Automatically opting-in to IE8’s Standards Mode

As some of you have read (or heard), WaSP organized a Round Table discussion on IE8’s standards mode and its default behavior of opting-out any sites that don’t engage in version targeting. We discussed a few different aspects of the issues this presents for standards-aware developers (and progress on the web in general) and discussed a few tacks Microsoft could take to make IE8 more standardista-friendly.

One proposal that, to me, appeared to hold the most promise was one that involved extending IE8’s scheme of automatically opting-in unknown valid DOCTYPEs to also include Strict DOCTYPEs of HTML and XHTML currently in use. The current proposal hinges on the relative popularity (or unpopularity) of a given DOCTYPE: unrecognized DOCTYPEs are assumed to be future or custom DOCTYPEs and will automatically be opted-in to the latest and greatest standards mode of any given future version of IE; that is, until that DOCTYPE becomes “popular” enough to warrant associating it with a given version of IE. This, in a nutshell, means that if a new DOCTYPE were to come along after IE8 launches—say, HTML 5—IE8 would render it in standards mode, but if that DOCTYPE became “popular” before IE9 came out, IE9 would likely act as though it was IE8 when rendering those pages.

Chris Wilson did not have numbers on the relative popularity of Strict mode DOCTYPEs vs. Transitional and Frameset on either HTML or XHTML, but given that most authoring tools do not automatically generate Strict documents, it is a strong possibility that the popularity of Strict mode DOCTYPEs may make them a candidate for being automatically opted-in to standards mode, at least in IE8. That would be great news for standards-aware developers who want IE8’s standards improvements, but don’t want to engage in version targeting.

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