Microsoft Corp. gave early testers their first glimpse of its next-generation Web browser Wednesday, and said Internet Explorer 8 will adhere to the same standards as competitors' programs.
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Microsoft's browsers, including the current Internet Explorer 7, gained notoriety among Web developers for handling Web page code differently than Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox, Apple Inc.'s Safari, the now-defunct Netscape Navigator and others.
For the most part, major non-Microsoft browsers and outside developers who built Web pages worked with agreed-upon technical standards, while Microsoft was accused of adding proprietary code to those standards. The result: Web pages that looked good in Internet Explorer but broke on other browsers, or vice versa.
At a Web developer conference in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dean Hachamovitch, general manager for Microsoft's Internet Explorer division, made light of Microsoft's past spotty standards and pledged to do better.
Hachamovitch said that in early Internet Explorer 7 days, his kids would hear about broken Web sites and ask, "Daddy, did you guys break the Web?"
"And most of the time I could honestly say, 'No.' But, you know, Web developers might answer that question a little bit differently," Hachamovitch said.
He elicited a laugh, but developers have sometimes had to build Web sites from scratch a second time to devise a version that worked with Microsoft's browsers.
Microsoft said the new version of the browser, when complete, will support industry-standard versions of the code that tells browsers what Web pages should look like, including CSS 2.1, by default.
"That's a big deal," said Chris Swenson, a software industry analyst for the NPD Group.
While most Web surfers might not feel a huge impact, Swenson said it will bring "a sigh of relief" for developers, who will spend a lot less time tweaking Web pages to work with different browsers.
However, both Swenson and Microsoft note that Web standards continue to evolve, and that definitive tests to determine compliance don't yet exist. Microsoft indicated Wednesday its intention to step up involvement with this process.
Microsoft's decision might also help it fend off a new antitrust investigation in Europe.
Regulators there are looking into whether the software maker held other browsers back by not following open Internet standards. The probe was launched after Norwegian browser developer Opera Software ASA filed a complaint in late 2007.
Microsoft unveiled a few features in the new browser that may appeal more to average Web users. For example, right-clicking on a Web page will give people more "to-do" options than they'd see today. Users will be able to "Send to Facebook," "Map with Live Search" or "Define with Dictionary.com" with a quick click.