CodeBitch : click here to go to MacEdition Homepage

I don’t love IE

16 October 2000

There always has to be a good guy and a bad guy. Some people are so fixated on dualism that they ought to convert to Manicheism. Or maybe it’s because they watch too much sport on TV. My team, your team. Us versus them. Apple versus IBM. Microsoft versus everyone. Navigator versus IE.

Just because Netscape 4.x infuriates me, just because Preview Release 1 of Netscape 6 was a complete disappointment, doesn’t mean that I love IE. I’m no Microsoft apologist. Why would I be writing for this site if I was?

Some people don’t understand the difference between loathing Netscape and loving IE. They require the treatment of an entirely different bitch. Internet Explorer 5 for the Mac is the closest existing browsers get to being fully standards compliant. For that it deserves some kudos, even if the Macintosh Business Unit is a division of Microsoft.

Netscape likes to claim the mantle for version 6, and although there are some glitches, it’s pretty close. IE 5 might have good standards support, but there are problems with it in other ways. It makes the same mistake as IE 5/ Windows about MIME types for XSL (why couldn’t it accept both the IE 5/ Win and the correct directive?). I’m also told that Internet Explorer cannot verify personal certificates or certificates that verify the identity of a file server on a network. And although IE 5/ Mac has the most complete CSS1 support of any currently shipping browser, even it has a few glitches.

Moreover, as some of my correspondents point out, there are other features in a browser. Most users don’t care about standards because they don’t know what they’re missing by not having them. If designers busily work around all the stupid bugs in braindead browsers’ standards support, users have no incentive to drop the braindead browser. So in a race between a stable, fast browser with crap standards support, and a slow, quirky browser with all of the acronyms built in, fast and proprietary is always going to win. This is especially so if web designers and tool developers accommodate that proprietary junk with spacer tags and similar nonsense. We might moan about poor standards support, but in some sense we have done it to ourselves by using the proprietary junk even when we knew better.

I’m not alone in trying to call the merits of products as I see them. The Web Standards Organisation released a press release praising Microsoft earlier this year, and barely a week later released another caning them. No, they’re not twisting in the wind. They were reacting properly to the very different implications of different MS products. Webstandards.org praised Microsoft for the standards compliance of IE 5 for the Mac, and criticised their moving away from them again in the first beta of IE 5.5 for Windows.

Netscape made a complete hash of standards support in version 4.x. But now they say they love standards, and they write web pages comparing the standards support in Mozilla with that in IE. Their third Preview Release is certainly a lot better than the first two, but as I showed in an earlier column, it still has a way to go.

Microsoft, on the other hand, actually achieved (near-complete) standards support in IE 5/ Mac. Even Netscape’s little feature comparison tables concede that IE 5/ Mac fully supports HTML 4.0 and CSS1 (save for the previously mentioned minor glitches). The few “N”s in Netscape’s comparison page are for things like Resource Description Framework (RDF) and a few bits and bobs of the Document Object Model.

But their latest efforts make me start to think that this was an accident. They did it, but it doesn’t come naturally to their corporate culture, for all their current talk about XML and other standards vulnerable to their “embrace, extend, extinguish” treatment.

The one bright ray on the horizon is that the non-mainstream browsers like Opera for the PC and iCab for the Mac make a big deal of their standards support. And by and large, they get it right, or at least better than Netscape and without IE’s proprietary junk. It’s just a pity that iCab currently has no CSS support whatsoever, although they promise it for the final release, and Opera is yet to ship a Mac version.

— CodeBitch (codebitch@macedition.com) is the grumpy cow who does the HTML production for MacEdition.

E-mail this story to a friend