Microsoft is fixing IE11 on mobile because web developers aren't following standards

Microsoft is fixing IE11 on mobile because web developers aren't following standards

Summary: Having written IE11 to support web standards, Microsoft is shimming it to handle mobile websites that are not following standards but catering for webkit quirks and/or non-standard features in Apple's Safari on iOS.

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Web developers have been complaining for years about having to fix their websites to handle non-standard versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Now the boot is on the other foot. Microsoft is having to change its standards-based IE11 browser to make the mobile version work better with non-standard websites.

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Twitter on IE11 in Windows Phone 8.1

And it's not just Microsoft's problem: Mozilla's Firefox is in a similar position. Both have to cope with websites developed not to follow standards but to suit the Webkit browser engine, and some features in Apple's Safari browser that are not standards at all. As Microsoft says in a blog post: "Unlike the mostly standards-based ‘desktop' web, many modern mobile web pages were designed and built for iOS and the iPhone. This results in users of other devices often receiving a degraded experience."

As a result, Microsoft says it is collaborating with Mozilla to support its web-compatibility site: Bug reporting for the internet. The idea is to get users to report broken websites so that Mozilla can approach the developers to fix them.

In a blog post, The Mobile Web should just work for everyone, Microsoft says it has "pursued a web experience for IE users consistent with what is available on iOS and Android devices – even where this meant we would be adding non-standard web platform features. We believe that this is a more pragmatic approach to running today's less-standardised mobile web."

Microsoft says it tested "more than 500 of the top mobile web sites" when developing the Windows Phone 8.1 Update, and it has improved about 40 percent of them, including Twitter.

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Twitter fixed in Windows Phone 8.1 Update. Image credit: Microsoft

It found that the main issues were (quote):

    Faulty browser detection not recognising IE as a mobile browser and giving the desktop experience

    Using only old webkit-prefixed features that have been replaced by standards

    Using proprietary webkit-prefixed features for which there is no standard

    Using features that IE does not support with no graceful fall-back

    Running into interoperability bugs and implementation differences in IE

Microsoft had to add support for some standards "that are used infrequently on desktop sites, but are in common use in the mobile web. Once we made IE11 receive more mobile content we determined that we would need to add these features," it says.

An incidental problem is that some websites support either touch or a mouse, but Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 users can use both at the same time.

Microsoft says: "If you are a web developer, run your site through the scanner tool on http://modern.ie. This tool will identify common coding problems including issues with vendor prefixes and help you fix your code."

Obviously, it would be better if mobile web developers could actually follow web standards. However, there's nothing new about that sort of failure: the same thing was happening with "looks best in Netscape" in the 1990s. Today's "looks best on iOS" or "only works in webkit" is just a repeat of the same sort of stupidity. Short-term gain: long-term pain.

Topics: Microsoft, Browser, Web development

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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28 comments
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  • What do you expect

    From a "web developer" anyway?
    dilettante
    • harrumph

      People working in the Web stacks rule the world right now. I do a lot of binary executable work but boy let me tell you I am glad I have my feet in both camps.

      You do not want to put your resume out there these days of being able to claim Web experience, good luck finding a job if you can't.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • oh how the mighty have fallen

    ...from a company that once practiced an "embrace and extend" strategy to kill third party interoperability standards in order to protect a near monopoly position built on proprietary technologies, to a company that is begging developers to follow industry standards in order to allow it's also ran mobile browser to display websites as cleanly as Chrome and Safari. Wow.

    Still, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Have to side with Microsoft on this one. It's not good for consumers when open standards are ignored in favor of proprietary technologies.
    dsf3g
    • Yeah. Let Microsoft continue to run like a 1995 company.

      They can't die fast enough as far as I am concerned.
      NoMore MicrosoftEver
      • Good to know

        That your illogical hatred of a company is strong enough to want 100k people to lose their jobs (at the very least).
        Michael Alan Goff
        • Nearly 200k with contract working factored in.

          Not to mention everyone loses when there is less competition and.... any company forces standards to be broken.

          The goal should be to get all companies to compete and do so in ways that benefit us, the users.
          Emacho
    • Fair points....

      but you may recall that Microsoft has been here before. When Netscape was doing whatever it liked, Microsoft allied itself with the W3C and produced a much more standard browser in IE6. However, it _also_ incorporated most of Netscape's innovations even when they weren't standardized, to give users a better experience.

      Of course, a lot of web developers are too young or too stupid to realize that IE6 was (relatively) very standards compliant for its day. They sincerely think it should support web standards that didn't exist until many years after it came out ;-)
      Jack Schofield
      • um, no they don't.

        The web developer consensus has been, for a very long time, that IE6 should just go away. I know of no movement to have IE6 survive in any capacity, standards compliant or not.
        Mac_PC_FenceSitter
        • They do, as far as I can see....

          But there's no doubt everybody wanted IE6 to go away, including Microsoft. The main drawback was the people who kept on using it...
          Jack Schofield
      • That's an interesting revision of the browser wars

        By the late 90's IE and Netscape were almost equal on features and they were BOTH guilty of adding non-standard features, trying to draw developers into their camp. I remember the stupid 'Best viewed with' buttons everywhere. Trying to paint IE as the underdog just trying to give everyone a better experience is to ignore reality.

        I remember it more when Microsoft threatened to "cut off Netscape's air supply" and then did just that. They didn't release another browser version for five years after they eliminated the competition, leaving everyone with IE6. If Microsoft wanted to get rid of it, they certainly were in no hurry.
        :x
        • No, the author was fairly accurate in this

          Microsoft wasn't guilty of too much of this... there was the blink tag, they had more scripting languages available to manipulate the DOM, and they introduced the (later accepted) object tag and critical-to-modern-web-development Ajax mechanisms (XmlHttp.)

          Mostly Microsoft's big advantage was that, when Netscape angled to do new flashy things by inventing new tags, Microsoft would add support for a key W3C standard that did the same thing. The Layers DOM Netscape introduced was a cynical ploy to lock the web into programming with their proprietary method, rather than the W3C standardized DOM... Microsoft added such excellent DOM support in early IE versions, along with Netscape's halfhearted CSS support, that this contributed significantly to Netscape losing out.
          Mac_PC_FenceSitter
          • No what?

            No, Microsoft wasn't as guilty as Netscape?
            Netscape was no angel, but Microsoft had their share of cynical ploys to lock in developers. It was a lot more than just HTML tags, and carried into scripting and DOM behavior. Remember ActiveX? That locked web developers not just to IE, but WIndows. Just because Microsoft had the ear of a standards body (W3C) didn't mean they weren't engaging in the same tactics as Netscape. Microsoft has played the standards body game a number times, for example with OOXML vs. ODF.

            ...or...

            No, They didn't use Windows as a platform to kill Netscape?
            Because that assuredly did happen - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Microsoft

            In fact they did double duty with that one...they not only gave away IE for free to kill Netscape, they did it so they didn't have to pay royalties to Spyglass (at least until the Spyglass sued Microsoft), whom they licensed IE from because they lacked a browser of their own - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spyglass,_Inc.

            I was never a big Netscape fan, but what the author wrote smacks of whitewashing IE's past.
            :x
  • WebKit compatibility

    I would be happy if the added IE8 compatibility! (Ie made X-UA work again)
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • Google the evil....bribing politicians all around the world...

    Mr Evil will come crashing down in EU pretty soon...and in other countries...

    And for Apple ...tablets will die soon...and iPhone market share will be less than 10 percent...

    MS will have the last laugh...
    Owl:Net
    • I thought YOU would have the last laugh

      As in "bahahahaha".

      Your "predictions" are almost as funny as LD's jokes. Almost.
      Smalahove
      • Think thats funny?

        You do realize he is right??

        I Think the joke is more on your ignorance of facts. Look this up:
        http://thenextweb.com/google/2014/07/31/android-reached-record-85-smartphone-market-share-q2-2014-report/

        Apple worldwide marketshare has fallen again. From 13.4% to 11.9%. If they keep on this track they will go below 10% within a year!

        So who is trying to joke herer?
        brhorv
  • Definitely noticed this

    I just updated my Lumia 1520 to Cyan/WP 8.1 and one of the websites I frequented that used to perform abysmally now looks completely different. The website is still too busy with ads and other crap but at least is usable now. Thanks to MS for cleaning up other people's messes. Again.
    Sir Name
  • Same old thing

    Developers don't know or care about standards. It only matters if it works on their screen. That's why HTML5 applications are doomed to mediocrity.
    Buster Friendly
    • Developers do know and care about standards

      Anyone who doubts this should look at archive.org screen shots of the early web, with tons of Netscape and IE buttons.... nowadays websites are served with the same codebase to all browsers, and almost all web dev tools come with prominent validation features (which wouldn't be needed if this wasn't cared about.)
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
      • No, they don't

        You get SOME that do but in general no one cares. If it works for whatever job they have and platform they test on, it goes out.
        Buster Friendly