IE8 Beta 2: first experiences

My first experiences with IE8 beta 2 have been mixed. On the one hand, I like the fact that compatibility mode no longer requires restarting the browser. However, I’ve found it virtually impossible to tell when I have compatibility mode turned on or off. I’ve also found that once turned on, you do have to reload a page in order to turn it off again, because the button disappears.

Sam Ruby wrote about an improved namespace blurb that appeared about IE8 at a Microsoft site, which has since disappeared. In the post, Sam also mentioned that IE8 no longer supports CSS for elements it doesn’t recognize, also detailed in a bug Anne van Kesteren linked in comments.

I went to check out the bug at Microsoft’s LiveConnect with IE8 beta 2, but received an error in the page that I don’t have permission to view the page. Puzzled, I also noticed that the page asked if I wanted to sign out of LiveConnect.

I had originally obtained a LiveConnect login in order to report bugs about Expression Media, which I was testing for my Painting the Web book. I figured that somehow my old account was interacting with the page in such a way as to make it inaccessible. I tried to delete cookies, in fact every kind of storage associated with IE8, but I still received the same page: I don’t have permission to access the bug, would I like to sign out of LiveConnect.

I looked more closely at the IE8 Delete options, and noticed that there’s another option I missed, Preserve favorite website data, with the following explanation:

Keep cookies and temporary files that enable your favorite websites to retain preferences and display faster.

This checkbox overrides the cookie deletion option when login information is stored. *I’m not sure if this option was present with IE8 beta 1, and I’m not sure I like it—one could easily think they’ve cleared all personal information out of a browser by deleting cookies, only to forget to uncheck the favorite site option, and leave critical logins still active.

Hakon Lie wrote about Microsoft’s back stepping on standards mode. Microsoft had originally stated it would support standards mode by default with the first beta of IE8. Now, it supports standards mode by default on the internet, but supports the old IE7 non-standards mode by default for intranet accesses. The setting can be changed via a menu option, but the problem with this approach is that if you develop a web site internally and it works one way, it may break or work oddly once published externally, unless you remember to turn standards mode on when developing the page internally. This adds all new meaning to the term, quirks mode, as this really is quirky behavior.

IE8 does implement the new JSON object, though be forewarned: it treats single quotes as second class citizens. In other words if your application returns strings delimited with single quotes, your application will fail. The JSON with single quotes still works with eval, though, so you could end up with breaking behavior when you switch from one to the other. To be honest, I find this to be a flaw with the JSON “standard”—either JSON is JavaScript Object Notation, or it’s not, and single quotes can delimit strings in JavaScript.

One new feature, or at least another feature I don’t remember from IE8 beta 1 is that when you encounter a runtime error in JavaScript, IE8 now pops up a window with a note about a runtime error, and asks if you wish to debug it. I imagine this will only appear if you have developer tools enabled. The script debugger included with IE8 in beta 1 is still available in beta 2, and is one really nice feature in IE8.

Less nice, though, is Microsoft’s non-support for DOM Level 2 event handling. There’s also no need to go into details about how the browser doesn’t support XHTML and SVG and MathML—Microsoft will never support XHTML, which should be a disappointing given now. In fact, it’s unlikely Microsoft will ever support SVG, even if this gets included in HTML5. Some would say this will kill SVG. I disagree and believe that this will eventually kill IE. Not just the lack of SVG support: Microsoft’s refusal to deal effectively with the issue of XHTML support, DOM Level 2 event handling support, and so on. Too many gaping holes in standards support, and too little commitment on Microsoft’s part to truly be a standards-based browser.

On the other hand, IE8 does have improved support for CSS. It’s now about equivalent to Firefox 2 in CSS support.

Lastly, if you’re a Netflix Watch Now fan, be warned: IE8 beta 2 does not work with the Watch Now feature, no matter what mode you set. Do not install IE8 beta 2 if you use this feature.

All in all, beta 2 has the feel of being a rushed delivery. Not surprising when you consider beta 2 was released on the seventh anniversary of the release of IE6—a day some of us designated as IE6 EOL or Uninstall day.

*The Preserve favorite option is new with beta 2, but is not working as described. It’s preserving data for sites that are not on my favorites list. In addition, Microsoft puts its own sites on this list, automatically making data to them “saved” with this option.