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Microsoft moves the goalposts

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A webmasters rant about Internet Explorer 8.0

Microsoft has recently released the latest version of Internet Explorer - version 8.0. This has resulted in several problems with the way that it displays pages in the Pageant website. There is now a 'kink' in the menu bar at the top of each page, the float down menus now overlap the bottom of their boxes and some other parts of the pages have more space around them than they should. If this has affected you, please be patient while we sort things out. The problem might also affect other websites, so you might like to consider changing to a different browser, such as Firefox, or reverting to IE7. If you have not yet upgraded to IE8, then please be warned that you will see all the odd things mentioned above.


Web pages are written using Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML). HTML consists of the text to be displayed, together with 'tags' which specify how it is displayed. You can see the HTML code for this page by clicking the right mouse button, and selecting 'view page source'. In the early days, although there was a 'standard' for HTML, browser designers largely ignored it and introduced new tags to add new features to their browsers. Microsoft was particularly active in adding new tags. This resulted in several different versions of HTML, and web designers tried to keep pace by writing code which would work with any browser. The committee which looked after the 'standard', known as W3C, has been trying to bring order to the chaos, and browser designers have slowly been coming into line. The latest version of the 'standard' is HTML 4.0.

When I first started building this website, I used Internet Explorer 5.0. This supported numerous tags which no longer form part of the standard. Successive version of Internet Explorer - 6.0 and 7.0 - moved closer to the 'standard', but were also backward compatible, so websites like ours with old coding (known in the trade as 'deprecated') still continued to function as they always had done.

Browsers are informed which version of HTML is used in the web page by a 'doctype' declaration which forms the first line of code. Although the Pageant website largely conform to HTML 4.0, there is still some deprecated coding. We therefore used a declaration: <!doctype HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> The words 'Transitional' and 'loose' indicate that deprecated code should still be implemented. This worked fine with IE7 and most other browsers, but with IE8, some of the backward compatibility has been lost, resulting in the odd appearance of our pages.

The Solutions

There are several ways of tackling the IE8 problem:

  1. Rebuild the website conforming exactly to HTML 4.0 standards
    This isn't going to happen - too much hard work!

  2. Edit the code in all pages to restore a better appearance in IE8
    Only a partial solution, as pages will still look different to their appearance in other browsers.

  3. Remove or change the doctype declaration on all pages
    If a browser isn't told which version of HTML is used, it will default to full compatibility with deprecated code. This is the best solution, but we need to check that it doesn't produce fresh problems in IE or other browsers. This will take a little time, so meanwhile users of IE8 will have to put up with the odd effects or change to a different browser.

Update 14 June 2009

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The entire Pageant website has been modified as described in option 3 above. All pages should now appear as designed in all the common browsers.


To get avoid the IE8 problems, you might like to try another browser, or revert to using IE7.

Internet Explorer 7.0

Internet Explorer 7.0 is still available for download. If you want to revert to IE7, I suggest you do this soon, as Microsoft quickly removes old software. (Download IE7)


I personally have used Firefox as my main browser for many years, and fully recommend it. Try it once and you will keep on using it. Firefox is open source, with a huge army of volunteers constantly making improvements and sorting out bugs. There are a large number of add-ons, menu bars and widgets for it. Firefox is recommended by IT professionals as being less prone to security problems than IE - particularly for important things like online banking. (Download Firefox)


Safari is an Apple product, so will be familiar to Mac users, but PC versions have been available for a while. It has a very pretty look, and functionality similar to Firefox. (Download Safari)


Chrome is a relatively new Google browser. It has a different, reduced, user interface to other browsers, and some might be put off by the lack of menubars and toolbars. (Download Chrome)


The Opera browser is promoted for its speed and convenience, but the most recent versions do not seem to be fully backward compatible. Opera has a very small user base - less than 1%. I don't recommend Opera as it has some problems with the way it displays Pageant pages - but not as bad as IE8. (Download Opera)

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