NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Microsoft releases Internet Explorer 9

After many months of devel­op­ment, Microsoft has final­ly fin­ished work­ing on Inter­net Explor­er 9, which was released to mar­ket a cou­ple of hours ago (9 AM Pacif­ic Time). This iter­a­tion of the brows­er rep­re­sents Microsoft­’s first real attempt to make stan­dards sup­port a pri­or­i­ty, and sports some new use­ful fea­tures. If you’re run­ning Win­dows Vista or Win­dows 7, it’s worth down­load­ing.

About the first thing many peo­ple might notice when start­ing up Inter­net Explor­er 9 is the min­i­mized user inter­face, or UI. Mim­ic­k­ing Chromi­um, Microsoft has com­bined the address bar and the search bar, but it has gone a step fur­ther by squeez­ing tabs onto the same row as the com­bined URL and search bar. Addi­tion­al­ly, the sta­tus bar is now hid­den by default.

I can under­stand the log­ic behind these deci­sions, but I don’t agree with them. A UI refresh should always be backed by sol­id jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.

In this case, I feel like that jus­ti­fi­ca­tion is miss­ing.

To me, brows­er tool­bars and menus are like the con­trols on my car’s dash­board. They’re essen­tial for brows­ing, just as the car’s con­trols are for dri­ving. While it’s true that I am usu­al­ly look­ing at the road through my wind­shield, I need to be able to adjust the car’s set­tings quick­ly (with­out hav­ing to press too many but­tons) to dri­ve com­fort­ably. I am not inter­est­ed in a min­i­mal­ist user inter­face; I want an effec­tive and effi­cient user inter­face.

Like oth­er users, I keep a great many tabs open simal­ta­ne­ous­ly, and I want a tab bar that stretch­es all the way across the screen so I can see more tabs at once.  I also appre­ci­ate hav­ing a sta­tus bar so I can see URLs when I hov­er over them (and so I can see how a serv­er is respond­ing when I try to load a web page).

I would con­sid­er IE 9 unus­able if it did not offer users the option to reur­rect the sta­tus bar and force tabs to be on their own row.

For­tu­nate­ly, it does. All it takes to restore the sta­tus bar and to decou­ple the URL bar from the tab bar is to right click at the top of the screen and choose “Sta­tus bar” and “Show tabs on a sep­a­rate row”.

I do like that IE9 looks more pol­ished. IE8 nev­er quite felt to me like it com­plete­ly meshed with Aero. I also like the new pin­ning fea­ture, which allows IE9 users to pin a web­site to their Win­dows 7 taskbars for easy access.

IE9 is also faster, although it still does­n’t hold a can­dle to Mozil­la Fire­fox, which has raised the bar again with Fire­fox 4, the forth­com­ing ver­sion of its cross-plat­form brows­er. But it is a sig­nif­i­cant improve­ment over past ver­sions of Inter­net Explor­er. Many web­sites look much-improved, includ­ing those that were tak­ing advan­tage of fea­tures in Cas­cad­ing Style Sheets (CSS) and Hyper­text Markup Lan­guage (HTML) that were not pre­vi­ous­ly sup­port­ed.

As a devel­op­er, I’m excit­ed about Inter­net Explor­er 9, because it’s replac­ing Inter­net Explor­er 8 (and 7). As a user, I’m not that excit­ed, because Fire­fox is my pri­ma­ry brows­er, as I allud­ed to ear­li­er. I like Fire­fox for four key rea­sons:

  • It’s cross-plat­form. I like hav­ing the same brows­er avail­able to me on Win­dows, Mac, and Kubun­tu. Fire­fox’s Sync ensures that my book­marks and brows­ing his­to­ry are with me no mat­ter what OS I’m using.
  • It’s free soft­ware. Any­one can help improve Fire­fox because the code is open source. Fire­fox’s license requires any­one who makes improve­ments to con­tribute them back to the com­mu­ni­ty.
  • It has an unpar­al­leled selec­tion of add-ons. Fire­fox is unmatched in terms of the addi­tion­al func­tion­al­i­ty that can be added into the brows­er through exten­sions or themes.
  • It’s rugged. I put Fire­fox through a lot as a pow­er user. Occas­sion­al­ly, Fire­fox does crash, but when it does, it always recov­ers my brows­ing ses­sion for me. Crash-han­dling has been sig­nif­i­cant­ly improved late­ly, and plu­g­ins now fail grace­ful­ly instead of break­ing every­thing.

With all that said, con­grat­u­la­tions to Microsoft for all it’s done to imple­ment sup­port for web stan­dards in this release. Devel­op­ers have been wait­ing for Microsoft to get to this point for a long time.

Thank good­ness IE9 has final­ly arrived.

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One Comment

  1. As a devel­op­er, the main rea­son to be excit­ed about IE 9 is that it sup­ports HTML 5, and hope­ful­ly will cause peo­ple run­ning old­er ver­sions of IE to upgrade to a bet­ter brows­er than the awful IE 7, and so-so IE 8.

    As a user, even if you don’t use IE, the pri­or fact will mean that more sites will take the leap and take advan­tage of HTML 5 fea­tures.

    IMO IE 9 may also spell the begin­ning of the end for Flash, and indi­ca­tions are Adobe thinks so as well.

    # by Daniel K :: March 15th, 2011 at 7:59 PM