James O'Neill's Blog

April 29, 2006

IE is cool again

Filed under: Beta Products,Internet Explorer,Windows Vista,Windows XP — jamesone111 @ 10:49 pm

I remember the year hen 3 versions of Internet explorer were released. That was before I came to Microsoft, when the web was still new and browsers were exciting – partly because (to outsiders at least) Microsoft seemed scared of Netscap. The Netscape battle ran its course, and I joined Microsoft as IE 5 hit the market, that was 6 years ago, since then we’ve moved up to version 6. If IE6 were a vegetable it would be a plain boiled potato; ubiquitous, reliable, but not exactly exciting.

Between 2000 and 2005, the biggest improvement I saw to IE was the Google toolbar. I installed it to block pop-ups as much as for searching (Google’s add-in lets you search for highlighted text, which I like). Windows XP SP2 gave IE6 a pop-up blocker, and lets you enable and disable add-ins like flash.

Other browsers have appeared, notably Mozilla Firefox. If IE 6 is a boiled potato, then Firefox is mashed and seasoned and then some. The Mozilla project seems to have concentrated on making a good browser – which happens to available under its own open source license – not the other way round. [If you have a big, established competitor, you only win market share by having a better product – it amazes me that some people don’t get this]. They didn’t invent tabbed browsing but it works well,  I use OneNote 12 beta a lot: I like tabs.  I like the way Firefox handles history. A choice of search engines are accessible via the toolbar and there’s a highlighted text search, tied to Google.
As a cross-platform product, Firefox doesn’t support Active X – which breaks some applications, usually corporate intranet ones. But it closes off some routes to attack the PC from the internet: some Firefox fans equate this with invulnerability – wrongly as it turns out me it meant no QuickTime content. There were other minor glitches; no tool tips and a few pages that don’t render properly. One can drop back to IE6 – but in the corporate world who wants to support 2 browsers ? Firefox auto detected the proxy server on the Microsoft network, and connected to the internet without fuss.  It doesn’t render pictures using image colour management (nor does IE – but I’m told Apple’s Safari does) – again colour management is platform specific. I assume that’s why it doesn’t use Windows’ certificate store, so organizations with internal CAs will have extra work to push out certificates.
Administration and a confidence that people test against it are reasons to stick with IE6, but for a while now some in Microsoft have had the uncomfortable feeling that Mozilla’s browser is more likable than ours. As the cliche has it: that is about to change…

My main computer is no good for Vista, which I run on my “demo” system. I’ve found myself switching to that simply to use IE7. Last night I put IE7 beta for Windows XP on the old laptop, and … Wow ! So what do we get.

Tabbed browsing that’s better than Firefox – opening new tabs and closing the current tab are only one click away, and there is a “Quick tabs view.”
Click to enlarge
Re-arranging the top of the screen to accommodate tabs has meant that the top tool/address/menu bars have a revamp – it looks better, but more importantly it works better

Proper RSS support. Firefox has some clue about RSS – they even put the BBC news on their “Live bookmarks” tool bar, but you still have to open each link to see more than the title – that defeats the whole purpose of RSS. IE7 goes so much further. It renders the RSS page (Firefox will apply a style sheet if one is specified) But lets compare my blog’s page RSS link .

First in Firefox . Click to enlarge and then in IE  Click to enlarge Notice how IE7 will filter to items containing a keyword as well ?

Then there is the way IE7 handles feeds – a background process downloads them – and [this is the magic bit] other applications can pick them up. So this VBS script will list your feeds from a command prompt.

set rssmgr = createobject(“microsoft.feedsManager”)
set rssRoot = rssmgr.rootFolder
wscript.echo “You have subscribed to ” & rssroot.Feeds.count & ” RSS feeds”
FOR each feed in rssroot.feeds
 wscript.echo feed.name

IE7 handles history better too. One click brings up Feeds, Favourites and History. 9 times out of 10 you don’t want the Window after you’ve found the page so, by default, they disappear again. The Vista version of IE7 searches for keywords in the page, where Firefox only searches the title. (The history search in the XP beta of IE7 isn’t working for me at the moment).  IE7 also has search on the toolbar – no need for an add-on any more – but it doesn’t have “right click to search”. It uses Open Search to add to the choice of search engines, it’s easy to add the corporate search page to it, and a lot of the engines which use Open Search can also deliver regular results as RSS feeds.

IE7 continues to support Active X but it’s smarter – it asks before loading a controls it doesn’t know – like the Apple Quick time one. This “opt-in” helps to stop a web page using a legitimate control in an illegitimate way.

IE7 also links to an Anti-phishing service which warns the user of dangerous sites, and lets them report possible scams, which are more of a threat to most users than active-x attacks

And last of it it’s easier to read thanks to cleartype -some things don’t seem to work with cleartype, but IE7 sure does. It also zooms, and the text stll looks perfect. 

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.


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