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.