Microsoft today will ship an update to Internet Explorer (IE) 8, changing how its web browser behaves when a user chooses an "express" install on first use. Additionally, Microsoft has begun reaching out to the web developer community about how it should handle upcoming web standards, such as HTML 5.
This week's IE 8 change addresses complaints that the browser's express install type, which bypasses a number of configuration steps by setting them to default values, unfairly favors Microsoft's browser. Until today, when a Windows XP or Vista user upgraded to IE 8 using Windows Update and then chose the express install type, it would change the default browser to IE 8, even if the user had previously set a competing browser as the default.
The change does not affect Windows 7, which ships with IE 8 as the default browser.
Mozilla complained in May that this behavior was anti-competitive and Microsoft received a query from the US Department of Justice about the issue. "The express option is most often selected by unsophisticated users who would then lose their prior default selection of a non-Microsoft browser," a DOJ report reads. "Even though it was possible for the user to revert to the original default browser, \[US states and the federal government\] were concerned that the express process was confusing, especially for unsophisticated users."
Microsoft is making the change to IE 8 as part of a regularly scheduled monthly security patch update. The change will be delivered via a cumulative update for IE 8.
In related news, Microsoft engineers have recently begun reaching out to web developers to discover what they expect from HTML 5 compliance in future versions of IE. (This communication reveals, in essence, that Microsoft is indeed actively developing an IE 9 and is not, as has been widely suggested, considering dropping the IE rendering engine for a competing engine used by Mozilla or Google Chrome.)
"As part of our planning for future work, the IE team is reviewing the current draft of the HTML 5 spec and gathering our thoughts," IE Program Manager Adrian Bateman wrote to a web standards mailing list. "We want to share our feedback and discuss this in the working group. I will post our notes as we collect them so we can iterate on our thinking more quickly. At this stage we have more questions than answers, but I believe that discussing them in public is the best way to make progress."
The fledgling HTML 5 specification includes explicit support for web applications (including offline use), videos that do not require browser add-ins, new image formats, and other innovations that will dramatically enhance the capabilities of the web. The other major browser rendering engines are already offering early support for some of these features, and even IE 8 offers support for some very basic HTML 5 features.