July 7, 2009 By Joe Dysart
Sites based primarily on Web standards and only tweaked for IE 7 may only face minor problems. Sites specifically designed to work in previous versions of IE, with no regard to Web standards whatsoever, could face major snafus.
The official portal for North Dakota state government, www.ND.gov, for example, is sitting pretty. It's home page is emblazoned at the bottom with a number of badges indicating that the Web site complies with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) - the globally recognized Web standards body - and consequently will suffer little from the changeover. Connecticut's Web site displays a similar W3C badge. And the Santa Rosa, Calif. site professes a desire to conform to those same standards.
For government sites that aren't so lucky, Microsoft has a short-term, quick fix. "We have provided a metatag usable on a per-page or per-site level to maintain backward compatibility with Internet Explorer 7," MacKechnie said. "Adding this tag instructs Internet Explorer 8 to render content like it did in Internet Explorer 7, without requiring any additional changes."
Plus, governments that would rather not deal with an automatic update in the dead of night to a fleet of PCs can stop that change in its tracks with Microsoft's Internet Explorer Blocker Toolkit.
Once protected, all PCs with the blocker will remain on IE 7 until the IT department decides the government is ready to upgrade. As many of us have learned the hard way, once installed, Microsoft's automatic updates are often tough or even impossible to reverse.
The long-term solution to the release of IE 8 will be for every government to design and maintain sites based on standards created by the W3C, Zeldman said.
Zeldman also has released his own Web Standards Advisor validator, which is designed to work with Dreamweaver, one of the more popular Web authoring tools. "The Web Standards Advisor is great for the designer who is climbing aboard the Web standards design train," Zeldman said, "but it's also surprisingly useful for the advanced coder. I found mistakes in my own Web site [with the tool]."
With the move to fully adopt Web standards, Microsoft is finally falling in line with all the other major Web browsers, including Firefox and Opera, the Safari and Camino browsers for the Mac, and the new Chrome browser from Google, which have long endorsed Web standards.
There's a reason all those browsers adhere to W3C standards, Zeldman said. Sites based on standards generally download significantly faster than other sites, resulting in "real bandwidth cost savings" for the companies hosting those sites, he said.
Plus standards-compliant sites are also "read" more easily in search engines, and consequently rank higher on search engine returns. "Having W3C-compliant code can make all the difference," said Michael Fleischner, founder of Marketing Scoop, a search engine optimization firm.
Sites designed in harmony with the W3C today also will continue to work in years to come, even though today's browsers will inevitably evolve over time. "Open standards make this possible," Zeldman said.
And content designed for a standards-compliant site can be repurposed much more easily and inexpensively. For example, governments can migrate content from their primary site to a newly created, mobile-phone friendly site much more