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Microsoft: IE 8 to support standards from the start

In a shift, Microsoft said the new browser's default option will be to render Web sites in its most standards-compliant mode.

Aiming to demonstrate that its commitment to interoperability goes beyond fancy statements, Microsoft said Monday that it is shifting its plans for the next version of Internet Explorer to make the program more friendly to Web standards.

The software maker said that a planned standards compatibility mode will now be the default rendering engine when IE 8 makes its debut. Microsoft has already said that the new browser is capable of passing the Acid2 rendering test.

"We think that acting in accordance with principles is important, and IE 8's default is a demonstration of the interoperability principles in action," IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch said in a blog posting.

With IE 8, Microsoft plans to have three rendering modes: the new standards-compliant mode, the IE7 rendering engine, as well as an option for displaying older Web sites. Because of the default shift, Web sites that want IE 8 to use its IE7 engine will have to add a tag to their site's code.

Microsoft noted that there are some legal reasons for changing course. "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," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said in a statement.

At the end of last year, Opera complained to the European Commission about Microsoft's browser practices, and last week Microsoft was handed a record fine for its past noncompliance with EU dictates.

Microsoft hasn't said when the final version will be out, but a beta version of the browser is due out in the first half of the year. There also will likely be more browser news later this week, when Hachamovitch gives a keynote speech at the Mix '08 conference in Las Vegas.