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Microsoft discloses some IE 7 plans

Software giant yields to longstanding demands by Web developers, promising support for PNG, CSS graphics and layout standards.

Microsoft finally told Web developers what they've wanted to hear for years, promising support for graphics and style sheet standards.

In a blog entry posted Friday, a member of Microsoft's Internet Explorer development team said the company plans to support key elements of World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommendations Portable Network Graphics (PNG), an image format, and Cascading Style Sheet (CSS), a Web page styling standard.

"We have certainly heard the clear feedback from the Web design community," Chris Wilson, lead program manager for the Web platform in IE, said in reference to support for the PNG standard. "Our first and most important goal with our Cascading Style Sheet support is to remove the major inconsistencies so that Web developers have a consistent set of functionality on which they can rely."

While Microsoft and critics of its Web browser have focused most of their attention on IE's security liabilities, the issue of standards support remains crucial to Web developers.

Glitches in IE's standards support mean that developers have to code separately for IE and for browsers that hew more closely to the standards. IE enjoys about 90 percent browser market share despite losing some points to the Mozilla Foundation's open-source Firefox browser.

Last month, Microsoft was reported to have been planning better PNG and CSS support, but Wilson's blog entry Friday is the first public word to developers that the next version of IE--pegged as a security-focused release--would feature these improvements.

One standards proponent and Microsoft competitor said he looked forward to the proof of IE 7's standards support in the new release.

"The blog says they have fixed a few bugs. Great, but we expect more than that," said Opera Software's chief technology officer, Hakon Lie, who co-authored CSS. "The big question is: Will IE 7 pass the Acid2 test? I proposed the Acid2 challenge in a CNET article, and it has later been published by the Web Standards Project."

Other improvements said to be on tap for IE 7, currently code-named Rincon, include tabbed browsing and support for IDN (Internationalized Domain Names).

For years, developers have complained about IE's CSS bugs, and have called IE's rendering of certain PNG images "ugly."