So the day is finally here, or was rather, that Microsoft released its newest rendition of Internet Explorer. Since just about everyone and their mother has taken a stab at this new browser, for good and ill, I felt it was my turn. I have not been sitting idly by as Windows Internet Explorer (yes kids, that’s the marketing teams doing, new name, new look) but I have been reading, and speaking with my fellow web developers. What I have found is a mixture of praise and complaint, and of course the occasionally anti-Microsoft zealot who, despite never trying it, refuses to believe it could be better then IE6.
They are, however, wrong on that point. IE7 is a huge step up from IE6 and did well to close the feature gap. That being said, when compared to FireFox, it is “good enough” at best. This makes me wonder if Vista will be “good enough” or Office 2007 for that matter. Yes they have fixed a lot of the numerous problems with IE6, block level hover now works (with the DTD in place) (Quirks mode still sucks), PNG alpha is up to date, its got an RSS reader, etc (read more about what it does well here ). However, were it any other company I might be willing to say “good job”. But not with Microsoft.
We are talking about a company with vast resources at its disposable and some of the best programmers in the world. There is no reason why IE7 should not be better then FireFox 2. I am not even speaking to the security issue because as far as I am concerned people will always find a way around everything (but having to click ActiveX apps to allow them to run is a definite plus. As is the uncoupling of IE from Explorer and Vista’s Protected Mode – read about those here). And as I previously posted, IE7 does a lot to minimize the risk of “drive-by” install and spyware installation, this still doesn’t replace good old common sense (dont download virus.exe). In terms of security, I am pleased because now, your average user, has to work (at least in Vista) to actually screw up their computer. This means less trips to home, for one, to save the family computer from being overrun.
But lets not deviate from the issue at hand. For Microsoft their is no excuse for not meeting all CSS2 and Acid2 standards. Yes you can argue that such standards make no sense in real world but the bottom line is they are standards. As the browser with the leading market share it should be Microsoft leading in standards compliance, not FireFox (Web Browser Standards Support Summary). With IE Microsoft had the chance to show the world that it meant well for developers. And while the addition of native XMLHttpRequest is nice, developers and designers will still have to implement hacks to “not make IE behave like a retarded cat”, as one developer put it.
I will state it again, IE7 is a great improvement and will help keep the average user safe for the time being (people will always find a way around any security measure). But Microsoft owes more to the development community. They owe it to developers (who they encourage to write for their platform) to provide proper standards support for the majority of web pages. Granted some of the features I am speaking to are lesser known and not seen on websites, but they are standards. Why does the one browser I HAVE to design the web page for have to be the one that supports standards the least? This is a question on many developers minds.
Perhaps, it was a question of time (though FF2 is in RC3 and will be well worth whatever wait). In that case, I wonder if it was necessary to add all the features in IE7. Let me be frank, I think most power users and geeks (like myself) already user FireFox. I doubt your average user even knows, or understands what RSS is for example. My thinking is that, Microsoft should perhaps concentrate on improving the browser before trying to imitate other products features. I do not use IE7 for much, though I have now had it for about two months. I will occasionally start it up but, its ugly when you compare it to FireFox 2.
Its really is funny, because all this talk about the new UI increasing the real estate for web pages and they have less space then FireFox 2 does. Somehow, FireFox has managed to keep a consistent interface for about 7 years now, without removing my menu bar. I agree with many of the articles I have read, the person who came up with this idea should be fired at once and then shot. Why throw away everything we have gained in 20+ years of UI development; this is NOT an intelligent decision. Of course the geeks and power users can adapt to it, or figure out how to make it look as it should, but they are not your target audience: that’s the common user.
I seriously worry how my parents will take to the UI, seeing as how opposed to change they already are. This is one of the reasons I cant get them to fully switch to FireFox, they have been using IE for too long (my fault I know). But, this new UI is clunky and why are the tabs so friggin big and why does it not follow IE6 at all. News flash: 82% of people still use IE6, so lets confuse the 79% of people who wont know what the hell is going on when they open IE7 (for a howto on implementing tabs, see FireFox 2). Which in the end will increase the market share for Firefox, which is a good thing for those of us who want to follow the standards when writing web pages.
But what I am talking about is responsibility. Microsoft, while a great company with some very gifted people, needs to deliver a better product. If this is any indication what Vista will be like then I should prepare for disappointment. Five years of development should bring about a better OS with many new features. Five years should not bring a Windows copy of KDE or OSX without the *nix core. This is do or die for Microsoft. The whole world is holding their breath waiting for Vista and IE7, two products which could make or break the company. IE7, while not a huge disappointment, is still disappointing. Now all thats left is Vista in December, and that is what everyone will have their eye on.