Dean Hachamovitch, general manger of the company's Internet Explorer team, on Tuesday called on developers to ensure a good customer experience prior to product's final release. "In short, developers, start your engines," Hachamovitch said in a phone interview.
Currently, Beta 2 of IE8 is available to the general public. Hachamovitch said that Microsoft has been listening to user feedback and added improvements to the Release Candidate version. The Release Candidate represents the final test stage preceding general product release.
"We took the feedback from Beta 2 and we acted on it, and people are going to see that in the Release Candidate," Hachamovitch said. "The feedback from the last build has been pretty positive," he added.
Despite declining to be pinned down on a precise release date, Hachamovitch previously suggested in an IE blog that it would appear sometime in the first quarter of 2009.
The Release Candidate is the "call to action," he said, a signal that IE8 effectively is completed as a product. Hachamovitch added that developers should expect the final product to behave like the Release Candidate version.
Microsoft says it took extra care to stay true to standards with IE8. Because of that, Web developers who designed their sites to work with earlier versions of Internet Explorer might have to address some display alignment problems when their site's markup is parsed in IE8.
If preserving the old format is important, developers can add an HTML tag to tell visiting IE8 browsers to stay compliant with the earlier (or "legacy") IE versions. Adding this tag will take just "10 minutes of work," Hachamovitch said. Microsoft added a "compatibility view" button in IE8 that lets users toggle between the legacy and IE8 views of the page.
"When developers get IE8 Release Candidate and look at their site, if it works fine, then they're done," he said. "If it doesn't work right, they should try the compatibility view button."
If pressing the compatibility view button results in a better user experience, then Web developers need to take action. In that case, Web developers should "add the tag so their visitors by default will get that compatible experience," Hachamovitch said.
Microsoft explained in further detail how developers can ensure such compatibility in this IE blog post.
Hachamovitch pointed to a number of improvements in IE8, including built-in dev tools that facilitate "rapid iteration" of development projects. Microsoft also opened up extensions in IE8, providing an open search capability. IE8 also enables an improved AJAX experience because of Microsoft's support for HTML 5 functionality.
Developers should have high expectations about IE8's support for cascading style sheet (CSS) standards, Hachamovitch said. Microsoft has promised to include CSS 2.1 support in IE8. However, doing so is kind of a moving target as "CSS 2.1 is a standard that's still under construction," Hachamovitch explained.
The W3C committee is still editing CSS 2.1 but Microsoft has contributed substantially to the standard's development.
"To date, Microsoft has contributed over 2,500 tests to the W3C," Hachamovitch said. He added that by the time IE8 Release Candidate 1 is released, "there's going to be over a thousand more" tests submitted.
On the security front, while browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Opera have adopted a fast-patching approach, Microsoft is relying on its Windows Update to deal with threats. Given the broad community of browsers, not only is it important to update IE for security reasons, Hachamovitch said, but corporations also need to have the ability to manage and control that deployment.
Hachamovitch pointed to other security features in IE8, explaining that the "cross-site scripting filter is probably one the most innovative pieces I've seen in years in terms of really protecting people from a problem on the Web."
Microsoft plans to issue an updated security bulletin for Internet Explorer on Wednesday to help address a recently reported zero-day security issue found in the browser, as described here.
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