This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Develop in the Cloud, sponsored by AT&T. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Develop in the Cloud site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

So Long IE8

Many things will break for Internet Explorer 8 this year.

Microsoft's pre-standards browser is in its final days; half of the web will be broken for IE8 before long.

For those of us who have been cursing the non-standard behavior of Microsoft's browsers on Windows XP -- Internet Explorer versions 6, 7, and 8 -- relief is in sight at long last. Those browsers did things in their own way, and in the days when XP ran on 70 percent or more of desktops, they could not be ignored.

XP's global market share has been declining on a straight line ever since the first beta versions of Windows 7 began appearing early in 2009; it is now at around 25 percent. But XP still hangs on in large numbers in China, where it hovers at 64 percent. And XP maintains a strong presence inside corporations everywhere.

Standards and technical debt
The first big problem with Windows XP is that it is incapable of running Internet Explorer 9 or 10. These are the first Microsoft browsers to do anything but thumb their noses at web standards such as HTML and CSS.

Web developers have been investing extra effort on IE6/7/8 for a decade. At first we figured out CSS hacks to make IE6 behave in reasonable (or at least predictable) ways; or we loaded different style sheets for that browser. The differential loading approach has reached its current peak in Modernizr. More recently we have been writing "shims" in JavaScript that provide new APIs for IE6/7/8, and collecting these in "polyfills."

This all costs effort and money. As Troy Hunt points out in his blog post exploring the present and future of Microsoft's non-standard browsers on Windows XP, this effort represents "technical debt" that a project will carry with it for years, long after IE6/7/8 have faded away.

XP support
For corporations currently still reliant on XP, the largest issue now looming is that Microsoft will end support for the OS on April 8, 2014. No more security patches, no more free or paid support of any kind. This represents an intolerable situation for the risk-averse.

Those companies that did not make the (relatively) easy jump to Windows 7 beginning 3-1/2 years ago are now contemplating the vastly larger effort of converting to Windows 8. Many are thinking the unthinkable: is it time to abandon desktop computers altogether? Can we live with Google Chrome? Android tablets? How about OS X and iOS?

The jQuery factor
The most immediate circumstance that will force these laggard companies' hands to get them off of XP will be the advent of jQuery 2.0. Version 1.9 of the ubiquitous JavaScript toolkit has been released, and version 2.0 will follow very soon. As last summer's jQuery roadmap explained, version 2.0 "will support the same APIs as jQuery 1.9 does, but removes support for IE 6/7/8 oddities such as borked event model, IE7 'attroperties,' HTML5 shims, etc." While developers will be able to detect what the project calls "oldIE" and alternatively load jQuery 1.9, many projects won't bother. Now, just about half the web uses jQuery. Users of IE6/7/8 on XP are going to experience a progressive degradation of their Internet experience as 2013 unfolds.

Just hang on a little bit longer. The long nightmare that is IE6/7/8 is drawing to a close.