Opera: IE8's changes don't let Microsoft off legal hook

But both Mozilla and Opera praise aspects of the new competition

Microsoft's rivals have applauded some of what they've seen in the new Internet Explorer 8, but the browser maker that's complained to antitrust regulators in Europe said the changes don't address all its concerns.

Earlier this week, Microsoft unveiled Beta 1 of Internet Explorer 8 (IE8), just days after the company's head of browser development confirmed a turn-about in how IE8 would handle backward compatibility and support Internet standards.

On Monday, Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of the IE group, announced that IE8 would support a new "super standards" mode by default. Previously, Hachamovitch had said the super standards mode would be an option, a decision that raised a ruckus among Web developers. This week's 180-degree turn, he said, showed Microsoft's commitment to Web standards, even if it risked breaking sites designed for older versions of IE.

"The Web gets better when developers spend less time on interoperability [problems] and more time on innovating," said Hachamovitch on Wednesday from the MIX08 Web conference in Las Vegas. "Long term, this is the right thing to do for the Web."

Microsoft's competitors agreed.

Mike Shaver, chief evangelist at Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, called the change "very promising" in a Wednesday post to his blog, and said it shows that Microsoft could listen to critics. "Once the conversation [about the super standards mode] was opened to input from the rest of the world's experts on Web content compatibility, they were able to get to a much better decision, and happily that's reflected in the updated plans for IE8," said Shaver.

Hakon Wium Lie, chief technology officer with Opera Software ASA, the Norwegian company that develops the Opera browser, also gave a thumbs up to IE8.

"My first reaction is positive," said Lie in an e-mail response to questions. "I was relieved to see that IE8 passes Acid2 test [a popular Internet standards test] by default. This is an indication that IE8 is more standards-compliant than its predecessor. Congratulations to the IE8 team!"

But Lie wouldn't let Microsoft or its browser off the legal hook that Opera helped set earlier this year. "It was interesting to see that Microsoft gave a legal reason for their most recent turnaround," Lie said. "Certainly, I believe Opera's filing with the European Commission has influenced Microsoft's decision to do the right thing."

Lie was referring to complaints Opera filed last December with the EU's antitrust agency, the Competition Commission. At the time, Opera charged that Microsoft hindered interoperability by not following accepted Web standards and abused its dominant position in the OS market by tying IE to Windows.

In January, the Commission announced it was opening formal investigations into Opera's complaint, as well as into another filing related to Microsoft Office.

On Monday, Microsoft's Hachamovitch pitched IE8's change of its super standards mode as the answer to the browser's legal problems, although he didn't name names.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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