As Microsoft inches closer to the first beta release of Internet Explorer 7, the companys development advisors have been advising Web site developers and managers to run certain tests now to prevent problems when the beta version does appear.
Although Microsoft Corp. is not releasing a specific date for the beta version, the company has stated that the browser will appear this summer, and that developers should be getting ready.
At this point, Microsoft has given limited information on what will be included in the initial beta test, beyond stating that it will include features such as tabs and “developer platform advancements.”
Developers can expect that much more information will be forthcoming shortly on the companys technical resource site, however, said Gary Schare, director of Microsofts Internet Platforms and Security Product Management.
“Follow the IE Blog to gain general technical insights about IE 7 directly from the development team,” Schare added. “Stay tuned in the coming months as we announce more details.”
One area that Microsoft has clearly articulated as being one in which developers can start work now to prepare for IE 7 involves the UA (user agent) string.
First discussed in the companys Weblog in April, the code change prompted a reminder on Wednesday to developers, telling them that Microsoft continues to run across Web sites that are not expecting Version 7 of the browser, and urging them to test their UA strings.
The UA is sent in the headers of every HTTP request, telling the server what type of browser is issuing the request. Microsoft updated the UA after considering application compatibility issues.
“Developers should ensure that their sites are ready for the IE 7 user agent string and treat IE 7 just like they would IE 6,” Schare said. He did not comment on what would happen if changes were not made, but said it is likely that testing issues will be discussed again on the development blog.
Despite Microsofts reminders, some developers have chosen to simply wait until the beta version arrives to do testing and make changes.
“I dont use IE at all, but Ill test on it because I have to,” said Web designer Donna Donohue, owner of Norwich, Conn.-based development firm KidoImages. “We code to standards to be compliant with Firefox, and then hack for IE.”
Web developer Steve Champeon admitted that waiting for beta testing is not always the best approach, but it is a common strategy nonetheless.
“There are undoubtedly many Web sites that are so poorly built or tested that IE7 will break them,” he said, “So its not entirely dumb to make a fuss about IE7s impending release.”
However, Champeon added that he builds sites from the ground up to work in any Web browser, by following the set of principles known as “progressive enhancement.” Because of this approach, he doesnt utilize UA string detection.
“Were not going to waste our time specifically addressing any one browser when we can address them all instead, using faster development techniques that dont favor one platform or browser over all the others,” Champeon said.