Can Microsoft take advantage of HTML 5?

Internet Explorer 8 will, most likely, employ a system called version targeting. The system seems to be well worked out. Issues with conditional comments aside, the method allows for faulty coded sites not to ‘break’. Many front-end authoring tools still implement faulty front-end code. Some of these tools come from Microsoft, what a pickle for them to be in.

Now, ideologically speaking, version targeting requires a superfluous line of ‘dirty’ code. Purist across the globe frown, sigh and cry out for blood. “It’s not needed”, “It doesn’t make sense”, ad infinitum. However, this extra line of code is surprisingly powerful. For better of for worse Microsoft are offering us control on how all their new browsers will render your code and the crud you may have to deal with. Draconian this solution is not.

The timing of Microsoft communication was, as usual, not perfect. HTML 5 had just made its first showing to the ‘general public’. The release of the new HTML 5 draft was no secret. Both the W3C and WHAT WG have been working on the new specification out in the open for all see.
So it begs the question; why not take the upcoming draft of HTML 5 into account?
Will the HTML 5 doptype “<!doctype html>” override the version targeting system by rendering as close to the standards as the current browser allows?

First of all, can Microsoft do this? Have they got all their ducks in a row? As already mentioned, anybody can slap any old doctype on top of the worst HTML crud out there. Should Microsoft, for example, jerry-rig their ASP.NET tools to strictly adhere to a draft the competition has come with? It seems silly to even suggest that Microsoft should commit to something like this without have given a certain amount of feedback to the group. I’m sure they will have a problem with parts of the presented draft.

Some will argue that Microsoft now has the opportunity to start with a new slate. Why should their latest and greatest browser not embrace this by giving it all it’s got?
Sadly there is no such thing a ‘new slate’, HTML consumed by millions upon millions of users. They’re not going to switch overnight. It’s like asking the English to drive on the right hand side of the road starting tomorrow. When can we expect to see the final HTML 5 recommendation? Nobody knows, and it’s hard to guess. The authoring practices of web developers only changes incrementally over time. There is no such thing as turning a new leaf.

Lets suppose for a minute Microsoft will render the new doctype to the best possible standard available. They will have to prevent all their applications that generate any kind of HTML/CSS/JavaScript code to use the newly HTML 5 introduced doctype, at least until they can guarantee standards compliant front-end code by default. That, realistically, may never happen. A commitment from the Internet Explorer team to web standards is one thing; commitment from the rest of Microsoft is something else entirely. Having said that I’m certain it’s possible, and it’s probably much easier than they imagine. Why? Because when you look at some of the tools that are available from other vendors you see that it’s already been done.

Furthermore, it does look feasible without upsetting to many people. Ban tools spitting out the new HTML 5 doctype string until they’re ready to start deploying complaint code. Advise clients that if they do start manually inserting the new doctype they could be breaking continuity with their publishing and development applications.
IE8 could then rig “<!doctype html>” to target the highest available mode within the browser.
The HTML 5 recommendation documents such things as error handling and how elements should be rendered in more detail than previous recommendations ever have. HTML 5 is likely to be the best thing that will happen for Microsoft’s web based strategies. The brief IE monopoly is starting to look like an anomaly and it would be folly to continue down that path. Microsoft now has the opportunity to provide a true interoperable platform and if websites do happen to break, users won’t be able to blame them so easily as they do now. 

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