One of the problems with Microsoft is they’re so big. They can break standards and get away with it. No released version of Internet Explorer has been close to standards compliant. In the past, they’ve gone so far as making up new HTML tags on their own. Web developers were sometimes forced to develop elaborate workarounds to get their pages to display the same way in various browsers. With Microsoft’s browser dominance slowly eroding, they’ve been taking steps toward better compliance.

Many developers built their pages for Internet Explorer 6 despite the fact that those pages wouldn’t display properly with more compliant browsers. Even IE7 didn’t properly display pages developed for IE6. Now that they’re working on IE8, they don’t want the same problem to occur.

The solution seems worse than the problem. IE8 has three rendering modes. By default, it will use ‘quirk mode,’ which follows all of the non-standard practices of previous IE versions. Pages built for those older browsers will display correctly. On the other hand, IE8 also supports a far more strict ‘standards mode’ rendering that will properly display compliant web pages.

The problem is how can the browser know which mode to use? If it defaults to standards mode, old pages will not display properly. If it defaults to strict mode, properly constructed pages may not display properly. Microsoft, being Microsoft, has decided those who have developed non-standard web pages in the past are more important. IE8 will default to ‘quirk mode.’ To get the browser to render a standards compliant page properly, the page must include a new meta tag to tell the browser to switch to the standards mode rendering engine:

<meta http-equiv=“X‑UA-Compatible” content=“IE=8” />

Can you feel the stupidity? To properly display a web page that’s not browser-specific, Microsoft wants the page designer has to include browser-specific information. Hello? Another sample of the meta tag I’ve seen includes references to other browsers, indicating Microsoft’s hope that others will embrace this (non-)standard.

I can’t imagine other browser will cooperate. Why should everyone change what they’re doing to fix Microsoft’s problem? Simply display a standards compliant page properly and discard quirk mode. The transition may be difficult, but introducing browser-specific requirements is precisely how Microsoft created this mess in the first place. I suspect this meta tag will not catch on because unlike IE, other browsers are far more compliant and have no need for this crutch. They don’t have a legacy of non-standards to come back and bite them in the ass.

I certainly have no plans to use their poxy meta tag here. If your browser doesn’t display a standards-compliant page correctly, your beef is with the people who made the browser. Leave me out of it.