IE 11 and Standards – Oh the Sweet Irony!

Internet Explorer is any web developer’s worst nightmare. Developers would spend months building and perfecting the greatest website in the world, all the while testing it on Chrome or Firefox, only to open it on Internet Explorer one day to find it looks like a complete abomination. They would then have to spend hours more putting in special tweaks, quirks and what not to make the page appear correctly on the browser from hell. Most times, they give up and just show a gimped version of the page with limited functionality. The situation was so bad that some retailers decided to tax IE users to the website to recuperate the extra development costs (usually anywhere between 30% to 100% of the project costs) associated with building the IE specific version of their website.

But non-standard features and quirks were only one end of the spectrum. The other problem was how slow IE had been to adopt new features and web standards. But because it was the dominant browser at the time, and Windows the dominant platform, Microsoft called all the shots. If you wanted to build websites, you knew you would do it right the first time, and you would then deliberately go back and carefully break it to make it work on IE, which is what most visitors to your website would end up seeing. Sure, some people used Firefox, Safari, etc, but IE still commanded well over 80% of the market.

But that all changed when smartphones like the iPhone and Androids came out. Suddenly, everyone was accessing the web primarily on the phones, tablets and other gadgets, and these devices had browsers that worked. Properly. Without requiring special tweaks or hacks. A few more years later and Internet Explorer had slowly begun its demise into irrelevancy.

According to the latest stats from Statcounter, IE captures a humble 15% of the market now, down from about 70% in 2009. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Sites like Wikipedia report about the same (17% as of Feb 2014).

So now that the tide has turned, and the users that matter and developers that managed to retain their sanity have all turned their backs to IE, it looks like all the bad karma Microsoft built up by screwing developers around is coming to bite them in the rear end.

You see, Microsoft have this mobile platform called Windows Phone which has spectacularly failed to capture the hearts of users (surprise!) even after being on the market for over 3 years now, and currently languishes with somewhere around 3% of the global smartphone market. Naturally, this platform runs IE, and Microsoft have just released a new version that they claim is the most standards compliant browser ever (I have my doubts of course).

The problem Microsoft is having is most web servers out there see Internet Explorer, and immediately hand out a borked version of the web page that has been carefully broken so it works on IE. But even though IE has finally pulled its pants up and caught up with the rest of the world, they find that it still gets handed the specially broken version from yesteryear.

IE 11 Before and After

And Microsoft aren’t happy. They still want everyone to fix their stuff so it works with IE, but no one seems to care anymore. So what do they do? They tell IE to masquerade as Firefox. That’s right, IE specific pages don’t work on IE anymore, so IE has to pretend it is Firefox to display the page properly. And therin lies the irony.

Its good to finally see Microsoft, who have been foisting their broken browser on developers and users for decades, finally having to do what Mozilla, Opera and other browsers have always been doing – adapt to the world around them, instead of forcing the world to adapt to them.

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