Fortunately this is an edge case for me, but… there’s a time for everything. And that time was today.
If you build websites using modern, open standards-based techniques, the last thing you want is to have your Internet Explorer-using visitors see your site in the dreaded “compatibility view”. This monstrosity was created by Microsoft with the advent of IE8, to allow sites (mostly corporate intranets) that require the quirks of IE6 to still look like they’re supposed to when viewed in IE8.
The problem is, IE6 sucks, and it makes modern sites look terrible. So if your users accidentally view your site in compatibility view, it’s going to suck too.
The good news is, it’s easy to force IE8 and later to display your site the way you intended. You can disable compatibility view with this simple meta tag:
Or: What Microsoft probably doesn’t really want you to do.
Internet Explorer 8 is supposed to be more standards-compliant. Ya-freakin’-hoo. (No relation to Yahoo!) I don’t especially care, and I’d like to think the best way IE8 could become standards-compliant is to not exist in the first place. But, it’s here, and when Windows 7 arrives later this year, we (the web designers and developers of the world) will have to get used to it.
I do have Windows 7 RC running in a virtual machine on my MacBook, so I can test IE8. But waiting for several minutes for it to log in (for some reason), I came to the decision that maybe it’s not worth testing in: maybe it’s best to just take advantage of its “IE7 Compatibility Mode” to not need to test in it. It’s not like IE8 being standards-compliant (yet, somehow, still not rendering pages like Firefox and Safari) is really going to save me any time, because I’ll still need to test in IE7 (and, God help me, IE6) for years to come. Why add a third Bizarro-world Microsoft browser to the mix?
Internet Explorer 8, brought to you by people who don't see anything wrong with this image.
So I googled ie8 ie7 compatibility mode and found a helpful, if slightly douchey, blog post from a Microsoft “developer evangelist.” Of course, his blog renders completely f’ed up in Firefox, and even if it didn’t it would probably still be displaying the hideous matted-to-white-transparent-GIF-on-a-dark-background you see here.
Nonetheless, he did still give me the code snippet I need. Stick this in the header of all of your pages (which, hopefully, means editing just one file, riiiight?), cross your fingers, bow your head in the direction of Redmond and, if all goes well, you won’t have to think about IE8 (ever?) again.
Perhaps I went out on a limb when I referred to this blog post as douchey. Never mind the fact that the guy is a “developer evangelist” for Microsoft, which is enough in itself. The two d-bag moments for me were: 1) the opening couple of sentences: “As you all know, the Internet Explorer team has been working hard to make IE8 the most standards compliant browser around. Unfortunately, not all web sites confirm [sic] to these standards today.” In other words, Microsoft has undertaken a noble effort to build something perfect and wonderful, but all you apathetic and/or malevolent web designers out there are conspiring to destroy it. And 2) “Lastly, for those of you running Apache instead of IIS (shame on you!)…” Yes, shame on you for using the most popular and stable web server software in the world. Actually, yes, shame on you for running Apache on a Windows server. You’re an even bigger douche than he is.
Update: Adding this meta tag to a client site I’m currently working on didn’t seem to have any effect on IE8, but that may be because I had manually clicked the compatibility mode button in a previous session, turning it off. (So, in other words, I am positing that if the user has manually turned off compatibility mode, it will stay off even if the page tries to activate it.) Turning compatibility mode on manually did work — the rendering issues I saw with IE8 in its normal mode went away.
Now, the thing that concerns me about all of this is that my page should be pretty damn well standards-compliant: the doctype is XHTML 1.1, which is very unforgiving, and I’ve validated it. The page looks fine in Firefox and Safari. It’s possible that the source of the problem is my IE-specific CSS file, that is fixing IE7 problems that don’t exist in IE8 (and thereby introducing new problems there). The next step would be modifying the conditional comments so that IE8 doesn’t load the IE-specific CSS, and checking whether that solves the problems. The culprit may also be IE7.js, which I viewed as a lifesaver when I started using it about a year ago, but increasingly seems to be of little to no benefit.