make their deadline,” he said. “The good news is, they’re going to make their date with the product launch.”

Moving Tech Target

Webroot vice president of threat research Richard Stiennon was critical of Microsoft’s history of seeking its own protocols for Web browsers, a market that is dominated less and less by Internet Explorer.

“They should be complying with Web standards and should be starting to work beyond their own browser,” Stiennon told TechNewsWorld.

The analyst added although Microsoft may make its latest target dates for Explorer and Vista, it seemed strange that a company with Microsoft’s resources would be “cutting corners” at all.

Enderle, however, indicated Microsoft’s Wilson had a point in referring to the Acid2 Test as more of a “wish list,” and “pointedly less of a compliance test.”

“It tends to be a moving target in any case,” Enderle said, referring to changing Web Standards Project and other standards, specs and tests.

Enderle also said despite Microsoft’s admission that Explorer was “behind the game” in CSS support, other browsers, including challengers such as Firefox and Netscape, are in a similar state.

“The real question is how they balance security, usability and time-to-market,” he said. “Every vendor — it doesn’t matter whether it’s Microsoft, Firefox, Netscape — they are all going to have to make those choices.”

Enderle said browser software can typically be changed quite significantly even after the operating system is “frozen,” or finalized.

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