I've given a lot of attention to the forthcoming Firefox 3.0 lately, but let's not forget that Microsoft has a new version of its own browser in the works, too. According to Nick MacKechnie, a senior technical account manager at Microsoft New Zealand, we can expect the next beta of Internet Explorer 8 to arrive in the third quarter of this year.
And unlike the current test version, which is marked as a "developer preview," this version will be a public beta targeted at all consumers.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about IE8 is that it will ship with maximum standards compatibility enabled by default. Developers have been clamoring for a truly browser-independent Web for a long time. But if you're among the crowd that relies on business applications specially tailored for IE7, this sudden change of focus may not be all it's cracked up to be, since strict standards compliance could break some of your existing pages. Fortunately, MacKechnie says, Microsoft has provided an easy work-around.
An article in Microsoft's Knowledge Base explains it all. For sites where every page must be rendered exactly how IE7 would do it, you can have your Web server send a special header that will instruct IE8 to fall back to the older rules. If you have just one or two pages that need special treatment, you can add a META tag to their HTML to achieve the same thing.
It's a good idea to start updating your IE7-compliant sites now, before the public beta of IE8 is released, so that you can avoid problems when the new browser starts to go mainstream. Even better than adding new IE-specific tags or headers, though, would be to try to re-code those pages so that they observe proper Web standards. That's going to be the best way to ensure that your pages are viewable across all browsers on the widest variety of platforms, which can save you time and money in the long run.