November 23rd, 2010

IE9 & Web Designers: What’s new, and what’s lacking in standards?

With its new browser (still in beta), Microsoft is making an aggressive, albeit incomplete, push toward supporting advanced web standards and web design.

Historically, Internet Explorer’s has lacked support for web standards, which has caused no lack of headaches for web designers wanting to create more powerful, dynamic and interactive websites. With IE8, Microsoft cracked open the door to web standards by supporting some, like CSS 2.1. That represented a major step forward for web designers to create more exciting and appealing websites. Now, IE9 is greeting tomorrow’s web by embracing today’s web standards.

But what does that mean? What can you do now that you couldn’t before? Read more to find out.

According to the Microsoft development team responsible for IE9:

“The Internet Explorer team focuses on providing rich, interoperable capabilities to Web developers. Developers have said they don’t want to have to rewrite and retest their Web sites again and again, and standards adoption in browsers helps to achieve this objective.” (1)

In other words, they’ve finally gotten on board with the fact that web standards make it easier for developers and designers to create better and more consistent web experiences. As a result, IE9 supports HTML5, which is backed by the World Wide Web (W3) Consortium (of which Microsoft is a member). HTML5 actually represents a broad swath of standards at varying stages of development. Support includes:

  • SVG Vector Graphics
  • HTML5 video and audio elements
  • CSS3
  • WOFF Web fonts

By supporting these advanced standards, web designers can start conceiving and implementing richer, more complex and more attractive sites.

Matching ambition with conservatism

Still, Microsoft won’t please everyone. The company has taken a conservative approach by only supporting those standards that are at a relatively advanced stage of development. So other desirable standards, like Web Workers (2), that may be early in development, or still in development flux, are not supported. IE9 takes some giant strides in a web standards direction, but it does not surpass or even catch up with other browsers in supporting cutting-edge standards.

Plus, IE9 does not support 100% of HTML5 and CSS3 functionality. For example, IE9 does not appear to support HTML5’s form elements (though this is subject to change, of course, pending the final release).

IE9 is opening the door to tomorrow’s web

Despite dramatic successes in the releases of Firefox, Chrome, Opera and other web browsers, Internet Explorer – in its various versions – still dominates.

In turn, Internet Explorer’s leading market share means that support in IE for a particular standard impacts how many web developers and designers start using that standard. For example, if a web developer doesn’t use CSS3 or HTML5, it’s likely because they know that a majority of web surfers use IE, and previously IE didn’t support them well. With IE9, web designers and developers alike will be able to implement much more exciting design elements into modern websites.

Not everyone will upgrade to IE9 – there are still IE6 users! – but with IE9 opening the doors to significant parts of HTML5 and CSS3 as well as other standards, the web can lurch forward. It will take time to feel the full effects, but that’s the keyword: it’s just a matter of time now.

REFERENCES
(1)   Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview Fact Sheet, www.microsoft.com/presspass/events/mix/docs/IE9FS.doc
(2)   Web Workers, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_Workers
(3)   Web Browser Usage Share September 2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Web_browser_usage_share.svg