After much outcry from developers and users, Microsoft is bowing to pressure and making its new, Acid-2-compliant standards mode the default in Internet Explorer 8.
Microsoft officials are attributing the change in plans to the company wanting to live up to the interoperability pledges that Microsoft made a couple weeks ago. (Come on, guys! There is nothing wrong with saying the real reason you are doing a 180: Two of your core constituencies were really angry.)
In January, Microsoft's IE team outlined its plans to add a "super-standards" mode to IE 8. That mode was set to be one of three supported in the next version of Microsoft's browser. (The other two are "quirks" mode, which will be compatible with current IE pages and applications and a “standards” mode, which will be the same as what’s offered by IE 7 and “compatible with current content.") In super-standards mode, early internal builds of IE 8 passed the Acid2 standards tests, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft originally planned to make the super-standards mode an opt-in choice and the IE 7 "standards" mode the default -- claiming that by doing so, Microsoft would ensure better backwards-compatibility with existing Web sites and applications. But that decision angered those who felt Microsoft was shirking its commitment to make IE more standards-compliant.
Don't forget that Opera Software lodged an antitrust complaint against Microsoft in December for the Microsoft's failure to make IE compliant with key Web standards. Based on Microsoft's March 3 press release, it looks like Opera's (and/or other competitors') complaints helped convince Microsoft to change. Check out the quote from Brad Smith, Microsoft Senior Vice President and General Counsel:
“While we do not believe there are currently any legal requirements that would dictate which rendering mode must be chosen as the default for a given browser, this step clearly removes this question as a potential legal and regulatory issue,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft senior vice president and general counsel."
In the end -- regardless of why Microsoft really is making this change -- the decision to make standards mode the default in IE 8 should make many happy. What it will mean to backwards compatibility should become evident soon, as Microsoft is expected to start its private beta test of IE 8 any day now, with a public beta to follow.