Microsoft bows to pressure, offers IE8 update

'Masses were demanding information,' admits company evangelist

A Microsoft Web evangelist hinted yesterday that news of Internet Explorer 8's development progress was disclosed months earlier than planned because Web developers recently stepped up criticism of the company's support for standards.

The news of IE8's ability to pass a widely used Web standards test also came just two weeks after Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates said he didn't know why the company's IE development team was keeping a tight lid on information about the next browser.

IE8, the next upgrade to Microsoft's browser, passes the Web Standards Project's Acid2 test, according to Dean Hachamovitch, the IE group's general manager. "On Wednesday, Dec. 12, Internet Explorer correctly rendered the Acid2 page in IE8 standards mode," Hachamovitch said in a post to Microsoft's official IE blog yesterday. "While supporting the features tested in Acid2 is important for many reasons, it is just one of several milestones for the interoperability, standards compliance and backwards-compatibility that we're committed to for this release."

A week before IE8's first Acid2 exam, Web standards advocate and blogger Molly Holzschlag had asked Gates about the lack of information coming out of the IE8 group. Gates' answer: "I'll have to ask [IE General Manager] Dean [Hachamovitch] what the hell is going on. I mean, we're not, there's not like some deep secret about what we're doing with IE."

In his blog Wednesday, Hachamovitch seemed to take a shot at those who had criticized his team's silence. "For IE8, we want to communicate facts, not aspirations," said Hachamovitch. "We're listening to the feedback about IE, and at the same time, we are committed to responsible disclosure and setting expectations properly. [But] now that we've run the test on multiple machines and seen it work, we're excited to be able to share definitive information."

Posts placed on the IE blog last month drew disdain from a large number of users, many of whom identified themselves as Web developers frustrated with the lack of information about IE8's support for standards and angry at the current IE7's lack of support for those same standards.

Another Microsoft employee, Joshua Allen, essentially said that the timing of the IE8-Acid2 news was prompted by complaints from users and developers. Allen, an evangelist at Microsoft and one of the hosts for MIX Online, echoed Hachamovitch's news about IE8's progress, but said the news was intended for March 2008.

"I had hoped that we could keep the news secret until MIX08, but the masses were demanding information," said Allen, who linked to an earlier Hachamovitch blog post that had attracted more than 580 comments, the majority of them negative.

MIX08 is the Microsoft-sponsored Web developer conference slated to run in Las Vegas March 5-7, 2008.

The comments attached to Hachamovitch's Tuesday post, however, were generally supportive, although some users remained cautious. "Well, slap me with a moldy turnip and color me flabbergasted!" said a user going by the name David Lane. "Who would've thought. [But] I just think it's a sad thing that Microsoft is receiving praise for doing something that everyone knows they should've done five to seven years ago."

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