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Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Windows browser world has a new compatibility king

An Acid3 score of 100 percent on Windows was long thought to be a mythical creature like a unicorn or dwarf, but Opera proved otherwise.
Opera Becomes First Windows Browser To Pass Acid3
The Windows browser world has a new compatibility king

It looks like Safari's sole reign at the top of the Acid3 standings was rather short lived. The new co-victor is Opera, maker of the Nintendo Wii and DS browsers, which has been hard at work preparing to release its PC 9.5 version of its browser, codenamed "Kestrel". It released an alpha build in September and a beta build in October. It plans on a final release of "Kestrel" this summer, squaring it up to take on Firefox 3.

Now "Kestrel" has some new bragging rights in its competition against Microsoft, Mozilla, and Apple's browsers. The scrappy little company has become the first to produce a Windows browser capable of passing the Acid3 test. On Opera's Desktop Team blog a team poster shared news from Lars Erik Bolstad, the Head of Core Technology at Opera Software, who states, "I have a quick update on where we are with Acid3. Since the test was officially announced recently, our Core developers have been hard at work fixing bugs and adding the missing standards support. Today we reached a 100% pass rate for the first time! There are some remaining issues yet to be fixed, but we hope to have those sorted out shortly."

Last month the best result had been set on a Mac computer using the Safari browser, which scored 90 percent. The same day that Opera scored a passing result, Safari's nightly webkit build for Apple also achieved a 100 percent score, according to an online leaderboard with many statistics. However, this passing result was for Mac only. According to the list the previous leaders for Windows for in-development browsers were Firefox 3.0b4 at 68 percent, and for released browsers Safari 3.1 (525.13) at 75 percent.

The new results for Opera place it as the clear leader in compatibility among the Windows browsers. While it has to share the overall crown with Safari, Safari is only fully compatible on Macs, lowering its userbase that get to enjoy Acid3 perfection. For those who want to grab the record setting Opera browser, you'll have to wait about a week, while the Opera team fixes a few final bugs for the final preview version.

In his message Bolstad states, "We will release a technical preview version on within the next week or so. For now, the screenshot above shows the Acid3 test as rendered in our latest WinGogi Desktop build. WinGogi is the Windows version of our reference builds used for the internal testing of Opera's platform independent Core."

Opera use peaked in February 2004. With the release of more stable/functional Internet Explorer versions and Firefox its support waned to its current marketshare of between 0.5-0.8 percent, according to current estimates. However, with its new status as compatibility king of windows browsers some may care to take a second look at this alternative browser.


Just a few months after the announcement that Internet Explorer 8 successfully passed the Acid2 standards compliance test, the Web Standards Project (WaSP) announced last Monday that it unleashed Acid2’s successor, Acid3.

Created to identify flaws in the way a browser renders its web pages, WaSP’s Acid tests throw down the gauntlet with difficult-to-display graphics written to accentuate browsers’ quirks. When the original Acid test was released in 1998, it helped reign in browser inconsistencies and insured that Internet Explorer, Netscape, and others handled HTML code according to specification – making web designers’ lives easier and ensuring the web rendered consistently in the future.

Acid2, with its focus on Cascading Style Sheets, seems quaint in comparison to Acid3’s objectives, which target major web standards expected to see use today and in the future. Tests are derived from many of the last few years’ development in the web’s control languages, including rendering graphics embedded in HTML code, CSS3 compliance, DOM compliance, CSS2 downloadable fonts, as well as handling new graphics formats and Unicode support.

Currently, no known browser is able to correctly render the Acid3 test, which displays an animated, incrementing score counter and a series of colored boxes with some description text. Bloggers have already assembled galleries of browsers’ failing test results, with most of today’s browsers scoring between 40 and 60 on the test’s 100-point scale. The results shouldn’t be too alarming as the Acid tests have always been forward-looking in nature, and are designed to measure standards to aspire to, as opposed to what’s current. Also note that more than six months lapsed between Acid2’s release and Safari 2.02’s announcement that it was the first to pass Acid2.

Anecdotal reports around the web seem to indicate that nightly builds of the next versions of Firefox and Safari are reportedly achieving Acid3 scores in the 80-90 range.

Given the state of the web today – where web designers will often write two versions of a web site: one for Internet Explorer and one for everyone else – Microsoft’s announcement that Internet Explorer 8 passed Acid2 is all the more important. Currently, each new version of Internet Explorer keeps older versions’ flaws for compatibility, resulting in a confusing state of affairs for web developers.

The release of IE7 complicated matters further, as it shipped with both an IE6-compatibility mode and a somewhat-standards-compliant IE7 rendering mode, with an easily overlooked method for switching between the two. As a result, Internet Explorer earned a nasty reputation among web design circles, with developers writing safe, proven websites that worked universally instead of rich websites that exercised their languages’ full features.

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