Written by Jeff Lentz · June 21, 2011
After years of forcing unfortunate users of Windows to endure the painful shortcomings of IE8 and it's ugly older sisters. Microsoft has finally dipped its toes back into the browser market after the Goliath weighed in with only 56% market share at the beginning of 2011. While 56% percent still sounds like a nice chunk of market share, one must consider that a couple years ago that number was at 70% and even higher before that. Another factor that must be weighed in is the aggressive effort to make the Windows operating system and IE inseparable. Utilizing Firefox, Chrome or Safari on Windows requires slightly more determination than leaving the default IE in place.
Sadly, a significant portion of IE users are either forced to continue using IE (the U.S government refuses to update from 6.0 - this could be a good thing as imagine how much longer the line would be at the DMV counter if Peggy in titles and registration could actually watch HULU), or they are unaware of how different the web appears and functions with a more standards compliant browser. As the frustration of designers and developers at the lack of support for CSS2 and CSS3 and the push to continue throwing ASP in the ring with PHP the bulk of the community that is responsible for building and maintaining the web has left IE users to the fate of rotary phones and black and white TV.
So it was with reserved anticipation that users, and in particular designers and developers waited for the much hyped and much delayed second coming of IE. Not perhaps by coincidence was the timing of Mozilla's latest update for Firefox that practically overlapped the launch of IE9 Beta. I am guessing there was some pretty somber moments over in MS Land when Firefox downloads tripled the count in the first five minutes of release to that of downloads for IE9 Beta in the entire month before.
Still we do have the slow death of 56% to contend with so in the spirit of fair play I will take as objective a look as possible at the latest release of the browser that as a designer and developer has shaved years off my life and removed clumps of hair from my head.
IE9 Beta boast the biggest window space for browsers by significantly reducing and streamlining the utility bar to a fitter and happier 63 pixels of height.
The graphics display also seems to have been significantly improved as images no longer look like they were run through Photoshop's posterize filter and text no longer looks like it is being attacked by herds of miniature tarantulas. the page scroll also went through an apparent overhaul as nose bleeds and seizures no longer seem to result from scrolling down or resizing colorful and graphically intense web pages.
They killed the obnoxious and nosey Wizard - installation no longer requires an interrogation by the MS Wizard that wanted answers for every possible preference including your favorite flavor of ice cream and your favorite baby names for puppies.
Microsoft has finally reached the discovery that tabbed interface is really useful and has spiced up the browser with some very nifty and intuitive features such as highlighting active tabs and allowing users to drag tabs to new windows.
Perhaps stung one too many times by security hacks Microsoft IE9 Beta now claims to have implemented the most robust security and privacy features available in the browser market with built in tracking protection.
The interface for IE9 Beta is a bit sexier. Apparently as seems to be customary with Microsoft's business model, if they can't buy the company then rip off the tech approach, IE's new interface seems to have pulled some of the better elements from Chrome, polished them up with the MS touch and repackaged them under the MS name. For starters, bookmarking sites is very quick, simple and intuitive with the new-pinned site feature that bears a striking resemblance to the bookmarking system first introduced in Chrome. Also in an about-face IE9 Beta has combined the address and search box exactly as...you guessed it Chrome. Nonetheless, if you are an avid supporter of MS you will love the "new" interface.
Someone buy the boys in Redmond a beer, they have finally delivered on their promise to incorporate the CSS rules that have been standards for Mozilla and Webkit for years now. Yes, I am happy to report that border radius, box shadows, font face and text shadows no longer require designers and developers to build a fire with rocks and sticks. However it would seem that IE9 Beta's support for CSS 3 stops at exactly the same level of support other browsers have offered for some time now, which leads me to wonder that after years in the making will IE9 become IE8 once HTML 5 and CSS3 have become the standard.
As to whether developers will still need to write quarantine stylesheets for IE to fix all the little nuances that have given IE what I like to call personality, the jury is still out. I concluded years ago that IE users were not exactly in the top percentile in regards to motivation so it is highly unlikely that IE7, IE8 or even IE6 are going away anytime soon. Only painstaking time will tell if the conditional will be gracing the head tags of countless html pages in the future.
In conclusion, after waiting (and I assure you I was counting each breath) years for the release of Chinese Democracy and the release of IE9 it would seem that the effort by G&R was much more significant. IE9 Beta may look much prettier and may talk the talk but it is in my opinion, the same old tired walk. I can only hope that at some point Xbox will make enough money that Microsoft will finally abandon it's campaign for world domination, and leave technologies such as web browsing, search engines, and operating systems to people that really are sensitive to the human condition and want to make the world a better place. I have a dream...that one day my grandchildren will surf a web devoid of Internet Explorer and that they will finally get those jet packs we were promised 25 years ago.