Why IE isn’t standards compliant

I recently read a post that whines about the fact that Internet Explorer isn’t standards compliant. Boo hoo. Of course it isn’t standards compliant and if people understood how business works we could get IE to be strict on standards in 8 months.

To understand why IE isn’t standards compliant you need to understand how operating systems are sold.

Sales: We have a great new operating system. It has all sorts of great features, it’s more secure, robust, cost effective, it has great ROI, feature, feature, feature.

Business: Will all our business applications, devices and internal websites continue to work?

Sales: Yes. We support 98% of all your core software and our web browser is backward compatible so it won’t break your internal web applications.

Business: Ok, well we’ll roll it out in stages over the next four years and we’ll support both OS’s during the transition.

IT Department: Shit.

The equation is simple. Businesses take a long time to adopt new technologies and they tend to fear change because it tends to break things and cost them money. This creates an incentive for Microsoft to create backward compatible technologies. It’s hard enough to create a standards compliant browser but it’s likely impossible to do so and maintain compatibility with the bugs you had in previous versions of your browser. This is exactly what IE is trying to do. They will happily fix ‘IE hacks’ that require a workaround but they don’t go for the brass ring of passing the acid test because too many businesses want the legacy behavior because they don’t want to update their internal applications.

It’s not about websites asking for change it’s about big business. What can business decision makers, educational institutions and governments agencies do to help impact this type of change quickly?


Business: We’ll upgrade the OS when it supports a truly standards compliant web browser.

Get your company, state government or city to say that sentence and you’ll see a new version of IE that’s finally standards compliant in the next 8 months.

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3 thoughts on “Why IE isn’t standards compliant”

  1. Hey Greg,

    That’s a great idea. It doesn’t pose much risk or problems for the business, as they can easily run their operations on the previous version of the OS, while at the same time stating a direct need as to what they would like to see as a feature in the next OS if they’re to upgrade. Right now there just isn’t enough pressure from businesses (if any!) for Microsoft to really make IE standards compliant. Designers complaining about IE breaking their CSS just doesn’t cut it when Microsoft makes most of their revenue through B2B sales. As you say, if businesses start talking – then Microsoft will get the message.

    Unfortunately, I think a lot of the decision makers and senior management just don’t really get web standards right now – in-fact they are unlikely to even know what they are. If a site doesn’t look right in IE, they will assume its the fault of an incompetent developer, rather than a browser bug/inconsistency. People like Jeffrey Zeldman have done well to promote the idea of web standards – but their message has been absorbed by the designers and developers, and not necessarily businesses and decision makers who don’t really know or care about this stuff – they just want their sites to work.

    I think getting Microsoft to update IE to become standards complaint would therefore be a two stage initiative:

    Firstly, you will need some powerful marketing and promotion of web standards to the decision makers which ultimately lets them know how it can save them money and deliver real value to their sites and web apps. Secondly, as you’ve written above, businesses will need to start talking and outlining their needs for a standards compliant browser if they’re to upgrade to a new OS. The second stage will probably work well, but it will never happen without the first stage. Yes, management in small businesses may be younger and in better communication with their designers and developers, and they probably understand the importance of web standards – but bigger corporations and big businesses are much more layered – senior management is never in direct contact with their developers and are thus never really educated in the needs/values of web standards.

    Anyways… I should end my rant now or this may be getting too long 😛 Great post.

  2. Oh, if only it were that easy 🙂

    1. Business don’t care about web standards. They care about getting a product that works without having to upgrade their entire network.

    2. Most software developers that target big-business design for IE because it holds the largest market share in business environments, and all of their outsourced, overseas developers fresh out of MS University think that there aren’t any other browsers anyways.

    3. Even if a web standards evangelist somehow made it past the MS screeners and got a place on a UI team, most of these companies have design iterations that last months if not years, so anything they contribute to the project won’t be seen any time soon, and certainly won’t make up the majority of any overall UI for years to come.

    Case in point – my employer is working with a very big name international vendor to purchase a multi-million dollar web-based all-in-one health information system (HIS). I’m the token web-guy on the team and I am absolutely appalled at what is about to be delivered. We’re talking 1990 web technology. Icons that make no sense. Frame inside frame inside frame. Table love pr0n. They are ever so s-l-o-w-l-y adding in “ajaxy” stuff, but it’s still all very non-standards compliant. In fact, it only supports IE 6 – not even IE 7, and there’s no plan on the table to do so anytime soon!

    Now internally, I sit on a team of 4 web developers very much into web standards and just about everything we write is designed to work in Firefox/Moz/Safari first, then IE 7, then IE 6-, even though IE 6 is the official browser according to Networking. So when our upper management finally gets what we’ve been telling them (“We can write better code that’s custom fit, without asinine licensing agreements and for far less money…”) then we can show them why standards matter. Until then, they could care less.

  3. Er, couldn’t care less…

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